Review: Burned by Thomas Enger @EngerThomas

Now it has been a few weeks since I listened to the audio book of Burned by Thomas Enger, the first book in the Henning Juul series. I promised myself earlier in the year after reading Cursed that I was going to catch up on all I had missed so it was fabulous to be able to find out where it all began. I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the book with you in just a moment, but first, here is what it’s all about.

BurnedThe Official Book Blurb

A solitary tent is found to contain the body of a half-buried woman. She’s been stoned to death. There are lash marks across her back. One of her hands has been cut off.

Two years earlier internet reporter Henning Juul lost his son, Jonas, in a domestic fire. As he returns to work, physically and emotionally scarred, Henning struggles to escape this past and to be taken seriously again as a reporter – by his colleagues, his ex-wife and the police.

Told to cover the story of the woman in the tent, he finds an increasingly dangerous trail and, despite an early arrest, he is convinced that the story is more complex than the police think…

Broken, both physically and mentally, Henning Juul is just one of those characters who I became invested in from the very first time I ‘met’ him, while reading Cursed. Now this was a long way into Henning’s journey to find out the truth about what happened to his son, so it was really intriguing to take a step back in time to join Henning just as he is about to try and restart his life after the tragic fire which cost him almost everything.

What he finds as he re-enters his workplace for the first time in two years, is just how much everything has changed. It is all shiny and new, from the fixtures and fittings of the offices right down to the relationship his ex wife Nora has engaged in with the station’s new super star journalist. It is hard for Henning who still bears the scars of the fire and who still suffers emotionally, to find his feet in this new world. He lost so much of himself in the fire, but he didn’t his journalistic instinct or his nose for a story and it is this which drives him to look deeper into a particularly harrowing story; that of a young woman who appears to have been stoned to death.

The case is complex, touching upon the Muslim faith, the idea of sharia law and of revenge killing. It brings Henning face to face with a merciless group of men who would kill to protect each other, their business and their faith and on more than one occasion Henning finds himself once again dicing with death. But there is much more to the story than meets the eye and Thomas Enger has very skilfully woven together so many seemingly unconnected threads that you will not fully understand where the story is heading, or the truth of what has happened until the very end.

The characterisations in this book were excellent, very diverse and carefully delivered to the reader. Generating fiction based around any faith is a very difficult thing to do, the author having to walk a fine line between stereotype and reality, but Thomas Enger manages this well, capturing the sense of the prejudice and mistrust that surrounds the Muslim faith in many a community. And yet the story goes beyond being a criticism of the faith; in itself religion becomes more of a back drop to the rest of the story.

Full of moments of introspection, where Henning struggles with what has happened in his past, and also of moments of real tension where he is placed in great jeopardy, the story kept me engaged and determined to find out who the killer was and what their motives were. And you get a real sense of place from Enger’s writing. I don’t know Norway at all, but I had a crystal clear image in my mind as I progressed through the book, of the landscape within which the story was being told. Atmospherically, it added to the ominous feeling of the investigation.

Bizarrely, the book also enhanced my thus far none existent knowledge of children’s television programme, In The Night Garden. Not something I’d ever thought would happen reading this series and you’ll need to read to understand why it amused me and my sister.

I listened to Burned, rather than read it, enjoying the audiobook while on my recent holiday to Scotland. I can highly recommend it. The translation was brilliant so hat’s off to Charlotte Barslund for that, and to Gareth Armstong for the narration of the audio book. I’m off now to dig out book two. Pierced, here I come.

Burned is available now from the following retailers:

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Kobo | Waterstones | Audible

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