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 Sweden’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 by always dogged crime reporter Henning Juul, and marks the return of one of Norway’s finest crime writers.
About the Author
Thomas Enger is a former journalist and the author of the Henning Juul series, which delves into the depths of Oslo’s underbelly, skewering the corridors of dirty politics and nailing the fast-moving world of 24-hour news. Rights to the series have been sold to 26 countries to date and a TV series is in production. Previous books in the series are Burned, Pierced, and Scarred. Kari Dickson worked in theater for a few years, and was asked to do literal translations of two Ibsen plays, which led to an MA in Translation Studies. Initially, she worked as a commercial translator, but now concentrates solely on literature. Her translation of Roslund & Hellström’s Three Seconds won the CWA International Dagger in 2011. She also teaches occasionally at the University of Edinburgh.
Read an Excerpt
A crime novel
By Thomas Enger, Kari Dickson
Orenda BooksCopyright © 2014 Thomas Enger
All rights reserved.
'Where is it? Where is it?' Nora Klemetsen hissed, angry with herself more than anything else. She didn't have time for this. It was nearly a quarter to eight; the bus would be just around the corner.
She rummaged through her bag to check that her mobile phone, keys and the cards she needed were there. Would she never learn? Why could she never get things ready the evening before?
Nora went into the kitchen, put her bag on the table and bent down. Her scarf fell over her eyes. Impatiently she threw it back over her shoulders, noticing a bit of eggshell and a pen under one of the chairs, breadcrumbs, and a ball of black fluff from the woollen socks she always wore when she was at home.
She straightened up, took off her jacket and the long scarf – it was too warm to wear it in here – and went into the living room. Maybe she'd had it in her lap when she sat watching TV after Iver had left? And then she put it down when she went to have a shower and brush her teeth?
She lifted up the cushions on the sofa, looked under the blue-flowered throw that had managed to conceal the remote control, then got down on her hands and knees and peered under the light-brown three-seater sofa, which she really hadn't been able to afford, before glancing under the table in the corner on which stood a lamp and the radio. But it wasn't there either.
Could it somehow have got under the TV unit?
Nora crawled over; the cold parquet floor hurt her knees, which were already tender from before. She studied the dust and crumbs that were a constant reminder of how long it was since she'd done a good clean, but that was all she could see.
Nora scrambled to her feet, feeling a bit dizzy; she hadn't eaten yet – she always ate three pieces of plain crispbread when she got to work.
She tried to think through what she had done the day before. Not much: Sunday papers in bed, brunch on the sofa in front of the telly, an hour's stroll up and down the river, supper with Iver and an evening forcing herself to think as little as possible.
No, she hadn't had it in her hand yesterday.
Nora went back to the kitchen table, turned her bag upside down and shook it hard so that all the coins, hair bands, receipts and dusty throat pastilles fell out – even a mitten she'd been looking for since the spring suddenly appeared on the kitchen table. And then there it was, under the worn mitten.
She clasped it in her hand and sat down for a moment, squeezing it and rolling it around and around until all the glitter inside was dancing and whirling about. When it stopped, she saw the heart with an arrow through it, and the imprint of his teeth – as though Jonas had tried to bite it in two, unaware of what the consequences might be if he actually managed to. Glitter and fluid everywhere, on his lips, his sweater, the floor.
It wasn't a ball as such, it was a hard plastic sphere, but Jonas refused to see it as anything but a ball, and so that's what it was.
Nora couldn't bear to hold the thought, the memory, any longer, so she stood up and dropped the ball back in her bag, put her jacket and scarf on again and went to look in the full-length mirror in the hall. She picked off some hairs that were caught on her sleeve, fixed her fringe, straightened her jacket and put the bag over her shoulder.
Now the day could begin.
* * *
It was autumnal outside.
Nora had always liked this time of year – when the weather was so grey and wet that the only thing you could do was bury yourself under a blanket and enjoy all there was to do on a sofa. In that way, she was just like Henning. If there was an excuse not to go out – except to work, of course – he would find it: there was a good film or series on TV; it was such a long time since they'd lit the fire; he was in the middle of a great book, or trying to get through all the newspapers he hadn't managed to read during the week.
There was so much she loved about Henning. His sense of humour, his quick wit. But it wasn't just what he said or did, or who he was. It was more something she saw in his eyes. Even though she had short hair and freckles, and frightened everything that moved when she sneezed; even though she reminded people of a toad whenever she got drunk and started to hiccup; even though she got tetchy and slammed the door when he hadn't put the cushions back on the sofa or put away the laundry when it was dry, his eyes never changed. His eyes that said he still wanted her, no matter what.
When Nora was growing up, the walls were constantly changing. Her father was in the army, so it was hard to settle anywhere, hard to make lasting friendships – something she struggled with well into adulthood. Even when she finally did make friends, she wasn't very good at nurturing relationships.
Henning had been everything she wanted: a refuge, a lover, a friend – someone with whom she could share both her fleeting thoughts and her deeper meditations. Someone she could be completely honest with, without having to worry about the consequences. It had been perfect, as long as there was only the two of them.
Then Jonas came along.
To begin with, the little boy had only strengthened those feelings. They were a family. With a capital F. She loved going home, breastfeeding him, watching him grow. But Henning was not a reconstructed man; he wasn't the type to do the laundry and change nappies without being asked, didn't always know what was good for a child or a family. For the first year, in particular, he just buried himself in his work, sleeping in another room at night because he had to be fully functional during the day, and using the weekends and any free time to relax, catch up on the news, and not least, cultivate his sources. Nora had to ask him to take Jonas out for a walk in the pram so she could get an hour's sorely needed nap.
Their love and friendship had faded. In the mornings, in the bathroom, they had passed each other like strangers. They had communicated almost exclusively by text message, and then only about practical, everyday things. The structure she had wanted for her life was crumbling. The walls were starting to move again. Whenever she said anything, he promised he would try harder, but it never took more than a week before he had slipped back into his difficult ways.
The separation was more a cry for help than anything else; that's to say, she'd hoped that Henning would see it as such. Instead, he became angry and sad, and not just a little suspicious – he kept accusing her of having found someone else. She sometimes saw him prowling up and down outside the building she had moved into, cigarette in hand, looking up at her windows.
They managed to work together regarding Jonas. But then came that awful day that neither of them could bear to think or talk about. Nothing could ever be the same again. They both knew that if they had only managed to find a way to carry on living together, Jonas would still be alive. They couldn't look each other in the eye. Divorce was the only sensible option, even though it represented a level of sorrow and defeat that she had never quite managed to accept.
Life carried on, in one way or another, and she had met Iver at a time when she desperately needed to laugh and to think about something other than Jonas and Henning. Iver was able to leap out of bed on a Sunday morning and drag her down to the quay at Vippetangen to catch a boat out to one of the islands. Or take her to a bowling alley; she had never had much interest in ball games, but had to admit afterwards it had actually been a lot of fun. Iver might also read a book to her in the evening, sometimes naked, when there was nothing they wanted to watch on TV.
Almost everything was different with Iver. And yes, he liked her, he even liked her a lot, she was fairly certain of that. But he didn't have the same glow in his eyes. Perhaps it was unfair to compare Iver with Henning, she thought, or Henning with Iver, for that matter, but that's what happened when you started to wonder if you'd made the right choices in life – you asked yourself questions and had feelings, which, after the argument with Iver the night before, seemed even more relevant.
Perhaps 'argument' was the wrong word for what had happened. A prerequisite for an argument was that two people disagreed and gave voice to that disagreement. Iver had said nothing, just mumbled a few syllables into his three-day stubble, and then gone home, without giving her a hug or a kiss or anything that might indicate how he felt about what she had just told him.
It was so typical of Iver – to back off when things got serious. There was never a right time to talk about difficult things. And if she did manage to manoeuvre him into a corner, his response was always the same: 'Do we have to talk about this now?' As though the right moment would magically pop up out of nowhere one day.
The fact that he behaved like this was perhaps the only answer she needed, Nora thought. And now that he was back on his feet again, after having been signed off, she knew what it would be like. He'd be working late; his mates would have the beers lined up at the bar; there'd be jobs he just had to follow up – anything to avoid sitting down and talking to her. But he was going to have to say something at some point. Just as she was going to have to say something to Henning.
She had no idea how she was going to manage that.
The streets were damp and leaden; yellow leaves lay in the gutter like dull reminders of the summer that had been. The mornings were still light enough, but there was an ominous chill in the air, a shudder of winter that made Nora pull her jacket tighter round herself. She looked up Uelandsgate to see if the bus was coming, then stood in the queue at the bus stop and checked her watch. Thirty-five minutes until the morning meeting. That meant she needed to come up with something to write about, quick.
* * *
'Here, let me help you.'
Nora hurried into the Aftenposten building. Birgitte Kråkenes was bending over with her back to the door as she tried to wrestle a full bottle of water up onto the blue dispenser. Birgitte was the first person people met when they came into the editorial office.
'Oh, thank you,' she said, and turned towards Nora. 'These things weigh a ton.'
Nora was quickly beside her, and together they lifted the transparent plastic bottle, which was wet with condensation, up into position. Birgitte thanked her again and smiled.
As the receptionist, she was always smartly dressed and she had a welcoming, wrinkle-free face that made Nora green with envy. Birgitte's skin had a special glow about it, a hint of summer or something peppermint-fresh – Nora had to dig around in her memory to recall her own skin being like that. The worst thing was that Birgitte was only a few years younger than her and had two children. But Nora couldn't help liking her. She gave everyone who arrived at the newspaper office a pleasant welcome.
'There's someone here to see you, by the way,' Birgitte said, as she sat down behind the reception desk on a chair that didn't creak.
'At this time?' Nora asked, grabbing a freshly printed copy of the morning edition from the pile in front of her, and, with half an eye, glancing down at the headlines.
Birgitte nodded and pushed her dark, chestnut-framed glasses up on her nose. 'He's waiting for you.'
Nora stretched her neck to see. A man was sitting by her desk, his legs crossed and looking around restlessly. He was wearing dark clothes, in a style well suited to his colouring. His hair was longish and messy, black with some grey streaks through it.
'And does this man have a name?'
Birgitte examined the paper in front of her.
'Hugo Refsdal,' she said, looking up again.
'Never heard of him,' Nora commented. 'Did he say what it was about?'
Birgitte shook her head and shrugged.
'Fair enough,' Nora said. 'Nice jacket. Is it new?'
Birgitte smiled and glanced down at her dark-grey blazer. 'New? No, I've had this one for a long time.'
'Well, it's very nice,' Nora said.
Birgitte's smile lasted until the phone rang. She picked up the receiver with one hand and waved to Nora with the other.
Nora carried on walking through the editorial office, an open-plan room that was just as boring and neutral as any other editorial office she had been in over the course of what would soon be a ten-year career as a journalist. There was wall-to-wall carpeting, light-coloured walls, meeting rooms with big windows, and masses of cables and computer screens. The most recent IT bling was a 75-inch TV screen, placed in the middle of the room; it had become a gathering point, especially when the sport was on – which was practically all the time.
She nodded to some of her colleagues, who were already at their desks, ignored the incessant ringing of telephones and voices that rose and fell and focused on the man, who stood up as she approached.
Before she had reached the desk, he said, 'Hello,' and took a step towards her with an outstretched hand. 'We've never met before, my name is Hugo Refsdal. I'm Hedda's husband.'
Nora shook his hand. It was sweaty.
'Hedda?' she repeated, wiping her fingers discreetly on the back of her trouser leg.
She hadn't heard from Hedda since they'd been at college together, when they shared a tiny flat up at St Hanshaugen. Nora didn't think that Hedda had ever worked as a journalist; she had certainly never seen her byline anywhere.
'Ah, yes,' Nora said, at last. 'Hedda.'
Nora had lots of good memories from that time. Every day had been a party, and the world had been theirs for the taking. She had realised very early on that she wanted to be a journalist, whether it was for radio, TV or more traditional media. She had imagined herself covering wars and catastrophes, immersing herself in the problems and asking critical questions, teasing out the truth, becoming a wiser person and maybe even helping other people to become wiser at the same time. She had wanted to mean something to other people.
But reality proved to be very different. The only time that Nora actually heard from her readers was when they wrote to point out that she had got her facts wrong or simply to have a go at her. People had no shame when they could hide behind a keyboard.
Pulling herself back to the present, Nora looked at Hedda's husband, standing in front of her. It was hard to work out what he wanted, but Nora realised that something was amiss.
'Is there somewhere more private we can go?' he asked. 'I don't want to sit here and —'
He broke off as one of the foreign correspondents walked past. Refsdal followed him with his eyes until he was well out of hearing. Nora had the feeling that Hedda's husband might burst into tears at any moment.
'Yes, of course,' Nora replied. 'We can go over there,' she pointed to the room where the management meetings were always held.
Refsdal waved his hand as though to say 'lead the way'. Nora put down her jacket, found her mobile phone and headed over.
'Would you like a cup of coffee?' she asked, over her shoulder.
'No, thank you.'
'A glass of water? Anything else?'
'I'm fine, thanks. I drank enough coffee before I came out.'
Nora carried on towards the meeting room, greeting colleagues as she went, and wondering what Refsdal wanted to talk to her about. He followed, a couple of paces behind, negotiating the chairs and desks.
They entered the IKEA-yellow room with its oblong table in the middle, covered with the day's papers, and sat down, each in a red fabric chair at opposite sides of the table.
'So,' Nora said, leaning forwards, 'how can I help you?'
Although Refsdal seemed to acknowledge her direct question, he struggled to reply. He looked away and focused on something outside the room. He clasped his hands together, only to let go of them again, and then laid them flat on the table.
'Do you know who Oscar Hellberg is?' he eventually asked.
Nora thought about it. 'He's Hedda's father, isn't he?'
'He was Hedda's father,' Refsdal corrected her. 'He died almost two months ago now. Lung cancer, even though he never smoked a single cigarette in his life.'
'I'm sorry to hear that,' Nora said.
She had met Hedda's father once, when he came to Oslo to visit his daughter. Because Nora shared a flat with Hedda, he had taken them both out for a meal. She remembered him as a handsome man – attractive and well dressed – and genuinely curious about the people he met. Especially the waitresses.
Excerpted from Cursed by Thomas Enger, Kari Dickson. Copyright © 2014 Thomas Enger. Excerpted by permission of Orenda Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Norwegian noir tale of two journalists' investigations – quite good I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This seems to be the fourth in a series of five books about the journalist, Henning Juul, but it's the first that I have read. Therein lies my only problem with this crime novel as one feeds directly into the next one (like the Millenium trilogy by Stieg Larsson). Not having read the three previous volumes left me at a disadvantage although some explanation is given as the book progresses. The plot involves two journalists, Henning Juul and his ex-wife, Nora Klemetsen, both carrying out investigations. He is looking into past associates and the fire that killed their son while she is looking into the disappearance of a former flatmate. Eventually both cases come together to a limited extent. The plot is well-devised and the characters are developed and interesting. A bit of a slow burner, it is nonetheless engaging and ends on a real cliffhanger, presumably heralding in the final volume. I enjoyed it but probably would have appreciated it a lot more if I'd read the three previous books.
Henning Juul is an investigative journalist in Oslo. Once upon a time he had it all .... a terrific job, a beautiful wife, Nora, also a journalist and a wonderful young son. The marriage didn't survive and one night while his son was spending the night with him, someone sneaked into the house and started a fire. Henning was severely burned trying to save his son. More tragically, his son didn't survive. He has made it his life's goal to find who was responsible for the arson. He knows it has something to do with a lowlife he was interviewing for a story. The man is in prison, and unfortunately was poisoned before he could give any information to Henning. Meanwhile, Nora has a visitor who states his wife has been missing for 3 weeks. The police don't seem to be too concerned, but the husband suspects something untoward has happened to her. She appears to be connected to the death of an old man. As Henning and Nora each follow their own story, the players and circumstances seem to be getting closer and closer. Someone tries to kill Nora ..or at least scare her off. A body found in the woods is related to the family of the missing woman. And another relative of the same family is found murdered. What is tying all these people, especially this family, together? It's a maze of lies, secrets, and skeletons in the closet that Henning and Nora have to work their way through to find the truth ... hopefully before anyone else dies. This is the 4th in the series and CURSED is a welcome addition. I would recommend starting with book 1, but this one serves well as a stand alone. There are some references to the very beginning, but nothing that would blunt reading the very first. The book is craftily written and the translation is near perfect. The characters are fascinating with credible back stories. I can't wait to see the next book in this series! Many, many thanks to the author / Trafalgar Square Publishing / Netgalley for the advanced copy of CURSED. Opinions expressed here are unbiased and entirely my own.
Thomas Enger you are one of my authors to watch and to read again as this was a book which dragged me into that forest, made me jump and tied me up in a series of lies and danger. Why do I read novels set in the woods late at night? I really should learn but I never do as the urge to read anything recommended by Karen Sullivan always goes to the top of the TBR pile. Nora and Henning were very multilayered and fascinating and there’s another story in that couple alone – their background seeps into this present day storyline and weaves a web of its own. What really freaked me out is the missing woman and the trail to find her. Didn’t arrive at the retreat? Didn’t even leave Oslo? Husband concerned? Well I had my own theories but I was happily proven more than wrong and that ending pulled the rug from under me very hard indeed. I may still be battered and bruised from this novel but as I recover, it’s a very satisfying feeling I have now. Visit the Norwegian woods if you dare..on TheBookTrail.com
This is the first book I have read by Thomas, as soon as I was offered a place on the blog tour I knew it was going to be a scorcher because Orenda have some brilliant books. Cursed is in fact the fourth in a series so I was a little concerned I might struggle but there is enough back story to enable it to be a stand alone. It is translated brilliantly but I have to confess some of the names took me awhile to get to grips with. It has a brutal beginning and keeps the tension ramping up through out. Henning and Nora are both journalists and their young son Jonas tragically died .. they have separated but continue on a friendly basis to investigate the disappearance of Hedda, a local woman that was supposedly going on holiday. Is there a connection between her mystery whereabouts and the murder at the start of the book? I really liked both Henning and Nora their history and the way they dealt with life crap was written so genuinely. A whole book of interwoven events are explored. Once again we find families can have the deepest, darkest secrets. This is a story which will capture your imagination, not just because it is Nordic Noir but the crimes are being investigated by journalists which puts a nice spin on the norm. Prepare to set aside some time to get enthralled because once you begin this you will simply be absorbed and want to finish it! I liked the writing style it is fresh and inviting. My only problem now is after reading this I want to read the previous three so my TBR pile is going to topple over .. I need more hours in a day! Thanks to Orenda for my copy .. I read and reviewed voluntarily.