Burned by Thomas Enger Book Review / Surprisingly Good
I bought Burned by Thomas Enger because I was getting the hardback at such a fine cost, and I thought I would gift it to someone if I did not like it. It sounds horrible, but yes, I gave out the book I’m not fond of.
It reminds me of the advertisement Rupa publication used to run. The campaign was around the message — buy your favorite book at a discounted price. Somehow, they missed the fact that people already have a copy of their favorite book. It’s not like I read a book, think it is my favorite, and then I buy it. I already have it; I read it, and then it becomes my favorite book. But now, working as a marketer, I understand how this can slip.
Burned might be the first Scandinavian literature I read — I might have read before, but I truly don’t remember. I bought this book from the New Delhi Book Fair. It has been on the shelves for 6 months, and this was the first book I completed in 2024.
In one sentence, Burned was surprisingly good. I read many authors with zero expectations — just giving them a chance. The majority of them are disappointed, but several of them stick. I discovered Mo Hayder, Michael Morpurgo, Alan Titchmarsh, Alexander McCall Smith, Louise Candlish, Anita Desai, and many more this way. I can add Thomas Enger to the list, as I am sure I will get his novel whenever I find him in the second-hand bookstore. I am also retiring Amy Tan & Kate Atkinson from the list, as I am too exposed to their work, and they are boring to me now.
But let’s focus on Burned by Thomas Enger!
Troubled cop but with a twist
If you consume content in any form, you would be well aware of the troubled cop trope. The cop is alcoholic, goes through tragedy, follows intuition, goes against the system, and discovers the truth — and often not able to prove it because he is the only one who knows as the criminal is too smart.
Replace the cop with a reporter — and we got Burned. Except he doesn’t drink.
Recovering from divorce and the death of his son, our protagonist is silent, has sources, and is highly underrated. He works under a young person whom he trained. His job is writing reports for the magazine, where clicks are everything. His wife is also a reporter and dating his fellow reporter. All in all, the man is not in great shape.
Then, a murder happens. But weirdly. They find the body half buried and stoned to death. From here, the book takes a separate path from other common criminal novels. It actually deep dives into the cultural aspects of murder — the protagonist reads Islamic books and tries to convey how this murder is only pretending to be sharia-murder.
It shows that the reporter is smarter than others and knows what he is doing. However, the lack of energy, or maybe depression, does not excite him to take any strong stand. Depressive people tend to let go of everything, be it their anger, their loved ones, their voice, or even their life.
The reporter scratches his sources to find out more about the case. During interrogation, he somehow gets entangled with a drug gang, and his life also gets endangered.
From there, he finds the real murderer and solves the mystery without ever acting as a tough guy like Jack Reacher or a clever one like Sherlock Holmes. He comes across as a passionate reporter, that’s all.
However, the ending is ruined by the confession recording. It is the weakest way one can complete a crime thriller. Let a bystander record while the criminal goes to explain his plan. Still, the criminal gets away, which is good enough for me. Most of the time, the smart criminal get caught when they make a stupid mistake. But in this book, that expectation was subverted.
Smart vs looking-smart
Burned opens a discussion about people who are actually intelligent vs. those who everyone believes to be smart. Now, the people who are believed to be smart could be smart. People who are smart are sometimes considered non-smart Because they live under the shadow of people who make their smartness public. Our protagonist and our criminal — both fall into the same category.
Again & again, the protagonist proves he is more intelligent than everyone. His story was the most-read story in the magazine; he found the truth and had the right resources, but he was never perceived with any respect. He was the loser.
A similar claim is made on behalf of our criminal. The criminal’s friend gets all the credit, while the criminal does all the leg work. The criminal was tired of getting neglected — and the criminal planned the nearly perfect murder.
Yet, the book does not come to any conclusion for this discussion. I guess readers have to make their own answers.
Do I recommend Burned by Enger?
Yes.. I like the book. It’s fast and very easy to get into. Burned is written so that it always keeps the reader at the margin. You do not get involved with any character; you are only there to hear the story from Enger. I would say it was a great debut.