Henning Juul, a badly-scarred journalist who survived a fire in which his six year old son died, is just returning to work at an online news organization when he is assigned to cover a murder – a particularly newsworthy one. A woman’s body has been found in a public common. She appears to have been brutally executed in an honor killing using aspects of Sharia law, which leads the police to zero in on her Muslim boyfriend.
Juul has an anonymous source deep within the police who gives him just enough information about the investigation to question whether they are jumping too quickly to the wrong conclusion.
The high-pressure online news environment is well portrayed, as is Juul’s struggle to maintain some journalistic integrity in an environment where cheap thrills and celebrity gossip rule. He’s an interesting character who hasn’t recovered from the trauma of losing his son. He obsessively checks his smoke detectors and tests himself with matches.
The first third or so of the book had a lot of narrative energy along with an intriguing newsroom setting to get my hopes up in spite of an opening murder that seemed theatrically gruesome. (The victim, a beautiful young woman whose chief occupation is being dead, has been buried up to her neck, had her hand severed, and has been stoned to death inside a tent in a public place. I kept wondering how long it would take to dig a hole like that, and how you could erect a tent, haul in a lot of large rocks, bury a stunned person in the ground without them recovering consciousness, and carry out dismemberment and a stoning without anyone noticing. A tad over the top?) Unfortunately, though I was becoming won over by the lead character, the story grew so convoluted and improbable that by the end I wasn’t sure what was going on and I didn’t really care.
If I hear good things about the next book in the planned series, I might give it a go. But apart from the energy of the newsroom setting and Juul’s superstitious testing of his eight smoke alarms, there wasn’t enough of what I look for in a mystery. I want to get to know the characters. I want to care about the crime that has been committed and believe in the motives that led to it. I like good pacing, but I don’t care much for twists and turns that seem mainly intended to give me whiplash. Surprise! Surprise again!! Basically, I want stories built to human scale that make emotional sense. I suspect Thomas Enger could tell a good story (and with translator Charlotte Barslund, he’s in good hands) but this one got tangled up in nonsensical plotting and unlikely violence that, for me, overcame its strengths.