Review: Smoke Screen, by Thomas Enger & Jorn Lier Horst

by Thomas Enger & Jørn Lier Horst
translated by Megan Turney

Oslo, New Year’s Eve. The annual firework celebration is rocked by an explosion and the city is put on terrorist alert.

Police officer Alexander Blix and blogger Emma Ramm are on the scene, and when a severely injured survivor is pulled from the icy harbour, she is identified as the mother of two-year-old Patricia Semplass, who was kidnapped on her way home from kindergarten ten years earlier … and never found.

Blix and Ramm join forces to investigate the unsolved case, as public interest heightens, the terror threat is raised, and it becomes clear that Patricia’s disappearance is not all that it seems…

The second in the hard-boiled and furiously compelling Blix & Ramm series, created by Thomas Enger and Jørn Lier Horst, two of the biggest names in Nordic Noir.

My Review

Thanks to the authors, publisher and Anne Cater for my copy of this book and for organising the blog tour. I read the first Blix and Ramm book in 2019 and can’t wait to tell you about this second novel.

The Rosie Synopsis

It’s New Year’s Eve 2019 (which was a bout a million years ago now) and Emma Ramm can’t stay home with her sister, niece and boyfriend, the countdown to midnight has her one edge.

Alexander Blix is working the city centre to give his younger colleagues a chance to spend the holiday with their families.

At midnight an explosion in a bin kills five people, including Emma’s boyfriend who’s come looking for her.

What follows is an investigation into a suspected terrorist attack and the re-emergence of a cold case: the disappearance of a 16 month old girl called Patricia in 2009.

Emma isn’t coping well and throws herself into her work. She gets into a bit of trouble as Blix is forced to work on his hypothesis without support until it becomes obvious that the explosion and kidnapping are linked. About the time he’s in Denmark looking to interview a suspect and Emma is being held hostage.

Revenge, murder, family, mistaken identities, kidnapping, trauma all round. And three explosions.

The Good

All of it. No, really, I sat all afternoon from 2pm to 6.30pm reading (minus time to heat up some soup for tea) and devoured this book. I had to slow down at the end, delaying gratification during the climax because I just knew I was going to enjoy it and I wanted to draw out the experience.

Needless to say, I was utterly gripped by this second Blix and Ramm novel. Blix is doing his best to stay inside the rules as a police officer and Emma is trying her best as a journalist to get as much information as she can. They barely speak and don’t meet up until the end, while pursuing the same investigation from different angles.

The tension between Blix and his boss, between those who think it’s a terror attack and those who believe the explosion was targeted, is fascinating, although the second bombing as a distraction or to convince people that there really was a terrorist group, was obvious to me. Not sure it would have been to others but I read a lot of true crime and crime fiction, the idea of hiding the real target among a group of other crimes is an old one.

There is a lesson in it though. What was obvious to Blix and his small team as a cross on the bin to let the target know that was the right one for the rendezvous was interpreted as ‘an Arabic or Muslim symbol’ by members of the investigation team certain that ISIS were bombing Oslo. If you see everything through the lens of terrorism and investigate with closed minds you will interpret the evidence to fit the assumptions you have.

I found the pace excellent, and the development of Blix and Ramm’s characters and relationship entertaining. They clearly have a father/daughter feeling for each other, and when compared to Blix’s relationship with his actual daughter, Iselin, it is easy to see how his protectiveness could be so dangerous to his career. He really doesn’t let things go.

I enjoyed the description of the landscape as Emma travels in Denmark and totally get her discomfort about staying in other people’s houses. The characters feel so real and their responses to events are very telling.

I was wandering how the final encounter would turn out and definitely wasn’t expecting the resolution. It was very dramatic. Explosively so.

The Verdict

Highly recommeded Nordic Noir that takes us from freezing Oslo to marginally warmer Denmark in January 2020, and back to Oslo and Vestland in 2009 on a gripping investigation.

This book takes the title of ‘Rosie’s Favourite Blog Tour Book of 2021’ so far, taking the crown from January’s ‘Circles of Deceit’ by Paul CW Beatty. I’m probably going to start making a list of my favourite books each month for the end of the year at this rate.

The second nerve-shredding thriller in the international bestselling, award-winning Blix & Ramm series which has sold over a million copies worldwide
Jørn Lier Horst and Thomas Enger are the internationally bestselling Norwegian authors of the William Wisting and Henning Juul series respectively.

Jørn Lier Horst first rose to literary fame with his No. 1 internationally bestselling William Wisting series. A former investigator in the Norwegian police, Horst imbues all his works with an unparalleled realism and suspense.

Granite Noir fest 2017. Thomas Enger.

Thomas Enger is the journalist-turned-author behind the internationally acclaimed and bestselling Henning Juul series. Enger ’s trademark has become a darkly gritty voice paired with key social messages and
tight plotting. Besides writing fiction for both adults and young adults, Enger also works as a music composer.

Death Deserved was Jørn Lier Horst & Thomas Enger ’s first co-written thriller. They are currently working on the third book in the Blix & Ramm series.

Orenda Books is a small independent publishing company specialising in literary fiction with a heavy emphasis on crime/thrillers, and approximately half the list in translation. Orenda Books was voted WINNER of the CWA Dagger for Best Crime and Mystery Publisher of the Year in 2020. They’ve been twice shortlisted for the Nick Robinson Best Newcomer Award at the IPG awards, and publisher and owner Karen Sullivan was a Bookseller Rising Star in 2016. In 2018, they were awarded a prestigious Creative Europe grant for their translated books programme.
Three authors, including Agnes Ravatn, Matt Wesolowski and Amanda Jennings have been WHSmith Fresh Talent picks, and Ravatn’s The Bird Tribunal was shortlisted for the Dublin Literary Award, won an English PEN Translation Award, and adapted for BBC Radio Four ’s Book at Bedtime. Ten titles have been short- or longlisted for the CWA Daggers; Doug Johnstone has been shortlisted (twice) for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of the Year and Helen FitzGerald, Matt Wesolowski and Will Carver have been long /shortlisted for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year.

Launched in 2014 with a mission to bring more international literature to the UK market, Orenda Books publishes a host of debuts, many of which have gone on to sell millions worldwide, and looks for fresh, exciting new voices that push the genre in new directions.

Bestselling authors include Ragnar Jonasson, Antti Tuomainen, Gunnar Staalesen, Michael J. Malone, Kjell Ola Dahl, Louise Beech, Johana
Gustawsson, Lilja Sigurðardóttir, Helen FitzGerald, Doug Johnstone and Will Carver.

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