Amulya Malladi’s A Death in Denmark makes bold claims about the intent to make up for the past and improve the present. It does these by building a case in which both prove key to understanding certain crimes. With a cover promise as the first in a series, the volume has a lot to live up to.
Starting with a look at the murder of a family harboring Jewish refugees in World War II, the book quickly cuts to the present day. Introduced is one Gabriel Præst, the detective. He’s a musician, former cop, and private eye. He likes to quote Kierkegaard, and occasionally others, tries to renovate his own home, and has a history connected to the police department and finds the woman he lost bringing him a particular investigation.
Women from Gabriel’s life play a big part in this story, ranging from his client to reporters and old colleagues. Fans of classic noir will be reminded of Sam Spade, a man who blatantly juggled three women in The Maltese Falcon. Really with the international nature of this story, and the desperate search for lost items, one would have to roll their eyes at a claim there wasn’t an influence.
Throughout the case, a nice little smattering of suspects are presented. On top of that, the possibly falsely convicted party is a man who would have had a significant motive. The combination of emotions this evokes, a situation where even if the conviction was correct it is at best a lighter shade of gray in terms of sin, add a starkness to this book and a reminder of the difficult nature of the world.
Like most good noir and hard-boiled detective fiction, this book is willing to deal starkly with crime and the flaws in society. As a result it is unmistakably political. Direct parallels are drawn between Denmark’s protection of Jewish people in World War II despite the presence of some anti-Semitism, and their actions related to Muslim refugees in the present day. Yet this is only an element revealed in the first few pages, with the disturbing looks at the world going far deeper as the mystery unfolds. Domestic squabbles, international trade, family secrets, double agents, money laundering, white supremacy and racism all press tightly and believably together in this book. Russian gangs pierce into various European institutions, invited by those rich and powerful. The way that the mildest of offenders are punished and those committing great atrocities go on to be remembered as heroes.
A Death in Denmark is a very nice read. It is also a dark and disturbing look at the intergenerational nature of harm. With an energy and a style that evokes the best of classic hard boiled detectives and effortless integration of the present day this book is easy to recommend for even slightly curious parties. Those interested in historical mysteries, political thrillers, or a classic whodunit are likely to find something worth reading here. And what might be a brave move the book is already seen as the first in a series. Based on what lays on the pages, readers should greatly look forward to more stories featuring Gabriel Præst.
(William Morrow, 2023)