What secret would you kill to protect? When Hedda Hellberg fails to return from a retreat in Italy, where she has been grieving for her recently dead father, her husband discovers that his wife’s life is tangled in mystery. Hedda never left Oslo, the retreat has no record of her and, what’s more, she appears to be connected to the death of an old man, gunned down on the first day of the hunting season in the depths of the Swedish forests. Henning Juul becomes involved in the case when his ex-wife joins in the search for the missing woman, and the estranged pair find themselves enmeshed both in the murky secrets of one of Sweden’s wealthiest families, and in the painful truths surrounding the death of their own son. With the loss of his son to deal with, as well as threats to his own life and to that of his ex-wife, Juul is prepared to risk everything to uncover a sinister maze of secrets that ultimately leads to the dark heart of European history…
So we’ve been Burned, Pierced and Scarred so now prepare to be Cursed by the latest instalment in Thomas Enger’s superlative Henning Juul series. Focussing on our dogged, emotionally and physically damaged reporter, Juul, Enger has carved out an exceptional niche in the current Scandinavian crime fiction market. Juul is still endeavouring to find those responsible for the fire which led to the death of his young son, and the physical injuries to himself. This continues to lead him to some dark places, and into the crosshairs of some very dangerous people indeed. Coupled with this are the concerns raised by his changing relationship with his ex-wife, and fellow journalist, Nora and her involvement in a missing persons case at great danger to herself, which sees both their investigations become inextricably linked.
Hennning Juul himself, is a compelling character, in whom Enger balances an equal amount of empathy and exasperation on the part of the reader. We can sit back and admire his dogged determination to avenge himself on his son’s killers, and his integrity and professionalism as a reporter. However, I am increasingly struck by the fact that Juul never gives himself an emotional break, and lives his life in a constant state of maudlin despair. He is understandably grieving for the loss of his child and seeking emotional closure for this, but is in a state of denial that Nora will return to his warm embrace, particularly as she is now involved with another man. Indeed, I fear that such is his closed off state that he will fail to feel a warm embrace from any quarter. Like Enger’s assured characterisation of Juul’s estranged sister Trine in previous books, Nora is a well formed and believable character. Torn between two lovers as it were, and not without personal flaws, she possesses a steely glint in her eye when it comes to uncovering the events surrounding the mysterious disappearance of her former friend. She has an equanimity of character that allows her to drift between different social worlds, nagging away at the truth, although there is one exceptionally foolhardy action she takes that had me sighing in despair, the only kink in an otherwise perfect narrative.
Having favourably reviewed Enger’s previous three books, I am always struck with the control of pace and plot that is a standout feature of his writing. There is a real feel of storytelling in its purest form, and his books are always plainly delineated into a balanced beginning, middle and end, so consequently the reader is quickly drawn into the storyline, and carried along at a smooth and satisfying pace to the final denouement. There is always an element of surprise and wrongfooting in Enger’s plots, and a feeling of darkness as to what leads people to act and think in such malignant ways, played out against Enger’s pitch perfect use of socio-historical detail. I will issue my normal proviso that even if you are joining this series at this later point, Enger roundly and concisely brings the reader up to speed with previous events in Juul’s tortured personal history. Being a bit fly by night, and sometimes a sporadic follower of series, I have been totally consistent with Enger’s series to date, and by working a little bit of teasing magic at the very close of this one, I’m pretty darn sure that the next one will be a bit of a must read too. All in all another fine example of engaging Scandinavian crime fiction that ticks all the boxes for this reader. Recommended.
(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)
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