Nordic Noir Book Review: BURNED by Thomas Enger

BURNED by Thomas Enger

CBTB Rating: 4.5/5

The Verdict: approachable & endearing Nordic Noir

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: one of my favorite moments as a reader is when you pick up a book by an author who is totally new to you, and you feel instantly at home in its world. This was very nearly my experience with Thomas Enger’s debut novel, BURNED—the only caveat being that I got to know Thomas briefly at this year’s Iceland Noir conference, so I did have a bit of background information on his crime series when I picked up BURNED. (You can read about my interview with Enger here!) I read BURNED on my flight from Iceland back to New York, and was completely absorbed in this fast-paced read. 

BURNED introduces readers to Enger’s series character Henning Juul. We meet Henning at the lowest point in his life: his young son has recently died in a tragic accident which nearly claimed Henning’s life as well. We step into Henning's life as he comes to the end of a 2-year hiatus from work following the tragedy, and prepares to return to his career as a journalist. Henning may be returning to work, but the scars of his tragedy, both physical and emotional, are plain for both his colleagues and the reader to see. 

In an interwoven storyline, police officers are called to a crime scene: a woman’s corpse has been found, half-buried and brutalized in a tent in the middle of an Oslo city park. Assigned to the story, Henning finds himself thrown into a case with deep ties to the city’s underbelly—and the subjects of his investigation have their eye on him, too. 

If you love a classic “troubled cop” main character, you’ll love the twist on this archetype provided by Enger’s Henning Juul. Just to be clear: Henning technically isn’t a cop at all, but he functions in a similar way throughout the novel—on assignment from his editor, Henning winds up knee-deep in an investigation that consumes his whole world, and threatens his life. He might not be a cop, but his storyline will totally satisfy readers looking for a police officer-driven storyline. What makes Henning truly compelling, though, is the sensitive streak that runs through his personality. He has a hard-nosed stubbornness that both serves him well and gets him in trouble throughout the novel, but he also has a quiet tenderness that made me want to sit him down and talk to him about his problems. The result? An endearing series character who I absolutely plan to get to know further in subsequent Henning Juul novels. 

I have to say, BURNED fully exceeded my expectations. Based on its jacket copy, I expected a pretty standard crime story, but Enger takes things a step further: he delves into topics of culture clashes, jealousy, and interpersonal manipulations—all the while maintaining an easy, fast-paced style that will keep you turning pages.

My only issue with this novel - and this is a super nit-picky issue, to be sure - was actually its translation. I hardly ever comment on translations because I could never do them myself, and I therefore don’t really consider myself qualified to critique them—but in this case, I did feel that the translation hindered my reading just a bit. Nothing egregious, just enough that I noticed it while reading. That’s certainly no fault of the author’s, and it makes me extra excited to see what Enger’s forthcoming novel, CURSED will be like—he has a new publisher (Orenda Books!) and his publisher has gotten a new translator on board. 

BURNED is an accessible, compelling addition to your Scandinavian crime reading list. The best part of this read really is the main character. Henning has the dry humor of Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Carl Morck, the sincerity of Camilla Lackbeg’s Patrik Hedstrom, and a complicated soul all his own. 

For more information on Enger’s upcoming novel with Orenda Books, head to Orenda’s website