You know how it goes. There’s a throwaway remark in which the name of the novel is mentioned. You congratulate yourself for having seen it. Well done, everyone. In Heidi Amsinck’s new Scandi noir, My Name is Jensen, Jensen says that her name is Jensen with some kind of axe held to her back. You remember this kind of thing. But then My Name is Jensen is memorable, for all kinds of reasons.
It’s understandable that I’m going to be drawn to a novel in which the main action takes place a stone’s throw from Christiansborg. Sadly, Borgen plays only a tiny bit part but I’m easily pleased. There are links into politics, but really this is a police procedural that isn’t a police procedural at all. The main protagonist, Jensen, is not a detective but a special reporter for Dagbladet. But we also have the narrative point of view of her on-off lover, Henrik. We’ll come back to the plot because we now have to think about the characters. Jensen, Henrik and Gustav are all offshoots from your standard noir cast list. They are self-destructive and self-absorbed. Gustav is a teenager so he’s allowed. Henrik is in some ways a terrible detective but apparently he has the best strike rate in the force so go figure. He and Jensen behave like toddlers: toddlers, that is, with a very specific type of potent but also negative chemistry. Jensen herself I am unsure about: her boss thinks she’s an outstanding journalist but Jensen has some kind of barrier against filing an article. She spends most of her time intercepting a story but not with an end journalistic product in mind. That’s possible and I can imagine her having some kind of mental, ethical or psychological block…but it’s inconsistent with standard portrayals of journalists who live and die for a story if not a scoop. (That said, her behaviour is indicative of a mild depression which clears once she has something real to explore.) She, Henrik and Gustav are fairly dislikable, though Gustav may well become likable, and Henrik has – we are led to believe – a libidinal charm. Together, though, they make an odd but appealing triumvirate. I don’t get it. But it works, it really works. Is it that they are obviously hard on themselves at the same time as they are careless of others? I’m not sure. There are actual likeable characters, too, such as Liron the coffee magician, and Aziz the driver.
Away from the coffee and cake and endless pizza, there is an air of menace caused not just by the several murders, but a not-quite-finished subplot involving white collar crime and also by biting weather. Amsinck does not stint on the action, with plenty of blood spilt throughout the novel. There’s a lack of an ending that’s too straightforwards: I like ambiguity ending and Amsinck delivers. It looks as though Jensen may be back and I’d welcome another outing for her, whether in Copenhagen (preferably) or back in London or both. (Amsinck has given herself options!) Maybe in a second novel we’ll find out the rest of Jensen’s name. It’s silly, by all accounts, so my money is on Interceptor or Healey.
For a novel just shy of 400 pages, it feels like a quick read which is a testament to taut pacing and a just-one-more-chapter style. This is an unusual and promising debut and a welcome addition to the Danish noir, albeit written originally in English. More, please.
Thanks to Muswell Press for the review copy and to Anne Cater for the blog tour invitation.