Audiobook Review: The Tenant by Katrine Engberg
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Series: Book 1 of Kørner/Werner
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (January 14, 2020)
Length: 10 hrs and 21 mins
Author Information: Website
Narrator: Graeme Malcolm
Apparently, I have been living under a rock because I hadn’t heard of Danish mystery author extraordinaire Katrine Engberg until now, but in my defense, this isn’t my usual genre, and I’ve only started branching out into crime noir fiction recently. Considering this, I think I scored pretty big stumbling upon The Tenant, the first book of the Kørner/Werner series which is already on its third volume in its original language but has just now been translated into English for its US release. I was in the mood for a gritty and compulsive murder mystery, and this one sure didn’t disappoint!
True to form, the novel started off with the discovery of a body. In the wee hours of the morning, an old man discovers the door to one of his neighbor’s apartment standing ajar, and peers in to find a grisly sight. The tenant of the unit, a young woman named Julie Stender, has been brutally murdered, her beautiful face mutilated by mysterious symbols carved into her flesh. Copenhagen police detectives Jeppe Korner and his partner Anette Werner are called in to investigate, and the two waste no time in questioning the victim’s family, friends, and acquaintances. Very soon, they have themselves a list of suspects, but still no reason for motive or why anyone would want to kill Julie, who was seemingly just an ordinary university student from a good background and well-to-do family.
Still, there is more to the case than meets the eye. The building’s owner and Julie’s landlady, a retired professor and an aspiring mystery writer named Esther de Laurenti is shocked to hear that one of her tenants had been murdered on the property, but there is also confusion and guilt when she hears about the details of the crime. Somehow, the circumstances around the killing are eerily similar to the plot of her novel-in-progress, a story where the female victim—incidentally based on Julia—is targeted by a charming yet psychopathic predator. What’s more troubling is that according to a close friend, Julie had just started seeing someone new recently, a man with whom she seemed to have fallen madly in love after only a few weeks—again, mirroring Esther’s book—which is very unlike the young woman. It should be impossible, but life seems to be imitating art, even though the work in question is still unfinished and few are even aware of it.
If you’re looking for classic whodunnit mystery, The Tenant will check all the right boxes. This is a story that involves good old-fashioned detective work, where the clues are unearthed gradually, piece-by-piece with steadfast tenacity by our protagonist, Jeppe Korner. Though we also see events unfold from the points-of-view of a few other characters, including Anette and Esther, Jeppe seems to get the lion’s share of the page time. As well, he’s the lead on the case, so he’s our guide as the threads of the mystery slowly come together to reveal who killed Julie and the others—because you can damn well bet that by the time we come to end, this one racks up a body count.
Speaking of which, while some of the mystery elements of The Tenant may feel a bit familiar, that doesn’t mean there aren’t also plenty of unexpected twists. I liked how the plot was built on top of the conundrum surrounding Esther’s novel, and how was even a meta factor in the way her story played out versus the progress the police were making in their investigation. The best feeling was being aware how all the characters had to be somehow connected, but you just didn’t know how—though that didn’t stop me from guessing. Reading this book was like putting together a huge jigsaw puzzle watching the image become clearer and more complete, but until the final pieces click into place, you are still left in taut suspense until the end. Sprinkle in some personal relationship issues and a few juicy scandals, and you have yourself a nervy, addictive read.
The writing was also superb. I had some early misgivings, as I often do with translated works, knowing how sometimes even the best translations can miss out on certain nuances. Happily though, I found the prose surprisingly easy on the ears (I listened to the audiobook) and very natural. The setting also felt distinctly Danish/Scandinavian or what some folks call “Nordic Noir”, though not jarringly so, and while there were certainly a few quirks in the writing which were strong tells that this was not originally written in English, these did not distract from the overall experience or my enjoyment of the story.
And despite The Tenant being more of a plot-driven novel, as most in its genre usually are, I still found myself drawn to its characters, especially Jeppe. He makes some pretty questionable (and downright unethical) decisions here, but I can’t help but feel for him and hope that brighter times will come to him in the next book.
Needless to say, I’m excited to have found a new mystery series to follow—and now I just have to patiently wait for the rest to be translated.
Audiobook Comments: I was very impressed with the narration by Graeme Malcolm, who I think has a great voice perfectly suited for a gritty murder mystery—he brought life to the characters, plot, setting—everything. I really enjoyed his performance overall and couldn’t have asked for more.