The Tenant – by Katrine Engberg (Review)

Kørner & Werner #1

Mystery, Thriller

Gallery Books; January 14, 2020

368 pages (ebook)
10hr 21m (audiobook)

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3.5 / 5 ✪

I wouldn’t exactly class this as “Scandinavian dark” (or true Nordic) noir, but it’s not exactly bright and sunny, insomuch as murder mysteries ever are.

After a young woman is discovered brutally murdered in her downstairs apartment, we get our introduction to Police Detectives Jeppe Kørner and Anette Werner. They make up part of the Copenhagen homicide department, and are seen as a dynamic duo (if only because their names rhyme).

First thing they notice are the intricate patterns painstakingly carved into her face. Add to it the depraved, if “artistic”, juxtaposed nature of the crime—is all it takes for the pair to decide that they’re not dealing with a typical killer, instead one whose lust for murder is likely not yet sated. All done even before they discover the victim’s name.

Julie Stender was a tenant at the flat of Esther de Laurenti; landlady, patron of the arts, and budding novelist. As it so happens, Julie was a key character in Esther’s new crime novel. She was, in fact, the murder victim.

But is Esther the murderer, or is she just another victim? People certainly have done stranger things for fame, but the detectives question if she had the physical prowess to restrain the girl, let alone carve her up. And while her novel featured Julie as its lone victim—it remains unpublished. In fact, only a chosen few had access to it, and after interviewing them, Kørner and Werner are left with no great options. Almost everyone connected to the crime has an alibi. Except Esther. But has she blurred the lines between art and insanity, or are Kørner and Werner seeking a different killer, one that may yet strike again?

I picked this up after reading Mogsy’s review of it—where she classes it as a bit of a classic whodunnit. And after reading it… yeah, I’m inclined to agree. If you’re not familiar with Nordic Noir, then you’re in for an experience. Not that I would class this as nordic noir—it’s not as dark as Ragnar Jónasson or Jo Nesbø—it’s more of a crime thriller, mystery with dark Scandinavian vibes, but it’s not too gritty. But then Denmark is one of the happiest countries in the world. And you can kinda tell from this—if only by contrast.

The characters are fairly well developed and grow and change over the course of the text—or, well, Kørner does. And Esther, I suppose. I really would’ve expected a well-thought out character like Anette Werner to experience more growth, but don’t get to know her very well in this. While this is remedied in the second book, I really would’ve liked to see more from one of the two title characters. Jeppe certainly has his time in the spotlight; it’s a shame that Anette doesn’t share it.

Though a crime drama, noir mystery, thriller what-have-you, the Tenant is about more than the murder of Julie Stender. Yes, we get to explore Julie’s life—all the choices that led to this, that made her her, that ultimately contributed to her life and death and the fallout from each—but we get to see a lot more besides. Esther gets more time in the spotlight than I was expecting (while as I’ve previously mentioned Anette Werner does not). She actually makes quite an interesting character, though most of what we’re focused on (as she is as well) is the murder itself. Jeppe Kørner, on the other hand, gets to live more than just the case. We see a career cop, fresh off a divorce that’s almost ruined his life. His attempt to get his life together while attempting to avoid alienating all the people his still cares about is one that many of us can relate to—even if we haven’t all been through a messy divorce. Through this book, Kørner tries to compartmentalize the case from his personal life, with varying levels of success. His love, sex, social, and private lives are all laid bare. Though his job may not have always been so deeply connected to his identity before his life came to shambles, one thing becomes increasingly clear: it’s not just another case. This time, it really is personal.

TL;DR

Overall, this was a great read and a good crime thriller. It’s not perfect, but combines an interesting story and adequately perplexing mystery with realistic characters and an immersive setting. Though Copenhagen may be one of the fabled happiest cities in the world, the whole story has a decidedly dark twist to it—something that the story is decidedly better for! Though some aspects—character depth and development, especially—could certainly do with improvement, their deficiencies were more understandable (if not entirely forgivable) given that it is a debut series. If you’re not familiar with nordic noir, this is an excellent place to start as it’s not quite the bleak torrent that you might find in other such contemporary works.

The series continues with The Butterfly House, Book #2 of Kørner & Werner, out since 2018.

5 thoughts on “The Tenant – by Katrine Engberg (Review)

  1. I’m curious to try this series and glad to see you’ve enjoyed it. I’ve read some from that part of the world but not nearly as many as I’d like. I consider myself still reasonably new to this sub-genre.

    Liked by 1 person

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