Interview – Jussi Adler-Olsen


Jussi Adler-Olsen

Welcome to TheCrimeHouse Jussi Adler-Olsen!

You are mostly known for your novels about Carl Mørck and Department Q at the Danish Police in Copenhagen. How would you describe the series for someone not familiar with your books?

Department Q is a series, where each book is a crime novel, but they also form one long story together, which mainly is about Carl Mørck and his assistants Assad and Rose, and recently also Gordon. Every main character in the series has his/her own story, that gets revealed little by little. In The Scarred Woman I reveal Rose’s story.

Each book in the series has a crime story, which is closely connected to Carl Mørck’s fate, and the episode where one of this collegaues is killed, and another colleague who we get to know throughout the series – Hardy – is severely injured.

I am always curious about how and where authors write? Where and how do you write your novels? Do you work 8-5, at night, at a desk, in bed, etc.?

The “best time” to write does not exist, because I always work well, but not always as hard. Of course you can have a deadline, but otherwise you should take the time it takes. For example, I may spend an entire day working on a half a page, which I don’t even finish editing, while I will easily write ten pages another day. It does not depend on the number of pages, but the intensity in each page. In the past, I worked best at night, but that’s not the case anymore. I work when I have time to write, and I always listen to some wonderful music. I just put my headphones on, and then I write.

Can you name three authors that are your role models, and why?

John Steinbeck is my absolute favorite, and I just visited his childhood home in Salinas, California. His style of writing has been a big inspiration. And of course I need to mention Sjöwall and Wahlöö as well. In my opinion, all Scandinavian crime writers owe them a big thank you for the inspiration they have given, thanks to their unique dialogues and their delicate blend of social and political issues that find their way into their stories. I should also mention classics like Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo. I can read them over and over again.

How come you started writing crime novels? Did you always know that you would become an author?

I was very fortunate that my father told me early on “you have many talents Jussi, try them one by one.” And I did. In 1980 I decided to to try to write and live in Holland with my wife for half a year, and that’s where I wrote my first novel. The purpose was to see if I could do it. I began to believe in this way of life, but I also thought it was too early in life to bet on it. It was not until 1987, where I had defined the castle for the “The Alphabet House” that I took the leap to become an author with my wife’s full support.

You have a very mixed resume, and I think that you see many of your experiences represented in the books. Psychology, politics, film expert, editor, composer and publisher. How would you describe/introduce yourself?

Forever curious and searching for new creative challenges.

Reader question: Where did you get inspiration for the character Rose?

I had Carl and Assad and their relationships and many secrets figured out, but it was not enough. I needed a character, that could create chaos, so I created Rose. Her personality has characteristics and patterns of action from Carl and Assad, which we wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. It is in the interaction between these three – and later also with Gordon – that the characters really come to life.

Reader question: How old is Carl Mørck?

His birthday is July 8, 1965.

Since you have studied film science, I am guessing that you have a good grasp of the genre when it comes to movies as well. What are the two best thrillers you have seen and why?

“Ransom” and “No Way Out” with their surprising endings and blazing and intelligent drive.

Speaking of movies, how big influence did you have on the movie adaptations of your books? Did you have any influence in casting Carl, Assad and Rose?

I have not had any influence on the movies that Zentropa has done.

I just finished listening to ”The Scarred Woman” which is a little different from the other books in the series. It is darker and a bit more surreal. Something that is very clear is your criticism of the Danish welfare system and the societal problems that occur when many young people grow up with a feeling that they deserve everything without having to work for it. Can we blame reality shows? Or curling parents? Or something else? And what do you think is the solution?

Yes, the young women and their lives may seem grotesque. But they exist, and to me they are a symbol of the ego-centration of our time. In recent years, it seems as if society has become accustomed to the fact that everything first and foremost is about that the satisfaction of my personal needs rather than the needs of others, which may be greater. The virtues of today are no longer showing sympathy or consideration for others, except for those who are closest to oneself – and the better and more distinctly one can satisfy oneself, the better. What is the solution? If I only knew how to conjure a greater empathy for others, then we would have come far. But parents have a great responsibility. The solution is, of course, that they work less, so that they can be closer to their children and show them that presence and tolerance is more important than ambitions and careers.

Can you rank the ”ingredients” in a crime novel according to importance?

1.       Good story – I am mainly thinking about a good plot

2.       Good language – good and authentic dialogue is importants

3.       Deep, interesting and well developed characters

4.       Suspense

5.       Working hard for the reader, so that history, people and locations have not been used before

How many novels about Department Q will there be? Do you already know what the next book will be about?

The series will have ten novels. We have now come to slowly reveal the secrets of the main characters. In Q7 we get into Rose’s head, and in Q8, which I am working on right now, Assad’s secrets – or at least some of them – will be revealed. In Q9 the turn comes to Carl’s secrets and in Q10 the whole series will be tied together, so you can really read the entire series as one long novel with ten chapters (books).

What are you reading right now? Are you following any TV series, and if so, which one?

Right now I only read what is needed for my research, but I love watching movies and TV series. My wife and I have for many years watched at least one movie or a couple of episodes of a TV series every evening. ”Designated Survivor”, ”House of Cards”, ”Modern Family”, etc., because American TV shows play in their own league. The latest movie that really hit me was “Lion”. Very beautiful, eminently directed, touching acting. A true experience.

Thank you Jussi!


Jussi will come to the Gothenburg Book Fair in Sweden this fall, for those who want to see/listen to him there.


Note: This interview has been translated from Swedish/Danish, and we take reponsibility for any errors in translation. It was first published on Deckarhuset July 11, 2017.


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