Katrine Engberg’s debut Scandinavian noir thriller, The Tenant is a gritty crime mystery with a riveting plot that is intricately constructed. Katrine bases her story in Copenhagen and crafts a Nordic atmosphere that is uniquely styled and vividly portrays the location in all its sweeping facets.
Julie Stender is a young woman found brutally murdered in her apartment, with multiple stab wounds and a pattern carved into her face. There is no theft or sexual assault so the crime screams out revenge, but revenge for what? Detectives Jeppe Korner and Anette Werner are assigned to the case and form a partnership that is unusual, both as individual characters and in their relationship. There is something a bit moody about Korner and Werner and it is refreshing to see that they don’t always agree and can irritate each other.
“He thought Anette was a bit of a bulldozer; she called him sensitive and a wimp. On good days they harped on each other knowingly like an old married couple. On bad days, he just wanted to throw her into the sea.”
Jeppe is recently divorced and is having real difficulty coming to terms with his new single life. He is a frustrating character, while well-intentioned he often seems unsure of himself, irresolute and unfocused. With regards Anette we find out very little about her personality and background, in this novel. Together this gives me a big issue with this book but for the upcoming series, I can imagine it will improve.
The investigation explores Julie’s family, friends, colleagues, other tenants, previous boyfriends and the landlord. The resident landlord of their apartment building is a lady called Esther de Laurenti. She is an intriguing character, well developed and maintained with suspicion as most of the story orbits around her. Is she the murderer, the target or just another player in the game? As an author, she is writing a thriller, which she shares privately with other writers in her online group. The terrifying and damning magnitude of this is that the murders follow scenes described in Esther’s book, and the writers’ group must all be assumed, potential murderers.
As the investigation progresses, new suspects are revealed without upsetting the wonderful balance between all possibilities, which leaves you completely guessing right throughout the book. At a point, you feel you have all the pieces of the puzzle but you still can’t see the overall picture and can’t piece it together. The mystery and surprises are sustained right to the end.
As the characters develop over the series, I can see how this is going to be a stellar addition to the many great crime thriller collections out there. I love the atmosphere of Nordic thrillers and I believe Katrine Engberg is set to translate well to US and UK markets. I recommend reading this book and I would like to thank Gallery Books, Scout Press and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC version in return for an honest review.