Burned – Thomas Enger

Setting: Oslo, Norway. (Yes, I am currently in the vice like grip of Scandinavian crime fiction.) 

Story: Henning Juul is an internet based journalist who returns to work after recovering from a fire at his home which claimed the life of his young son. His return is at the same time as the discovery of a female murder victim, half buried in a tent. All initial clues point to the victim’s Pakistani boyfriend, but Juul is not so sure and digs around to see what he can find.

The Good Stuff: Executive summary? This is one of the best crime books I have read for a while. It is a blistering combination of character and plot, delivered with unpretentious but polished prose. It is terrific. For example, Juul is another troubled hero, but Enger’s portrait is rock solid, realistic, and with no punches pulled. The guy has survived a tragedy, but he has also suffered one – the loss of his son. Enger gives us enough of Juul’s thoughts and rationale without overdoing it.

More Good Stuff: Although most of the other characters do not get the same attention as Juul, Enger has the knack of making them seem more than props. Detective Inspector Bjarne Brogeland, a contemporary of Juul’s, is the main policeman involved. He comes across as a typical (secret) male chauvinist, with Western prejudices to match. But he is no blundering fool and is clearly trying to do the right thing, even when it undermines his previously held suspicions. And the evildoers are also interesting people. (I don’t want to say too much for fear of spoiling the book for those who have not read it.) The scenes at the newspaper and media politicking seem to reflect the author’s deep knowledge of that world. It’s a well drawn environment. And while it may be that Juul is a male, I found his involvement in crime solving to be a lot more believable than that of fellow journalist Annika Bengtzon.

Even More Good Stuff: The book touches on issues of immigration and prejudice, particularly Islamophobia, without beating the reader about the head and face with the big, bad, Author’s Message Baton.

And: The plot has a couple of cracking, worth the price of entry alone, twists. If that weren’t enough for the jaded palate, the book finishes with a question which comes out of nowhere and may cause you to exclaim. (My internal reaction was Yes! Yours may be different. No matter; it’s one of the best endings to a novel I can remember.)

Translation: Charlotte Barslund did a great job. I only spotted one passage where the language went astray, and that’s probably because she is not a football fan. (I’ve never heard of an insider pass before, and I doubt I will hear about it again!) That apart, well done Charlotte.

Not So Good Stuff: Juul has access to a Deep Throat source within the police. I found that too much a Get Out of Jail Card for the hero (and the author).

Score: 9/10 – That may settle down after the initial rush of excitement to an 8/10, but regardless of my movable score, it’s a cracking book.

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