Steffen Jacobsen: Retribution

To temporarily and mentally move away from the current global situation I reached for a book that has been published in February 2016, four years ago by Quercus.

On a warm autumn afternoon, Tivoli Gardens – Denmark’s largest amusement park – is devastated by a terrorist attack. 1,241 people are killed. The unknown bomber is blown to bits; the security forces have no leads.

It left the country in total shock. One year later those behind the massacre are still at large. Detective Lene Jensen, dealing with personal tragedy, becomes entangled in the web of secrets threatening the national security.

Retribution is set a year after the most horrendous atrocity in Copenhagen. One September day a lone bomber blew himself and more than thousand people in popular Tivoli Gardens, Denmark’s largest amusement park. The devastation shook the entire nation to its core and shocked the police who have no leads whatsoever. Nobody claimed responsibility. Frustration and anger are the main feelings in the overtired police force who don’t rule out another devastating attack but seem powerless to prevent it.

Superintendent Lene Jensen, forty-five-year old, burnt-out and surviving on a cocktail of alcohol and sleeping pills, is dealing with the effects of personal tragedy. To compensate for not spotting signs shown by a suicidal member of her family, she volunteered at the helpline to support others where she became close in a way with a young Muslim woman. Their formal telephone-only relationship took a different dimension when she received a call from terrified Ain, begging for help as she was being followed. Reluctantly Lene agreed to meet Ain at the neutral train station but by the time she had arrived there the woman was dead. Shaken by this turn of events Lene started own investigation into this death, and her initial findings suggested that Ain was unknowingly part of a secret service research project, under the patronage of the charismatic and extremely well-connected consultant psychiatrist Irene Adler. As Lene digs deeper, she’s silenced by her bosses. Even her allies are convinced that her actions pose a serious threat to national security. When the fanatical Kim Thomsen from the Danish Security and Intelligence Service appears amidst these tense circumstances, Lene realises that the truth might be the most dangerous thing to uncover. Thomsen seems unhinged but protected by his superiors. Michael Sander, elusive secretive ‘security consultant’ becomes Lene’s only friend.

The subject of terrorism affecting Denmark has been explored in TV series and in books, yet this is the most terrifying vision yet. The orthopaedic surgeon by day, Steffen Jacobsen can definitely write! He puts an alternative perspective as he tries to get into the terrorists’ heads and understand  reasons for the growing numbers of suicide bombers wanting to destabilise the West. He also creates strong interesting and believable female characters: Lene’s powerful brilliant boss Charlotte Falste; the psychiatrist Irene Adler, and also Nazeera, the Arab woman whose intelligence, strength and skills are sought by various adversaries. In a context of the bigger-picture investigation and personal power-play all women are memorable and credible. However, my sympathy lies with Lene who will not stop: a good cop and a decent human being, reminding me of another fictional Danish heroine who first graced the TV screens before appearing in the books: Sara Lund with her uncompromising determination, bordering on obsession to uncover the truth. Inspector Malin Fors created by Mons Kallentoff is in the same league where dedication to the job borders on self-destruction.

This fast-paced unstoppable thriller, translated by Charlotte Barslund, never lets you pause to take in all that’s happening. Excellent novel, considering the fairly recent terrorism-filled atmosphere in Europe where only the best eagle-eyed security consultants, analysts and spies could untangle the webs of connections. To be honest this is a terrifying prospect; however, an engaging gripping story. Highly recommended for the fans of Norwegian Jo Nesbø, and fellow Dane Jussi-Adler Olsen, and anyone who enjoys the edge-of the-seat suspense.

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