INBORN by Thomas Enger
Orenda Books; 1/25/19 (UK) & 9/1/19 (US)
CBTB Rating: 4/5
The Verdict: compelling courtroom drama meets small-town noir
A couple of weeks ago, I found myself in the airport in Oslo, Norway, waiting on a (very) delayed flight back to New York. What could have been a frustrating way to pass an evening was saved by my bookish companion on the trip: Norwegian author Thomas Enger’s thought-provoking standalone crime novel INBORN. Part courtroom drama, part exploration of small-town life in Enger’s native Norway, INBORN is an effortless read--one enhanced by precise plotting and the author’s knack for rich character development. Following a teenage boy who is accused of murder, INBORN moves readers between the courtroom, wherein the boy is being questioned by the prosecution, and the past, where readers slowly but surely unravel the secrets of what really happened on that fateful night. Given that this book did begin as a Young Adult novel, INBORN is lighter on violence and grit than is Enger’s Henning Juul series, but that’s no detriment to the story Enger tells here. Enger has done a superb job adapting this Young Adult crime novel for an adult readership, and readers will find the book’s clean, crisp prose and precise plotting appealingly easy to devour. I come to Thomas Enger’s writing when I want to read a book with characters who feel three-dimensional and endearing, and I found exactly that in his newest standalone. INBORN is a compelling blend of courtroom drama and heart-tugging examination of adolescence--Enger has delivered again.
What turns a boy into a killer?
When the high school in the small Norwegian village of Fredheim becomes a murder scene, the finger is soon pointed at seventeen-year-old Even. As the investigation closes in, social media is ablaze with accusations, rumours and even threats, and Even finds himself the subject of an online trial as well as being in the dock … for murder?
Even pores over his memories of the months leading up to the crime, and it becomes clear that more than one villager was acting suspiciously … and secrets are simmering beneath the calm surface of this close-knit community. As events from the past play tag with the present, he’s forced to question everything he thought he knew. Was the death of his father in a car crash a decade earlier really accidental? Has a relationship stirred up something that someone is prepared to kill to protect?
It seems that there may be no one that Even can trust.
But can we trust him?
A taut, moving and chilling thriller, Inborn examines the very nature of evil, and asks the questions: How well do we really know our families? How well do we know ourselves?
Before we delve into the details of this review, it will be useful for readers to understand a bit more about this book’s inception. The concept for INBORN - as explained by the author in the book’s acknowledgements - originally began with the idea to create two versions of the same crime story, one for parents and one for children, which could then be read and discussed together. It’s a fantastic concept. Though this plan didn’t come to fruition in the the way the author originally envisioned it, Enger did write the Norwegian Young Adult novel Killerinstinkt - and now he has adapted that same Young Adult story, this time for English-speaking Adult readers. It’s a wildly ambitious project, and it’s one that has paid off in spades. I’m not a reader of Young Adult fiction (absolutely nothing against the genre - it’s just not my preference!), so I wasn’t sure how exactly INBORN would work for me. As it turned out, I had absolutely nothing to worry about. INBORN reads like an adult crime novel through and through. Though it is lighter on scenes of violence and mature content than some of its adult crime fiction counterparts, Enger has seamlessly shifted his YA story into something that perfectly suits an adult readership - and would still be a compelling read for a YA fan, too. This is no small feat, and I applaud the author for the incredible work that must have gone into accomplishing this project.
When I found myself reading INBORN, I needed a crime book that would transport me out of the airport, and carry me away in a page-turning story; something easy to devour yet filled with enough “meat” to keep me fully invested. I got exactly that in Enger’s newest release. INBORN is, from the outset, an unputdownable read. It’s not a flashy story - Enger writes with quiet confidence and precision, favoring methodical plotting and character development over flashy “extras” - but it’s exactly this style that made me love INBORN. From page one, readers will be transported to Fredheim, a rural town in Norway where life, much like Enger’s writing, is quiet and steady. But the peace and “ordinariness” of this small town is shattered by a shocking crime. One night at the local high school, following the performance of a high school band, two students are brutally murdered. The suspect? Even, a 17-year-old with personal ties to both victims. What could drive an ordinary boy to commit these heinous crimes? Enger masterfully weaves together past and present to craft a thought-provoking investigation into the dark motivations that can lurk in the dark places of even the most ordinary people.
Structurally, INBORN is an absolute delight: Enger practically ensures that his readers will keep turning pages with his story’s masterful alternate timeline. In the present, readers sit in the courtroom as Even, the primary suspect in this brutal double homicide, is questioned by the prosecution on the case. Enger takes readers into Even’s head, making us privy to Even’s anxiety and stress as he undergoes questioning. It’s impossible not to feel sympathetic for Even, and it’s also impossible not to be suspicious of this young man - and the contradictory emotions readers will feel towards him enhance the reading experience many times over. Interwoven throughout the “present” thread, readers are taken back in time to experience firsthand the events that precipitated the crime central to our story. Enger takes his time here, introducing readers to Even as he was before and following the incident, and introducing readers to the major players in Even’s life - everyone from the two deceased individuals to Even’s family and more. Through this “past” storyline, INBORN examines the inner workings of small-town life. How is guilt assessed by the public? What happens when the public decides that someone is guilty - and what if they’re wrong? In a place as small as Fredheim, word (and popular opinion) travels fast, and readers will feel acutely for Even as he navigates the events preceding and following his friends’ brutal murder - even as we are also aware that he might very well be the killer.
Fredheim and its inhabitants feel authentic and true to life, and in their portrayal, Enger raises compelling questions about social media culture and trial in the court of public opinion. He also deftly examines the growing pains of adolescence, sensitively exploring the mindset of a teenager being forced to grow up much before his time. For such a slim book, INBORN packs an emotional punch; as per usual with Enger’s books, this story and its characters got under my skin a very real way. INBORN is distinctly different in tone and content from Enger’s Henning Juul series, and though the Henning books may always be my personal favorite of Enger’s work, INBORN thoroughly impressed me with its clever plotting and thought-provoking premise. Another feather in Thomas Enger’s cap.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions my own.
Paperback: 276 pages
Publisher: Orenda Books; None edition (September 1, 2019)
Crime by the Book is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This in no way affects my opinion of the books included in this post.