The penultimate day in our #EngerWeek and another stop in our #YearOfOrenda celebration sees me taking the opportunity to reshare my thoughts on one of my top reads of 2019, Inborn, Thomas Enger’s standalone young adult, legal thriller stunner. Mandie shared her thoughts earlier this year and you can find them right here. But just why did this book make such a great impression on me that I want to shout about it all over again? Well read on to find out.
About the Book
What turns a boy into a killer?
When the high school in the small Norwegian village of Fredheim becomes a murder scene, the finger is soon pointed at seventeen-year-old Even. As the investigation closes in, social media is ablaze with accusations, rumours and even threats, and Even finds himself the subject of an online trial as well as being in the dock … for murder?
Even pores over his memories of the months leading up to the crime, and it becomes clear that more than one villager was acting suspiciously … and secrets are simmering beneath the calm surface of this close-knit community. As events from the past play tag with the present, he’s forced to question everything he thought he knew. Was the death of his father in a car crash a decade earlier really accidental? Has a relationship stirred up something that someone is prepared to kill to protect?
It seems that there may be no one that Even can trust. But can we trust him?
A taut, moving and chilling thriller, Inborn examines the very nature of evil, and asks the questions: How well do we really know our families? How well do we know ourselves?
Okay – so here’s the thing … I admit that I really enjoy Thomas Enger’s writing, that I was excited to read this book and, no real shocks I’m guessing, that this book met my expectations and more. It won my red hot read award in fact. So I could have just ended the review here and simply said that Mr Enger did a bang up job, go and read it. And to be fair, that would have been a lot easier for me as I’m not struggled to find the words to tell you why I enjoyed this book so much. For me, with this read especially, it was just, I don’t know, instinctual. I knew from the very beginning that this was a book that was going to suck me right in. That from the tone of the narrative I was in for a real treat and, if placed in front of the right audience, i.e. one that enjoys mystery and tension all wrapped up in a young adult centred courtroom drama – or just a bloody good read – that this book could, and should, be absolutely massive.
The story opens in dramatic style – with the rather unexpected and unsettling murder of teenager Johannes Eklund. I say unsettling because of how the murder is portrayed. Not in graphic way – not in the slightest – but simply because of the matter of fact way in which the author explores all of the thoughts that are going through the victim’s mind right before he meets his end. It adds a sense of urgency and tension to what you are reading, as well as providing a stark contrast between the simple needs of a young boy who is dreaming of girls and stardom, and the violent nature of the attack that ends his life. And that’s just the first few pages … We soon discover that Johannes is not the only victim, but who could possibly have the motive to murder teenagers, and why?
From here, we meet Even Tollefsen, our main protagonist and the narrative voice that will guide us through the lion’s share of the action from here on in, both within the courtroom and the investigation. He is not the only narrator, the action being balanced out between that which Even is privy to and the police investigation where we hear from Chief Inspector Yngve Mork. Even is just about to enter the dock to give testimony, and this forms the foundation for the whole story, with a slow unveiling of events as we flit between the courtroom (now) and the investigation (then).
I don’t want to say much more about the story other than the fact that the central story does not end at the school, and that there are more victims to come, but to find out who and how they relate to the case, you’re going to have to read the book. And believe me when I say that you really do want to do that as this book is fabulous. I loved the way in which Thomas Enger manipulates our understanding, using suspicion, misdirection and uncertainty to drive your attention to any number of suspects. The only thing that is clear is that Even is involved, but you will never really be certain as to what happened and why until you reach the closing chapters of the book. You may think you know but don’t get comfortable. Just as you settle back in your chair and point your finger at a reason, or perhaps even a suspect, Mr Enger will whip that seat from under you, setting your mind whirling and your butt slamming to the floor.
As always with a Thomas Enger book, you will find brilliant characterisation, and he has captured in Even the spirit of a young man struggling to come to terms with what is happening and the impact that it has on his life. The perfect portrayal of the way in which Even manages his anger, fighting against suspicion, both that cast about him, and that which he holds against others. He has a kind of naive determination to prove his own innocence but no idea of how to start. And with his so called school friends quick to point the finger on line, and holes emerging in his own testimony, it’s an uphill battle to convince even the reader, never mind a jury, that he is innocent. Contrast this naivety against the older and more capable investigator, Yngve Monk and you have a perfect balance of narrative perspective.
I grew to like both characters very quickly. Even, because I was hoping, seemingly against all hope, that he was actually innocent, and there was just something very engaging about his character. Monk, because he was battling his own demons, distracted to a degree by the loss of his wife, someone who never left his thoughts and informed all that he did. The author is so accomplished at creating emotional depth within his characters, as well as expressing their intelligence and fortitude, whilst still keeping them believable and relatable.
Setting is as important in these stories as the characters themselves and without question the author has brought to life the community of Fredheim. Be it the school in which a large part of the action happens, the homes of Even and his Uncle Imo, or even the wider community, you get a real sense of place when reading, and it puts you, as the reader, right at the heart of the action. He perfectly captures the feeling of the small town mentality which leads to Even being placed at the centre of gossip and speculation, but also gives the reader a clear image of the intricate network of pathways which feed throughout the story, all unique, each one leading in different directions, but finally converging and bringing the reader to the ultimate destination – the truth.
This book was pretty well perfect for me. A brilliant blend of great characters, compelling story-telling, tension, mystery and murder. It had the heart of a young adult novel, set against a background of police investigation and courtroom drama. This is a story which challenges the ideas of friendship, family, and loyalty, riddled with deep rooted secrets and laced with betrayal and a myriad of lies. It had me gripped from the off and didn’t let me go until the very last page. I loved it.
About the Author
Thomas Enger is a former journalist. He made his debut with the crime novel Burned in 2010, which became an international sensation before publication, and marked the first in the bestselling Henning Juul series. Rights to the series have been sold to 28 countries to date. In 2013 Thomas published his first book for young adults, a dark fantasy thriller called The Evil Legacy, for which he won the UPRISEN (the prize for best YA novel). His next YA thriller Killer Instinct, upon which Inborn is based, was published in Norway in 2017 and won the same prestigious prize. Most recently, Thomas has co-written a thriller with Jørn Lier Horst. He also composes music, and he lives in Oslo.
Books by Thomas Enger