Burned set in Oslo in 2009 is the first in a projected six book series featuring journalist Henning Juul. The author Thomas Enger is a music composer and former journalist and the book has been translated from the Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund.
Henning has endured the greatest tragedy anyone can suffer, the loss of a child. His son Jonas died in a house fire which left Henning badly scarred, both physically and emotionally. Henning has difficulty sleeping, frightening dreams and exhibits obsessive compulsive behaviour relating to smoke alarms and their batteries.
Henning is returning to work after a two year gap facing several major problems. Life has has moved on without him and he struggles to cope with the technology at the online news service where he works, and also a different ethical approach to journalism. Online hits are more important than a story’s accuracy in this harsh environment.
And a tighter ship for on-line newspapers that want to survive means more sex, more tits and more porn.
He is surprised to discover his new boss, the precise and professional Heidi Kjus was once his intern, and shattered to realise when he meets his ex-wife Nora that he is expected to work with her new lover, Iver Gundersen.
A young woman Henriette Hargerup is found in a tent on Ekeberg Common. She has been half buried, mutilated and brutally murdered by stoning. The fact that Henriette has a Muslim boyfriend, Mahmood Marhouni, leads the police to follow one line of investigation. But Henning thinks that the murder may be more complicated, and reviving contact with his “deep throat” online source starts to interview Henriette’s friends at college.
As an awkward old codger I am very wary of books that have been hyped and praised by the main stream media, but this is a very good debut. I hope the horrific actions of mass murderer Anders Breivik, sentenced to 21 years in prison this week, do not inhibit Norwegian crime writers from dealing with some of the very important topics Thomas Enger discusses in Burned. He deals with multiculturalism, sharia, huddud punishments, immigrant drug gangs, racism and indigenous nationalism.
‘What do you think Oslo will look like in thirty or forty years? We’ll probably all be Muslims,…….’………………..
‘No. But there’s nothing to suggest that might happen, Annetee. Very few people believe that Norwegian law should give way to sharia.’
One less serious sub-plot concerns the police combination of the sexy Ella Sandland and her sad immature colleague Bjarne Brogeland, who spends more time lusting after Sandland than investigating the case.
With two of the biggest selling Scandinavian crime fiction series [Liza Marklund's Annika Bengtzon series, and Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy] both featuring investigative journalists the Henning Juul series might have appeared derivative, but Thomas Enger has succeeded in avoiding that pitfall. Henning is an original character and the intricate details of journalism and interviewing techniques in the book seem fresh. Henning is an intelligent protagonist and the twists and turns in the plot, although possibly over complicated towards the conclusion, are inventive and leave this reader wanting very much to move on to Pierced, the sequel.