Book Excerpt: A Sadistic Killer’s on the Loose in Katrine Engberg’s The Tenant

by  | January 24

If you’re a sucker for moody Scandinavian crime dramas (a.k.a. Nordic Noir) like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Killing, and Marcella, then The Tenant is most definitely for you. But even if you’re not and simply enjoy a good murder mystery, you’ve gotta check out The Tenant. In Katrine Engberg’s debut novel, translated from her native Danish, veteran Copenhagen police partners Jeppe Kørner and Anette Werner (yep, Korner and Werner) catch a doozy of a case together: the vicious slaying of a young woman in her first-floor apartment. The twist? Her landlady and upstairs neighbor, aspiring author Esther de Laurenti, has somehow predicted details of the murder in her manuscript. Is Esther involved, or is something else going on? The twists and turns of this bizarre case will keep you guessing until the end.

And for a taste of what to expect, read on for a special excerpt from The Tenant in which homicide detective Jeppe Korner first arrives at the crime scene…

Forensic pathologist Nyboe held court in the kitchen. Jeppe nodded to him and received a grim face in return. The dead girl lay with her head pressed up against the wall, abandoned like a piece of lost property on yet another multicolored rag rug. She was wearing cutoff jeans, a white lace bra, and sneakers. Her long hair lay in sticky tentacles, like a child’s drawing of the sun around her head.

Momentarily stifled, Jeppe leaned against the wall, peered at the floor, and pretended to be pensive. Stood for a moment and breathed until the onset of nausea passed and his heart rate came down. Tried not to listen to the rhythm of his racing pulse, tried not to fear the anxiety.

Ten years in Homicide had long since taught him to handle mutilated bodies without being sick, but he was never fully relaxed at a crime scene. Maybe it had to do with the sensitivity that emerges in us with age. The awareness that death is a fundamental fact of life. Or maybe it was just the cocktail of pills he had taken in the car on his way, to take the edge off his back pain. The doctors had long since ruled out a slipped disc, more than insinuating that his pain was psychosomatic, but what did they know?

He let go of the wall and approached the body. The second we die, we become someone’s job. In some ways a crime scene is reminiscent of a theater production. A web of silent agreements that, taken altogether, makes up a whole. On cue. Jeppe had a secret, shameful affinity for the dynamics of the crime scene and its intimate rhythms. But this one was different. Worse. Who was she, the young woman who was being dabbed up and put into bags? Why had she, specifically, been robbed of a career, marriage, children?

He thought uncomfortably of the family he would have to inform once they had identified her. The fear that would fill their eyes when he introduced himself, the hope that came right after—an uncle, we can certainly spare an uncle. And then, when it turned out it was someone far too close to them: tears, screaming—or worse yet, silent acceptance. He had never gotten used to that part of the job.

Jeppe squatted down beside the forensic pathologist.

“Hey, Nyboe. What’ve we got?”

Nyboe was a distinguished, modern gentleman. Like most medical professionals, he presumed everyone understood what he was talking about, leaving the layperson in the dark in just a few sentences. He was the chief medical examiner and highly respected, but Jeppe didn’t especially like him. The feeling seemed mutual.

“This is pretty bad,” Nyboe said, for once not snootily. “The victim is a woman in her early twenties. She has been subjected to serious violence and received multiple deep stab wounds. There are lesions on her head from blunt-force trauma with a heavy object. Her tympanic temperature was eighty-two point four degrees, and rigor mortis was well underway when I arrived scarcely an hour ago. The death thus likely occurred sometime between ten o’clock last night and four this morning. But as you know, I can’t say anything with certainty yet. No immediate signs of sexual assault. The lacerations on her hands and arms suggest she defended herself, but there were also some . . . well . . . cuts inflicted before death.”

“You’re saying she was cut before she died?” Jeppe asked.

Nyboe nodded seriously as they both fell silent. This would obviously cause an uproar in the media and instill a general state of panic, not to mention the reaction of the poor next of kin.

“Her face is quite battered, but luckily she has a tattoo, which will make identification easier. Well, you should probably take a look at the carvings.”

“Carvings?” Jeppe caught Nyboe’s eye.

“The perpetrator cut lines in the victim’s face. I’m no art expert, but it looks to me like a kind of paper cutting.” Nyboe sighed resignedly.

“Paper cutting? What’s that supposed to mean?” Jeppe said, furrowing his brow.

“It appears our perpetrator has carved us a little gækkebrev.

Nyboe took hold of the body’s chin and carefully tilted the bloody face up into the kitchen’s sharp light. The pattern cut into the face resembled the traditional paper cuttings that Danish children make for Easter.

Jeppe’s expectations for the day went from bad to worse.

Excerpted from The Tenant by Katrine Engberg, translated from the Danish by Tara ChaceCopyright © 2016 by Katrine Engberg. Translation copyright © 2020 by Tara Chance. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

The Tenant

The Tenant

by Katrine Engberg

An electrifying work of literary suspense from international bestselling author Katrine Engberg, this stunning debut introduces two police detectives struggling to solve a shocking murder and stop a killer hell-bent on revenge.

When a young woman is discovered brutally murdered in her own apartment, with an intricate pattern of lines carved into her face, Copenhagen police detectives Jeppe Korner and Anette Werner are assigned to the case. In short order, they establish a link between the victim, Julie Stender, and her landlady, Esther de Laurenti, who’s a bit too fond of drink and the host of raucous dinner parties with her artist friends. Esther also turns out to be a budding novelist—and when Julie turns up as a murder victim in the still-unfinished mystery she’s writing, the link between fiction and real life grows both more urgent and more dangerous.

But Esther’s role in this twisted scenario is not quite as clear as it first seems. Is she the culprit—or just another victim, trapped in a twisted game of vengeance? Anette and Jeppe must dig more deeply into the two women’s pasts to discover the identity of the brutal puppet-master pulling the strings in this electrifying literary thriller.

Hailed as “inconceivably thrilling” (Fyens Stiftstidende, Denmark), The Tenant is a work of stunning originality that will keep readers on the edge of their seats.

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