Review: Thomas Enger – Scarred

463bb4179660b847de99c85d3d03b6f5We’ve had to wait a while to get the third instalment of Thomas Enger’s series featuring journalist Henning Juul. Pierced ended with Henning almost buried alive and still desperate to uncover the mystery of the fire which killed his young son. Scarred begins with Hanning back at work and given the assignment of reporting on the police investigation into the violent death of an elderly woman in a nursing home. The violence of her murder suggests someone with a personal grudge, which may lie in the woman’s past as an unpopular school teacher. But Henning’s priorities shift when his estranged sister, Secretary of State Trine Juul-Osmundsen, is accused of sexually harassing a young male politician. Although she refuses to accept any help from him, he is drawn into why she is refusing to defend herself with any conviction.

Scarred is a slightly different book to the ones that come before. Henning’s preoccupation with his son’s death isn’t as dominant here, although this does form part of the narrative. Rather, it shows much of Henning’s early life and the complex family relations that haunt him to the present day. The depiction of death, in this case of the elderly nursing home resident is, despite its brutality, more restrained than in earlier books and overall I found the tone more sober. For a while it was difficult to see how the two cases would come together but I thought the book was a well-written and satisfyingly complex read.

Thanks to Faber for my review copy. The translation is by Charlotte Barslund.

Review: Thomas Enger – Pierced

The excellent debut novel by Thomas Enger, Burned, whetted my appetite for more and I was looking forward to reading the follow-up book Pierced. The tragedy that infuses the first book, the death in a fire of journalist Henning Juul’s son, provides the framework for the drama in book two.

Juul, a journalist employed by an on-line news site, receives a call from Tore Pulli, a prisoner who claims he has been convicted of a crime that he didn’t commit. Pulli is convinced that he was set-up and as a well-known underground ‘enforcer’ he has made plenty of enemies. He promises Juul that if he can find out who is responsible for his incarceration, he will give Juul vital information about the fire that killed his son. Juul therefore embarks on an investigation that takes him to the gym clubs and bars frequented by Oslo’s underground community.

Throughout the first book, there was an interesting tension in Juul’s reaction to his son’s death. On one hand he feels this overwhelming guilt that his son, who usually lived with Nora, Juul’s estranged wife, was present in the flat on the night of the fire and that he could’t save him. However, Juul is also convinced that, despite remembering little about the events leading up to the catastrophe, the fire was started deliberately. This tension continues to work well in Pierced as Juul tries to find a balance between his natural distrust of Pulli and his desperation to glean any information in relation to his son’s death.

Enger is at his best he describes the parent/child relationship. I find reading about Juul’s situation unbearably sad and his quest for some kind of closure of the incident is entirely believable, which is not always the case in other crime fiction novels. In Pierced, there is another parent/child relationship explored through the hapless Thorleif, a cameraman who is prevailed upon to commit an act of murder. Again, readers are likely to sympathise with Thorleif’s dilemma if not his choice.

Many of the elements that I liked in Burned are present in Enger’s latest book – his description of the petty bureaucracies of the newsroom, Juul’s spiky and emotional relationship with his ex-wife, and his interesting interaction with different members of the Oslo police force. The book ends on a cliff-hanger and clearly Juul’s quest for truth will continue into the next book. I hope readers aren’t kept in suspense for too long as I think Juul as a character has plenty in him beyond the his personal tragedy and it would be nice to get some sort of resolution soon.

I thought Pierced was an excellent read and Enger is now a ‘must-buy’ author for me.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher. Other reviews can be found at Petrona and at Raven Crime Reads.

Review: Thomas Enger – Burned

At the debut authors panel at CrimeFest in Bristol last week-end, Thomas Enger gave an engaging introduction to his debut novel Burned. Although I’m a fan of Scandinavian crime fiction, this book had passed me by and I started to read it on the train from Bristol. It provided a very enjoyable and fast paced read and I’m already looking forward to the follow-up Pierced which is out in July.

The book features Henning Juul, a journalist employed by an online newsite who has been on a leave of absence from work for two years. Over the course of the book we gradually learn of the tragedy that has affected Juul and his family. On his first day back at work, he is sent to investigate the murder of a girl who has been found half buried in a tent. Although family and friends struggle to find a motive, the nature of the killing suggests a link with radical Islam. However in the course of his reporting of events, Juul discovers a script that the film student had been working  at the time of her death which may hold clues to her murder.

Juul has an interesting relationship with the police. He appreciates the need to work closely with them to acquire information for his news site but he has doubts about the competency of their investigations, and is particularly suspicious of Inspector Brogeland whom he remembers from school. One of the most interesting aspects of the plot is the virtual relationship Juul has with an informer inside the police who he can only reach through an encrypted website.

As this is the first in a planned series of six books there are number of plot strands that aren’t resolved at the conclusion of the book. The cataclysmic event that that opens the narrative and is revisited throughout the novel is clearly going to be a theme of the second book. There is also an interesting sexual tension between two of the police officers, the sex obsessed Brogeland and Sergeant Ella Sandland, which I am sure will be played out in later books. I don’t require everything to be resolved in a single narrative and I think introducing dynamics to be resolved in later books was a good idea.

The actual murder case in Burned was well plotted although perhaps stretched the imagination a bit. Nevertheless I was fairly surprised by the identity of eventual culprit and liked the fact that once again, not everything was completely resolved. Enger is a former journalist and he portrayed well the tensions existing between modern internet based news, as exemplified by the fictional 1-2-3-News and more investigative style reporting which is Juul’s metier.

So a very interesting debut novel, written in the present tense which I liked, and I’m looking forward to future books in the series.

Other (largely positive) reviews of the book can be found at crimesquad.com, Petrona, Reactions to Reading and Eurocrime

The author’s website is here.

CrimeFest 2012: Debut Authors Panel – An Infusion of Fresh Blood

From classic crime to newly published authors. The first panel of Saturday morning at CrimeFest featured five debut writers discussing their novels. Moderated by crimesquad.com’s Chris Simmons, the eclectic panel provided a glimpse of some of the issues and themes featured in the latest crime books.

The first speaker was Thomas Enger whose first book Burned was published in July last year. The novel features Henning Juul, a journalist back at work after a traumatic incident who becomes involved in investigating a murder. Burned is the first in a planned series of six books, most of which have already been plotted. Enger spoke about the importance of mapping out the structure of his books after his previous writing attempts which were more spontaneous, but in his eyes less successful.

Next to speak was Penny Hancock, whose book Tideline is about a woman who abducts a teenage boy and keeps him prisoner in her home. The author explained that inspiration came partly from the guilt most mothers feel at failing their children in some way. The book focuses on the dangers that can emanate from within the home, usually considered to be a place of safety.

The third panelist was Damien Seamen whose book The Killing of Emma Gross is available on Kindle. The book was inspired the true story of a victim of Peter Kürten, the Dusseldorf Ripper in 1929. A number of serial murders took place during the Weimar Republic and the author explained his fascination with the period and the influence of the films of Fritz Lang.

Michael J Malone’s Blood Tears will be released on the 6th June. His view was that the Catholic experience in Scotland hadn’t been properly addressed in crime fiction and his book, in part, addresses the abuses that took place in Catholic orphanages in the 1970s. Michael is a published poet but he explained that to maintain momentum in a crime book he needed to change the way he approached his writing.

The Fall by Claire McGowan is the story of three characters involved in the case of a man accused of a murder in a London nightclub. Claire explained that she had been influenced by the social divisions that exist in modern day London and wanted to reflect this in her book. Written with three narrative voices the book addresses, through the medium of a crime, the class and race divisions that polarise under pressure.

It was an excellent panel with the authors explaining the process that saw them reach publication. Most writers had written at least one manuscript that remained unpublished but the authors were divided on the extent to which the acquisition of a publishing contract had influenced their writing.

The uniting force between the books seemed to be the location of the novels, which for the most were essential elements of the narrative, and in the case of Penny Hancock was almost a character in the book. I have both Blood Tears and Burned on my reading list after the panel and hope to read all of the books in the near future.

Thanks to Pam McIlroy for the top photo.