First, an admission: I would never have started the Danish crime novel The Forgotten Girls from author Sara Blaedel if I’d known that it was number 7 in a series. Apparently it’s a number 1 bestseller in Denmark, and due to the current demand for Nordic crime fiction, the book will probably fare well in N. America.
I was well into the book before I began to pick up clues that this was not an introduction to Blaedel’s main character, the feisty, single, Louise Rick. Suddenly backstory began to appear in the crime under investigation, and so I took a look at Goodreads and discovered that The Forgotten Girls is number 7 in the Louise Rick series and while I may be missing something, I can’t see where number 1 in the series has been translated into English–although numbers 2, 3 and 4 appear to be available in English.
Excuse me while I rail at the illogicality of this….
In The Forgotten Girls, Louise Rick has left the Copenhagen Homicide Department, and in “an unusual step down,” returns to her home town to become “the technical manager of the Special Search Agency”:
Each year, sixteen to seventeen hundred people were reported missing in Denmark. Many turned up again and some were found dead, but according to the assessment of the National Police, there was a crime behind one out of five of the unsolved missing person reports.
Her department was tasked with investigating these cases.
Investigating missing persons reports is, as it turns out, an important distinction; she’s not supposed to investigate or solve murders, and this becomes quite clear as the plot moves on. As head of the New Special Search agency, Louise arrives at the right moment, for shortly after her arrival, she gets her first case. An autopsy is conducted on a woman found dead in the woods near a lake in mid-Zealand, and although she appeared to die from injuries from a fall, there are some bizarre aspects to the case. The woman was barefoot and dressed in old-fashioned shabby clothing. No one has stepped forward to identify the mystery woman in spite of the fact that she has a huge scar that destroyed one side of her face. She also had horribly neglected teeth and a long-ago broken bone in her forearm that was not treated. Someone must be missing this woman, so why has no one claimed the body?
So this is the central mystery to the story, and eventually Louise and her new partner, Eik Nordstrøm, a man who seems to make a habit out of drinking hard and showing up for work late, find that their investigation takes them back into the past and the archaic attitudes towards treating the mentally handicapped.
Ok, enough of the plot.
There’s a lot of backstory here: some present–some absent–and there were moments when I wondered why on earth Louise decided to go back to her old stomping grounds where everyone is so friggin’ freaky. This a community in which a local bully holds sway over his peers, weirdos live in the woods, and people seem to be either running around hanging themselves or perpetuating rape. Ok, a bit of exaggeration, but as the distant sound of banjos played in my head, there did indeed seem to be a thread here which more than hints that the locals are odd. Not only are the locals strange, but the old gang from school don’t exactly remember Louise fondly. She frequently runs into the old crowd and these encounters just bring back a lot of painful memories. Some catch-up paragraphs helped explain some of the incidents in Louise’s past but her decision to return home, without the backstory, seemed either misguided or a moment of temporary insanity. Perhaps the earlier books fill in that gap.
The mystery of the dead woman is weighed against various personal problems faced by Louise. Her friend, the journalist Camilla, is planning a big wedding to a very wealthy man, and Louise’s involvement in her work may lead to difficulties with establishing boundaries with a neighbour. The ending seemed a little too Hollywood for me (read over-the-top), and I guessed the solution to the mystery way back, and that left me wondering what the hell the police were playing at. In spite of the fact that both the treatment of mentally ill and the mentally handicapped play significant roles in the tale, this is not a deep crime novel. Instead, its appeal probably rests on attachment to the characters and their lives, and since I haven’t read the other 6 books, I can’t comment on the series or how this book stands compared to the rest. However, Louise, as an unsubtle, two-dimensional main character, didn’t have much appeal for this reader–although I did warm to Eik when, after interviewing a particularly bitter, unhappy witness, he states that “that’s enough to make you want a drink,” when we already know that he doesn’t need much of an excuse.
Translated by Signe Rød Golly