Unhinged, by Jørn Lier Horst and Thomas Enger – book review

A detective, a member of whose family has been attacked/been kidnapped/is under threat, goes rogue to find the culprits. Well, stop me if you’ve read, or seen, that one before. On the big screen, on the small screen, on the bookshelves almost every thriller writer has given us this tale. So we think we’ve read Unhinged as soon as we’ve read the blurb. Blix is gonna hare off in a fast car with an eye in the mirror in case his boss, Fosse, is rattling on behind, pointing at the book and threatening an appearance before the Beak. Jørn Lier Horst, Thomas Enger. We know what you’re all about.

Unhinged book cover

Plot twist: it isn’t like that at all. Yes there is at least one fast vehicle. And someone is trying to frame Blix as he tries to protect his daughter Iselin. And Enger and Horst give us plenty of red herrings including someone I really wanted to have done it. But this is a classic adventure, as never written before. The book is as much about an implosion and what happens when…when…

And this is where it gets difficult, because it’s impossible to discuss the depth of this book without spoilers. Let me put it like this. This genre is popular with writers because they can pump their characters and thus their readers with adrenaline. Off we go to the ends of the earth at 100mph. But what if some of that energy was replaced with despair? And what if events cause you to call into question a long and personally-defining relationship such that you wished, even for a moment, that the other person were dead? Horst and Enger draw heavily on the relationship they have developed over previous novels between Blix and Emma Ramm: you don’t need to have read the previous books but if you have the detail is richer. The two of them, so dogged by tragedy, flung together as though father and daughter and yet so unable to trust each other and work together, provide us with a complex relationship well worth dissecting. And what happens, happens so swiftly. 

I am not a careful reader. It took me a chapter to realise that Anna Karenina had flung herself under the train. Sometimes I go back. But the crucial moments in Unhinged, told by different narrators with incomplete understanding and withholding things for their personal benefit, can never be understood by those who were there. What chance do we have, those of us who will want to try to be objective about a moment when only a subjective lens will do?

The rescue thriller is popular, I think, because it makes you feel that you’re experiencing emotion and the deepest feelings but both writer and reader can hide behind thrills and spills and running around. There is indeed running around in Unhinged but we get so much more. Megan Turney has done a fabulous job in translation. I hope Horst and Enger will continue to collaborate as they push the genre forward.

Thanks to Orenda Books for the review copy and to Anne Cater for the blog tour invitation.

Unhinged blog tour poster

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