Enger, Thomas - 'Burned' (translated by Charlotte Barslund)
A man is walking his dog on Ekeberg Common. He cannot resist looking into the large white tent that has somehow appeared there since yesterday. But after he sees the body of the young woman, brutally beaten - stoned to death, he wishes he had never stepped inside.
Next day the Ekeberg Common killing is the big story and journalist Henning Juul, first day back at work after two long years, is assigned to it. Juul is visibly scarred both physically and emotionally after the fire that also robbed him of his young son. Now Juul is back working for internet-based 123News. Things have changed and not only the building. His one-time assistant is his new boss. Maybe she has an axe to grind. Later that morning at the police press conference Henning realises that his new partner on the Ekeberg story is also the boyfriend of his ex-wife Nora, the mother of their dead son. Finally the realisation that one of the police team, Inspector Brogelund, is an old rival from the days when Henning applied for admittance to the police college and Brogelund succeeded where Henning failed - makes this is a day for rubbing Henning's face into his own personal failings. But Henning has made it back. And he's on the big story of the day.
At the press conference the police aren't letting on with too much detail about the murder. But when another journalist at the press conference asks if it is true that this was an "honour killing", that the girl had been both flogged and stoned, the police realise that they have a leak.
Thomas Enger, in Henning Juul, has created a new kind of protagonist. As a reader of thriller crime fiction you learn to accept that your protagonist will suffer chases, beatings, shootings, will frequently escape death by a whisper - but will also after three hours sleep and a hot shower hit the "mean streets" running. With Juul we get a protagonist who comes to us still suffering injury and grief two years on from a horrific event in his personal life. We follow him into the Ekeberg investigation accompanied by all of the obsessive compulsive behavioural tics that get him through each day. Let alone his work as a crime journalist. It is an attention grabbing portrait. One whose immediacy is emphasised by writing the novel in the present tense. No wonder ex-journalist Thomas Enger has received solid praise for BURNED, his first crime novel.
BURNED is set in Oslo amongst the cross-over worlds of college students and the local Muslim immigrant community. And it is a gripping book with a fast pace. I have to say that I found some of the character motivations within the plot a bit opaque. And I found the detailed obsessive sexual attraction of Brogelund towards his female colleague, Sergeant Sandland distracting. But such is the impact of the writing of the character of Henning Juul, I am happy to put these factors to one side and whole-heartedly agree that Enger is truly a fresh new voice in Scandi-Noir.
The novel BURNED ends with a heads-up clue to the next investigation for Henning; one that relates to the horrific fire and the death of his son. We readers are assured that Thomas Enger's second novel featuring Henning Juul is on its way. Good.
Read another review of BURNED.
Lynn Harvey, England
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.