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Declassifying justice

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Declassifying justice

The Night Ferry

Author :  Lotte and Søren Hammer

Publisher : Bloomsbury, Rs 399

Through layers of secrets and errors of judgment of the characters, The Night Ferry builds suspense and tells the tale of a murder conspiracy, says KALYANEE RAJAN

A gruesome accident involving a canal boat colliding with a ferry leaves a lot of people dead, mostly children and a few adults. The prima facie evidence points at a cruel and deliberate murder conspiracy, and Detective Chief Superintendent of the Denmark Homicide Department Konrad Simonsen and his team is baffled to find one of their own officers in the casualty. What follows is a gripping tale of wading through several layers of intrigues, an extra-marital affair gone horribly wrong, elaborate cover-ups, and uncomfortable diplomatic secrets that lie at the bottom of the vicious cycle of deaths and killings.

Lotte and Søren Hammer are siblings who joined hands to write crime thrillers based in their home country Denmark since 2010. The Night Ferry is the fifth novel of the Konrad Simonsen investigation series, the previous four being The Hanging, The Vanished, The Girl in the Ice and The Lake. The siblings have written three more novels in the series which are yet to be translated into English, and two more are planned, informs their website. The sister Lotte trained as a nurse and subsequently worked in several countries, while the brother Søren works as a programme and lecturer at Copenhagen University College of Engineering. Apart from the central character of Konrad “Simon” Simonsen, the characters of Nathalie von Rosen “The Countess”, Arne Pedersen, Pauline Berg, Poul Troulsen and Malte Borup are repeated through the investigative series with variations. Their novels are steeped in the machinery of the Danish Homicide Department of Police and their exhaustive investigations in solving difficult cases, which often brings them into conflict or coordination with other agencies of Denmark or countries, as in this novel, the Homicide Department’s investigations effectively pit it against the Danish Army Intelligence Agency, FE.

The Night Ferry contains seventy-four chapters and an epilogue, adding up to three hundred and forty seven pages. They are divided into four parts each titled “The Canal Boat Tour”, “The Man in the Wood”, “The Trial” and “The House in Bosnia”containing sixteen, nineteen, nineteen and twenty chapters respectively. The actual time period covered in the plot is roughly three months, beginning 22nd August 2010 to 1st December 2010 which is the date of the tautly executed epilogue. The first part opens with the clinical execution of the killings on board the Canal Boat in Central Copenhagen and the neat escape of the military-trained assassin. This tragedy draws in the Homicide Department to begin its investigation into the death of five adults, including Homicide officer Pauline Berg, and sixteen children who were on board. The fourth chapter also briefly dwells upon another older crime, committed by the same assassin, seemingly commissioned by the same person, where things did not go by the plan. It is this older crime, the death of a young woman named Juli Denissen referred to derisively as the “Juli-non-case” in the Homicide Department inner circles which Pauline Berg was relentlessly following; and now it seems to hold the key to the canal boat killings. Hence, the entire department plunges all its resources in unravelling a case they had given up on long ago. The next part “The Man in the wood” spurs the investigations moving in the right direction as the name of the assassin Bjørn Lauritzen crops up unexpectedly in a war veterans bar, where amidst heart-wrenching tales of veterans forgotten by the country and its people alike, Konrad finds to his great discomfort that he is equally guilty of erasing the endless miseries of the long-suffering veterans. What follows is little short of a wild goose chase because Bjørn has long been declared dead, with all his records missing from the Total Defence Archive, and another name connected to Bjørn cropping up, of the high ranking Army specialist, Irene Gallagher. A connection between the deaths of Juli Dennisen and Pauline Berg with Irene is established and in the next part of the novel, and she is put on trial. The third and the fourth parts of the novel can easily be termed the most exciting ones as the narrative races through the shocking outcome of the trial and the switching sides of the maverick lawyer Christoffer Brinch. The final part brings out the direct conflict between the Homicide Department and the Army FE, culminating in the unravelling of a complex series of events during the Bosnia war operation involving both Denmark and USA, the events riddled with rank corruption, mishandling of war situations, a complete and damning neglect of the emotional and physical needs of the war veterans, as well as a chronic diplomatic and bureaucratic incompetence. It is revealed how all these combined to spiral out of control, the canal boat tragedy being one facet of the massive cover-up operation of denial of justice.

The plot of The Night Ferry is intricate, tightly woven and the language in translation is quite crisp, barring a few typos here and there. All the threads of the plot are firmly in place while new twists and turns unravel page after page, keeping the reader hanging on to each detail. The detailing is impeccable, whether it is the description of a post mortem or standard interrogation procedures while investigating, though it does seem inconsequentially dragging after a while. The plot is marked by the absence of the sensational: there is a steady build-up of the action which unravels gradually, in fragments strewn across the four parts. The characters are memorable, etched with masterful strokes and full control. Minor but vital characters like the junior officer Anica Buch, the much wronged Jelena Khrobic, and the enigmatic American Jake Tyler are also allowed to grow and leave a mark.

Interestingly, for a novel suffused with criminal intrigues and investigative procedures, love and healing also find some space, in an understated, natural way. The three significant sets of couples operate within different parameters and understandings: while the Countess and Konrad Simon complement each other well both professionally and personally, Arne Pederson finds a miraculous second chance in Pauline’s twin sister Louise who accepts him fully and effortlessly weaves his sons within their intimate circle; Irene and Bjørn’s love is destructive in all its forms, both for themselves and for the people around them. The final and the most vital cover-up of the novel is a bit of a let-down and how Irene manages to evade the Americans for so long is a tad too unbelievable. However, the Hammer siblings manage to rule the reader’s attention through their cleverly spun thriller and effective portrayal of the central characters: the themes of delayed justice, heinous war crimes, classified army information and shady cover-ups, upright investigators versus corrupt bureaucracy, and the acutely humanitarian aspect of tragedy and loss whether in the case of the killings or in the sad, neglected state of permanently scarred soldiers from war postings is sure to touch a chord with the readers. The thrill of racing alongside the custodians of law to ensure justice is intoxicating and one eagerly awaits the next Konrad Siomnsen novel in English.

The reviewer teaches English Literature at a Delhi University college





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