In the strange but gripping tale Burned, by Thomas Enger, Norwegian Henning Juul feels extremely self conscious in public because of the burn scars on his face. The reader learns by bits and pieces throughout the story that Henning’s young son was killed in a fire that left Henning disfigured and extremely depressed.
After two years, he builds enough courage to return to his previous job as an investigative reporter. His very first case involves him in a gruesome murder mystery where police find a young woman dead in what appears to be an honor killing.
The victim in Burned was buried almost to her neck. She appears to have been stoned to death — the punishment rite of sharia for unfaithfulness. Police immediately imprison her boyfriend.
On the back of the neck of the dead woman, Henning notices tiny marks that a stun gun might have produced. Beginning with this discovery, he reasons that the woman’s killer stoned her after he stunned her into unconsciousness. Although police assume her death was a sharia incident, Henning digs vigorously for clues to contradict their verdict. As a reporter, he seeks a top-headline story.
He notices that the victim had helped develop a screenplay to expose the absurdity of sharia law if carried out in modern Oslo. In the screenplay, an actress would be stone-murdered in gruesome detail for an alleged adultery. Now, Henning believes the murdered woman became a real victim in her own screenplay that she and several others were screen-shooting.
To say the least, Burned is not a book you can put down easily. While all clues seem to point to the murdered woman’s jilted Pakistani boyfriend, Henning’s reasoning and clues will leave your mind in turmoil. It isn’t until the very end of Enger’s story that Henning strongly hints who the real killer was. You, the reader must decide if he was correct.
Interestingly enough, Burned begins with a flashback to the fire that scarred Henning for life — that caused him to lose his son — which caused his wife to divorce him. Yet, even at Burned‘s conclusion, the author promises a continuation of events in a future book that will reveal what and/or who started the fire that changed Henning Juul’s life so dramatically.
I would recommend this story to readers who love bizarre mysteries that are not the usual mystery/suspense fodder. Like me, you will learn a lot about sharia law and attempt to rationalize how radical Muslim’s can continue to enforce it. The book is strong enough to make the reader seek out Thomas Enger’s next effort.
Sometimes the writing could be improved. There are several instances where active voice could be used rather than passive: page 117 “… a hole is ripped in the door behind him …” A simple sentence such as “A hole rips through the door behind him …” would suffice and might be a bit more exciting.
But all in all, this story stirs the imagination. I agree with the words on the very first page of the book: “… this gritty, shocking novel of suspense heralds the arrival of a major new talent.”