‘I’ll tell you who killed your son if you clear my name.’
I could talk for a very long time about Norweigan, Thomas Enger’s latest book, Pierced, but instead, I’m going to give you a quote from the back of the novel – ‘Pierced is a stunning, emotionally charged slice of Nordic Noir’ – and that my friends, sums it up exactly.
So, here is a brief introduction to the novel, and then we can get up close and deadly with the writer himself when he spoke to me for writing.ie, about the inspiration behind the creation of this fantastic second novel in the Henning Juul series.
If you find out who set me up, I’ll tell you what happened the day your son died. That is the message crime reporter Henning Juul, back at work after being terribly burned and scarred for life in a fire that killed his son, receives from a jailed extortionist named Tore Pulli who’s been convicted for a murder he claims he didn’t commit. Truth has never meant more for Henning Juul. And when Pulli is found dead in his prison cell—an apparent suicide—Juul decides to dig deeper. He knows the murders Pulli was convicted of do not bear his signature, and he’s convinced that Pulli would never have taken his own life. Striking up a fragile partnership with Iver Gundersen, a journalist now living with Juul’s ex-wife, Juul uncovers an internal power struggle in the gang world, where the desire for serious money is destroying the traditional, honour-based hierarchy. Uncovering more questions than answers, Henning soon realizes that he has to find not one but several killers . . . ruthless murderers who have never been more dangerous than they are now.
When I met international bestselling author, Thomas Enger, moments after he arrived in Dublin, the first thing I wanted to ask him about was the brilliant character Henning Juul. Henning is a man scarred physically and mentally, a man in pursuit of the truth behind the fire which killed his son. Was he, I asked Enger, one of those characters who came almost fully formed to the page? Thomas Enger told me, ‘He was instantly present in my head, he was almost like a voice saying this is a character you have to write and his name is Henning Juul – you have to write him. It was such a strong impression, and when I started writing him, I had spent six months planning out what I wanted to do with my character, writing the very first chapter of the very first book, it instantly felt like, yes, this is his voice. When I wrote Pierced, a lot of Henning’s character had been established in the first novel, and it was a matter of sustaining this while not repeating information unnecessarily, but it is always difficult with a series, and it is even more apparent now writing the third novel, deciding how much of the earlier elements to put in, and leave out.’
If you pick up a copy of Pierced, and I strongly recommend you do, like me you might be intrigued by the relationship between Henning and Iver Gundersen, the journalist now living with Juul’s ex-wife, Nora, and what interesting layers exist within this emotional triangle. Enger told me, ‘I wanted this triangular relationship between the characters to be something that is going to grow in more books and it is going to change a lot during the process. In the first novel there is a lot more animosity from Henning’s side, but in Pierced, he recognises Iver as a good journalist, and as a good person, so there is a kind of bromance developing between them, but at the same time, Henning also recognises something of himself in Iver, and that is partly why Nora has fallen for him, so there is a very interesting dynamic going on between all three characters.’
Pierced may deal with complicated relationships, but at its core are some pretty seedy characters, and Enger doesn’t shrink from delivering hard violence to the page. It is raw and shocking when required, but also executed with a subtlety through the narrative which only the best writers can manage. Enger explained, ‘In the beginning, I wanted to create Tulli, a muscle man with an interest in philosophy for instance, to avoid falling into the trap of stereotypes, and also a character that wasn’t all bad, and with the other characters from this underworld, I could easily have gone for the shock effect alone, I could have used more shocking language, shocking incidents, I chose not to, except in the very first chapter – to show how brutal the characters could be, if need be.’
One of my favourite scenes in the book focuses on the journalist, Thorleif. Without giving too much away to the reader, Thorleif was introduced to us as someone who saw his role in the media as someone who exposed wrongs in the world, and yet when the high stakes were high, he had to make some pretty tough decisions. I asked Enger if he had enjoyed a piece that tested his character to the limit? He told me, ‘ I loved writing that scene. I don’t think it is easy to be in a situation where you have to make a choice, and the choice you make says something about who you are. Thorleif realised, that at that moment, he didn’t have what it took to do everything for the sake of his family.’
I asked Enger if it was his ambition, because I certainly think he pulled it off, to put the reader in the hot seat, to ask them what they would do, how far they would go, in a situation akin to the premise of the book? Enger explained, ‘That is a really important question in the novel, and in mind of Henning Juul, as he gets closer to the truth as to what happened in the apartment where his son was killed, and it is really an interesting question for everybody, what would you do if somebody wronged your family, and indeed, how far would you go.’
Thomas Enger, has a background in journalism, so I was curious about his choice of making the protagonist, Henning Juul, a journalist, and whether it was natural fit for the character or something he fought? ‘It was a really conscious choice for me, because I had spent almost 15 years before writing my first novel, Burned, trying to become an author. The one thing I discovered was that I had written about things I didn’t really know anything about, my characters were characters very far from my own experience, so when Henning Juul, came to me, I instantly knew that I had to make him a journalist.’
I found this element very interesting as a reader, not least because reading Henning, you discover there are many ways you can ask the same question, or ask a different question to get the same answer. Enger explained, ‘Henning asks difficult questions, yes, and he gets the answers to them. I think he has a way about him, the people he meets, they take a liking to him, not just because of the scars on his face, but because his quiet demeanour by not being this pushy kind of journalist you can find everywhere – he is pushy, but in a quiet way. He has this instinct when it comes to journalism, to dealing with mysteries, and that’s the attraction, he knows that this is something he is really good at, and perhaps the only real talent he has.’
With Pierced being the second novel in a series of six, I had to ask Thomas whether or not he had planned out all six novels. ‘I have mapped out six different plots, but I haven’t gone into detail as to what is going to happen between the characters in each book, that is something that I have discovered has changed a lot during the writing of the first and second novel, and it has certainly been the case with the third one. So the plan I had to begin with is something that I’ve had to alter a little bit as I have gotten to know my characters, and indeed, I have killed some characters, who are now alive!’ I asked Enger if he was a writer who felt his fictional characters lived almost in a parallel universe. He agreed, ‘Yes, it becomes almost an obsession for me.’
Talking about his interest in reading from a young age, Thomas told me, ‘It started when I was 14 or 15 years old, my father was a teacher, and he was very keen for me to read a lot, to read the classics. And of course as a teenager, I found this really, really boring, but then one day I read a crime novel, I can’t remember which one, but I finished it in 2 or 3 days. And it was like ‘Pow! So I picked up another crime novel, and another one, and another one, and I really fell in love with the genre.’ Thomas says, ‘writing crime was a natural choice for me, to choose a genre that I really enjoyed. I wrote my first novel when I was 21, a horrible attempt at a novel. Then I wrote three more before the character of Henning Juul came to me. But I don’t consider those intervening years as a waste of time, not at all, I view it as my training, as going to school in a way, learning how to portray a character, how to build a plot. I rewrite so many times, I have no idea how many times I rewrite, but many. I would love to be more brilliant straight away,’ he laughs. ‘One of the things I’ve discovered: I often write four or five pages a day, sometimes two, sometimes ten – but the next day I go back and read what I’ve written, and I don’t recognise it as my own words. I just think to myself, WOW, this is really good,’ he laughs again in an utterly charming way, ‘and I ask myself, did I really write this?’
Thomas is also a composer, so I wondered which had been his creative first love, music or writing. ‘I think I was about 17 years old when I realised I had the ability to compose music. I am not a technically skilled musician, but I have a talent for making songs on the piano. Composing is more instinctive for me than writing – writing can be pure hard work. Writing a novel, creating a plot, I have to work so hard for each element in a novel, for it to become good, composing comes easier.’
I couldn’t finish up the interview without asking Thomas that question many writers and indeed readers are curious about, his writing routine. ‘My routine for writing is disciplined because I have small children who I need to walk to school. My writing day starts at 8.30, and I will work for six or seven hours. Sometimes I work late but I try not to do that when I am home, I treat it as a normal job. In the really intense periods though, I can work day and night to get something finished before a deadline.’
Thomas Enger, is one of those writers who has everyone waiting for the next book, including myself. In case you missed it, reading between the lines, I darn well enjoyed this interview, and also reading Pierced. I can highly recommend it.
Pierced is available in bookshops nationwide, or at Amazon.