Cursed is the fourth book in Thomas Enger’s Henning Juul series but my first introduction to both the author and his investigative journalist protagonist and it works well as a stand-alone.
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 Norway’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.
I have to confess that I initially chose to read this because, while the bulk of the action takes place in Norway, there was a Swedish connection. And I had a shiver of excitement reading the first page of the prologue to Cursed, which opens with a scene in Sweden and mentions the death of a character called Gunilla because when I was in Sweden I wrote a short story about a woman whose name is Gunilla and is sadly dead by the end. It felt as if my story was in some small way handing over the baton, or talking to Thomas Enger’s much better and far more polished novel. I got a kick out of that idea anyway but enough self-indulgence and back to what I made of Cursed.
I thoroughly enjoyed how the novel is told in dual narrative, Henning Juul taking one strand, and his ex-wife, Nora, also a journalist, the other. I liked seeing how they approached their work, bumped up against each other as they navigated life apart and after the death of their son, and tried to work out at which point the stories they were investigating might find some overlap. Henning and Nora are very different characters but interesting and strong enough in their own right to carry their part of the story when the other is off the page and it gives Cursed a very contemporary feel, having these two former partners still caring for each other and with a connection but also dealing with this next stage of their lives.
I also like how Nora is more of a roving reporter in this case, while Henning Juul spends more time in Oslo and while there was no need, thanks to Thomas Enger’s excellent description which conjured up Oslo and the Norwegian countryside and coast in this reader’s mind, I was so intrigued by the place names and unusual sounding streets that Cursed had me frantically Googling its locations so that I could
stalk, I mean, shadow their movements and vicariously travel to the parts of Norway their stories take them.
If it wasn’t already apparent from the characters that walk and talk off the page – here are people I connected with and want to get to know better – and the realistic feel to Cursed’s settings, be they coastal, urban or rural, Thomas Enger shows his skill as a writer in the tightly-constructed plot strands which weave in and out of each other like running deer chasing in front of the reader to the novel’s conclusion. I found it very difficult to stop reading Cursed and one chapter became one more and then the promise of another as I hurtled along after Henning and Nora. That the storylines in Cursed stem from the uncovering of (some long-held) secrets makes it all the more intriguing and Thomas Enger teases the reader all the way along revealing a little more with each chapter. Cursed is a compelling, breathless read and an intricate web of secrets and connections to unravel but well worth the mental gymnastics and raised heartbeat. This whip-smart shot of Nordic noir was riveting and recommended reading. Now to check out the previous three Henning Juul novels…
Cursed by Thomas Enger is published by Orenda Books in the UK. It is available in paperback and as an ebook from Orenda’s own eBookstore, Amazon UK, Foyles, Hive (supporting your local independent bookshop) and Waterstones. You can find out more about the author and his books by visiting his Author Website or you can find him on Twitter.
My thanks to Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books for a review copy of Cursed.
The Cursed blog tour continues until 14th March. Below are all the participating blogs: