Thomas Enger, Cursed (Norway)

Thomas Enger’s Cursed, translated from Norwegian by Kari Dickson, has just been published by Orenda Books, with a rather beautiful cover that references the opening scene of the novel.

First line: Daniel Schyman knew that people would talk about this day.

Since Stieg Larsson’s ‘Millennium Trilogy’, featuring investigative reporter Mikael Blomkvist, various Scandi crime writers have deployed journalist sleuths to good effect. Recent examples include Liza Marklund (Annika Bengtzon), Jørn Lier Horst (Lina Wisting) … and Norwegian author Thomas Enger (Henning Juul and Nora Klemetsen).

Cursed is the fourth in the ‘Henning Juul’ series, and focuses on two complex cases: a traumatic, unresolved arson attack on Juul’s flat, and the disappearance of Nora’s old college friend Hedda Hellberg, who tells her husband that she’s going on a retreat in Italy, and promptly vanishes into thin air. And then there’s the murder of an elderly Swedish man on the first day of the hunting season, which might be related, though no one can quite figure out how.

On a narrative level, Enger manages to have his cake and eat it too. Juul’s investigation into the fire is an action-packed thriller that sees him venturing into Oslo’s murky underworld in search of information, with a particularly memorable fight-club scene. By contrast, Nora’s investigation into Hedda’s disappearance and her secret life provides a more traditional crime narrative, with Nora interviewing various members of the missing woman’s family in the course of her journalistic duties, and edging slowly towards the truth. Enger interweaves these two narrative threads with great flair: the novel is expertly plotted, with the thriller/crime elements providing stylistic variety and depth.

I particularly liked that Henning’s and Nora’s storylines are given equal weight. Both journalists are shown to be resourceful and effective investigators, and their characterisation is nuanced and believable. Once a couple, but driven apart by the fatal consequences of the fire, they are nonetheless still linked by that tragedy, and the evolution of their relationship against the backdrop of their ongoing grief is one of the novel’s key strengths.

Could readers new to the series jump in here? I’d read just one of the earlier novels prior to Cursed and managed perfectly well. But some might prefer to read the novels in order, in which case you could start with Burned (Faber & Faber).

All in all, Cursed is a very enjoyable and satisfying read. And as is so often the case with Orenda, the book is a beautiful object in its own right – gorgeous cover, high-quality paper and lovely design details. If you’re a crime lover who rejoices in the aesthetic delights of *real* books, then Orenda is most definitely for you.

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7 thoughts on “Thomas Enger, Cursed (Norway)

  1. Lovely review, as ever, Mrs. P. Enger really is skilled (must spotlight one of his books some time!), and I’m glad you enjoyed this one. I agree with you, too, that Burned and Pierced give some useful backstory and are well worth the read.

    • Thanks, Margot. I very much admire writers who can pull off such complex plots effectively. I imagine densely hand-written charts on walls with lots of arrows going everywhere (probably a computer programme now, but that seems less romantic).

      I must catch up with the others…!

  2. I have just finished reading Scarred, the third book in the series, and I think it is the best of the three. I look forward to reading Cursed. There is a new William Wisting book out soon although I’m not sure if Lina will appear, from the pre-release info it is going to be a prequel. And I have to confess that after about 7 books I became thoroughly tired of Bengtzon and gave up on the series.

    • Glad to hear you’ve enjoyed the others in the ‘Juul’ series – they seem to be going down really well with readers.

      I’ve been able to have a peek at the new Wisting novel, and loved it (as I do all in that series). It’s a cold case merged with a prequel, in which Lina appears as a baby! Review to follow of that one.

  3. Do these books have to be read in order? I have The Caveman without having read any other books in that series.
    I’ve also read the Irene Huss series a bit out of order, although that one should be read in order preferably. I think most series can be read out of order, but some like Stieg Larsson’s trilogy and a few others should be read in order or the later books won’t make total sense.
    Also, is this book too brutal? A factor.

    • Hi Kathy – so sorry for the delay in responding. I was up in London for the London Book Fair and my feet have only just touched the ground!

      On reading the books in order: I think this is down to personal preference mainly. I didn’t (in fact I still haven’t read the first one that was published in English, which was Dregs). I found that fine, although you have to accept that some spoilers in the overall story arc will be revealed. The cases in each of the books are self-contained, however.

      There is certainly violence/a major set of crimes in the novel, but I never find Jorn Lier Horst to be gratuitous. The focus is squarely on the investigation, and he is a thoughtful social critic too.

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