Published by – Orenda Books
Publication date – 15 February 2017
Source – review copy
“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. Taut, chilling and unputdownable, Cursed is the fourth in the internationally renowned series featuring conflicted, disillusioned but always dogged crime reporter Henning Juul, and marks the return of one of Norway’s finest crime writers.”
Cursed opens with a bang when Daniel Schyman is shot dead in his own forest in Sweden. In Norway Hedda Hellberg has failed to return from a retreat and her husband enlists her old friend Nora, a journalist, to help track her down. Nora’s husband Henning Juul is soon embroiled in the search. As the pair investigate, they discover a murky past to the Hellberg family and Juul finds clues as to the instigator of the fire that killed his son two years earlier.
Whist this is the fourth book in the series it is the first to be published by Orenda and can certainly be read out of sequence as all the novels can be read as standalone books.
I loved the setting of the novel. It gave a glimpse into life in Norway, a fascinating country that made me want to read more. The location itself is a character in the story. I felt it gave the book a darker edge, as if the narration was preparing for a lengthy Norwegian winter.
There is an edge, an undercurrent of darkness and tragedy to the novel, lent by the storyline following the murder of Juul’s young son. Juul was the intended target and this alone torment him. As he digs deeper into the circumstances he becomes more involved with the criminal underbelly of Oslo. This storyline is central to the novel and will follow through into the next in the series.
Juul and Nora are complex characters. The reader gets the impression that the Nora and Henning we see are just shadows of their real selves. Irrevocably changed by the death of their child, the trauma of such a loss has impacted them as people. There is a sadness that pervades them, yet it also allows Juul’s steely determination to spur him on to discover the truth, with a lack of self preservation at the heart of it.
The mystery surrounding the Hellbergs is compelling, and flows well with the other storyline. By having the story focus around one family and a handful of people the story gains an almost closed room feel to it. I also liked the fact that both protagonists were not law enforcement, allowing them to work outside the usual legal confines to delve deeper into the truth.
Short chapters lend itself to the ‘just one more chapter’ mentality and this meant I flew through the novel. It wasn’t until half way through that I thought to myself that I was really enjoying it. That’s not to say the first half isn’t good, far from it. It was just that this realisation that I was wrapped up in the story, so much so that I couldn’t wait to find out what had happened, snuck up on me as the story weaved itself into my subconscious. Put simply, the more I read, the more I wanted to read.
A note on the translation. Without obviously reading the original Norwegian I did feel that the story I read was close to that originally written and that Kari Dickson had retained the voice of Thomas Enger. If you forget that you are reading translated fiction then the translator has done their job well and that’s the case with this book.
This is the first book by Thomas Enger I have read but it certainly won’t be my last. I look forward to catching up with Henning Juul soon.