Review: Burned by Thomas Enger

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.


7 thoughts on “Review: Burned by Thomas Enger

  1. I am quite glad to know I’m not the only one who struggled with parts of this book Barbara as I’ve seen mostly ultra-glowing reviews elsewhere and I keep wondering what I missed. I too found the plot over the top….your description of twists just to induce whiplash is spot on. I will probably read the next one in the series but won’t be rushing to pre-order as I did with this one (should know by now not to listen to hype)

  2. I agree it has flaws, and the plot very clunky (esp at the end, setting up the next book) but I liked the protag, the “new journalism” themes, and the dynamics between him and the woman he’d been involved with (maybe his ex-wife? forget). I thought it a good debut, on the whole, and will definitely read the next if possible. As an aside, the US cover (I assume) in your post is a lot more stylish than the UK one, in my view.

  3. I did like the cover very much! There, I said something nice about the book. 🙂 I actually read this a few weeks ago, then set it aside while I thought about what to say, then ended up reading quite a bit of it again so I could check my impressions – sometimes when the plot goes wonky it’s me not paying attention. But second time around the ending was still pretty scattered.

    One thing I missed in this story was the feeling that I was in Norway. Apart from names, it could almost have been anywhere. The news business felt quite universal – sadly! Though I do think there’s potential in a journalist character who wants to dig beneath the surface for a good story (though perhaps not employment in the 24/7 news cycle).

  4. Barbara,
    Wanted to thank you for hosting this excellent blog and for writing such good reviews and adding in links to so many interesting reviews and articles.
    This blog is a real pleasure to read. And it also lets me know if I want to try a Nordic book or not.
    Happy New Year — and especially to a plethora of good Scandinavian crime fiction.
    Kathy D.

  5. Pingback: Review: Burned by Thomas Enger | The Game's Afoot

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s