By Ekta R. Garg
January 22, 2020
Release date: January 14, 2020
Rated: Borrow it / 3 stars
The vicious murder of a young woman leads detectives to suspect the woman’s landlord. As secrets are revealed and new information comes to light, the detectives discover the woman and the landlord are tied to one another—and the landlord might be the next victim. Author Katrine Engberg gives readers plucky detectives stuck in a convoluted plot in her new novel The Tenant.
In Copenhagen, detective partners Jeppe Korner and Anette Werner are assigned a grisly case. A young woman named Julie Stender was murdered in her own apartment, and the murderer left a calling card: he carved an intricate pattern on her face. As the lead detective, Korner assembles a team to start analyzing the information at Julie’s apartment as well as to track down the people in Julie’s life.
He and Werner interview Julie’s landlady, Esther, and make a horrific discovery: Esther, a retired professor and budding author, has been working on a murder mystery manuscript. The murder she describes in her book bears a strong resemblance to the way Julie was killed. It doesn’t help either that Esther is a borderline alcoholic.
At first glance, Korner and Werner think they’ll wrap up the case fast. Then the detectives start digging into Julie’s past and find that she came to Copenhagen to get a fresh start; at least, that’s what it seems on the surface. Korner can’t help feeling that maybe she was running from something, though. The more he and Werner discover about Julie, the more they realize she wasn’t just a young woman looking for kicks in the big city.
As they pursue the case, Esther struggles with her guilt. Did her book contribute to Julie’s death? Could she, in a drunken stupor, possibly have hurt Julie? Never mind that Julie was young and Esther, at her age, most likely couldn’t have even pushed her over, forget about holding her down long enough to kill her. Has her drinking led her to a dark place she didn’t even know existed inside her?
More victims begin to appear as do more questions, and Korner tries to keep his wits intact. Dealing with his marriage falling apart isn’t helping anything, but his work is the one thing that’s keeping him sane. This despite the fact that he’s spending all his time combing through the fine details of Julie’s life that lead him and Werner to believe she was, in fact, living a lie.
Author Katrine Engberg gives readers a likable, complicated protagonist in Jeppe Korner. As Korner makes tiny steps of progress in his case, his personal life continues to erode. Engberg uses the juxtaposition to humanize detectives and to remind readers that law enforcement officials deal with the same challenges the general public does. They just have to work harder at hiding their weaknesses to make sure their cases get solved.
The rest of Korner’s team also come across as well-developed characters. The problem comes in the form of the plot itself. While it starts out with intriguing twists and turns, at some point the plot elements get tangled. In the climax, an important character goes missing and important information comes to light. That information ends up only tangentially related to the main story arc, yet the characters and the narrative try hard to convince readers that it’s a key piece of information.
Engberg further complicates the story by trying to draw parallels between the lives of two characters, when the book would have progressed just fine without the comparison. In fact, the plot would have been much tighter, offering mystery/thriller fans the satisfying unraveling of secrets in a much sleeker fashion. As it stands, readers will have to follow the tangled threads to come to the end.
Readers of thrillers who’d like to experience a glimpse into life in Copenhagen might want to check this one out. Otherwise, I recommend readers Borrow The Tenant.