Book review: “Burned” by Thomas Enger

book cover of Burned by Thomas Enger

Christine Foster Meloni
Washington, D.C.

According to well-known critic Barry Forshaw, Thomas Enger is currently one of the four most interesting Norwegian crime writers. He belongs in the “Norse Quartet” along with Jo Nesbø, Karin Fossum, and Gunnar Staalesen.

In Enger’s debut novel Burned, we are introduced to Henning Juul, a reporter for 1-2-3 News. He has just returned to work after taking two years off to recover from a traumatic event. His apartment caught fire and he was badly burned, leaving his face and hands scarred. His young son Jonas died in the fire and Henning was, therefore, left with severe emotional as well as physical scars.

On his first day back at work, Henning is called to a horrific crime scene on a college campus. The body of Henriette, a female student, is found inside a tent, buried in a hole up to her waist. She has been stoned to death and one hand has been cut off.

When it is discovered that Henriette had a Muslim boyfriend, the immediate conclusion is that he is the perpetrator. Henning, however, soon suspects that the police have jumped too fast to a mistaken conclusion. They are focused on the wrong person, and he sets out to find the real killer.

Henning hangs around the college, thinking that the answer to the mystery will be found there. He learns that Henriette and her friend Annette were working on a play together. When he obtains a copy of the script, he is shocked to find that the events that are now taking place are following this very script.

Henning is pretty much a lone wolf but he does collaborate to a certain extent with his colleagues at the newspaper and with a high school acquaintance who is now a detective inspector with the Oslo police. He throws himself into the search heart and soul. He finds his work stimulating but also therapeutic – and extremely dangerous.

Enger has written an exciting story with numerous twists and turns and an unexpected ending. As a former reporter himself, he is able to portray the working environment of a daily newspaper in detail. His protagonist is sensitive although not very sociable. He is intelligent and hardworking but he is still suffering from the traumatic loss of his son for which he blames himself. He has faith in his ability to perform his work well but he feels self-conscious and vulnerable because of his scars. The author’s other main characters are well developed. The fast pace of the book holds the reader’s interest. While the initial crime scene is graphic, the remainder of the book has little violence.

Enger’s second novel, Pierced, has also been translated into English. Thomas Enger is a Norwegian crime novelist well worth watching.

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 21, 2014, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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Christine Foster Meloni

Christine Foster Meloni is professor emerita at The George Washington University. She has degrees in Italian literature, linguistics, and international education. She was born in Minneapolis and currently lives in Washington, D.C. She values her Norwegian heritage.