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Interview with Jussi Adler-Olsen

Photo by Robin Skjoldborg

Jussi Adler-Olsen’s new Department Q novel, THE SCARRED WOMAN, is available now. Jussi took time from his busy schedule to answer some questions for us…

American readers have embraced your novels enthusiastically. Why do you think they connect so strongly with readers around the world? Do you think we all have a secret dark side?

I use good and evil to emphasize the contrast. For example, a thriller can have an opening scene where everything breathes peace. We might see a young couple in love out on a picnic in idyllic scenery. It would have an extra powerful effect if this picture is destroyed by violence and seriousness. The contrast between good and evil stands out more clearly this way. And then there is the humor that spices up life, and that spices up the main characters in my novels. It is said that the shortest distance between two people is a smile, but I think it is laughter. And with laughter you get the reader’s attention and goodwill, even in difficult matters. The humor in the text puts everything into perspective. I believe this is universal.

Denmark has a wonderful reputation as the happiest country on Earth. But it would be hard to describe Carl as happy…do you feel that your books are an accurate reflection of Danish life? Or maybe just some aspects of it?

Carl is not the kind of man who jumps around and sings with joy all the time, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t content in his life. He misses Mona, who in many ways is the love of his life, but basically he has a good life with a nice home. He is also a good friend, not least to Hardy, and he has colleagues who care about him. It is said that happiness translates the Greek concept of eudaimonia, and refers to the good life, or flourishing, rather than simply an emotion. Carl lives in a society where he does not need to worry if he gets ill since health care is paid for through taxes. He does not need to worry about getting old and frail. He will be taken care of – again paid by the tax system. In Scandinavia we live in a society with fewer worries than people in other places, eg. in the US. I believe that this contributes greatly to the way you feel about your life.

For readers new to the Department Q series, is it important to read the books in order?

The Department Q series is both a series of individual novels and what I consider to be one long novel with 10 “chapters” planned. In other words, one novel equals one chapter. You can certainly read one novel in the series, but you get a lot more out of your reading experience if you read it as chapters in one long book.

What do you think is most important in a story: setting, plot, or character?

To me a good plot is absolutely essential. Having said that, good authentic dialogue is important and then you need to create deep, interesting and well-defined characters.  And to me it means all the characters have a reason for being in the story; everything and everybody in the story must be there for a purpose.

Your father was a doctor and you grew up in doctors’ official residences at several mental hospitals, an unusual experience by any measure. How did this influence your storytelling style?

It has certainly influenced me a great deal. My father’s work has given me an understanding of people with these kinds of illnesses. It has also given me a skepticism when it comes to the diagnoses people are given. In this case, I am confident a lot of knowledgeable people will discuss whether Rose is psychotic, suffers from schizophrenia, or is perhaps a manic depressive.

THE SCARRED WOMAN is the seventh in the Department Q series. How long do you see the series continuing?

As mentioned above, I plan the series to end with 10 novels. In “The Scarred Woman” I reveal some of Rose’s inner secrets. The next novel that I am writing at the moment will reveal some of Assad’s secrets, and in Q9 we will get to know Carl a lot better.  Q10 will complete the series and hopefully most loose ends will be tied up.

Assad and Rose are beloved by readers. Do you envision either of them ever getting their own books?

One never knows, but it is not the plan for now.

What have you enjoyed reading lately? What are you reading now?

I never read thrillers and detective novels – at least not as long as I write in these genres myself. But I love to read essays and novels of all other genres.

Right now I am reading Jung Chang’s “Wild Swans” and a biography by Mr. Kai Vittrup, a Danish police officer, who has served as an advisor for both the EU and the UN in places like Kosovo, Irak and Sudan.

THE SCARRED WOMAN is available in hardcover, ebook, and audio now!