Source: Review copy
Publication: 31 August 2021 from Muswell Press
My thanks to Muswell Press and Fiona Brownlee for an advance copy for review
Guilty. One word on a beggar’s cardboard sign. And now he is dead, stabbed in a wintry Copenhagen street, the second homeless victim in as many weeks. Dagbladet reporter Jensen, stumbling across the body on her way to work, calls her ex-lover DI Henrik Jungersen. As, inevitably, old passions are rekindled, so are old regrets, and that is just the start of Jensen’s troubles. The front page is an open goal, but nothing feels right….. When a third body turns up, it seems certain that a serial killer is on the loose. But why pick on the homeless? And is the link to an old murder case just a coincidence? With her teenage apprentice Gustav, Jensen soon finds herself putting everything on the line to discover exactly who is guilty …
I really did enjoy this engaging Scandi Noir crime novel, set in Copenhagen. Heidi Amseck, who has written her book in English despite being a native Dane, has given us a fabulous character in Jensen, a journalist.
Well, I say a journalist, but the truth is that she’s not really sure that’s what she wants to do any more. Recently returned to Copenhagen from London where her job as Foreign Correspondent for Dagbladet has been axed, she is hanging on to a job at the paper by the skin of her teeth.
Like all papers, hers has gone through massive cutbacks and it is only because her Editor, Margrethe values her nose for a story that she is still working. So when she comes across the dead body of a young man her editor is mightily fed up that she shows no inclination to report on the story. For all that, though, Jensen is drawn to discover who the young man was, what led him to be on the streets of the city in the middle of winter and why he was stabbed so brutally.
His is not the first dead body to be found murdered on the streets and the police believe it’s possible that someone is targeting the homeless. Though she has no inclination to write up the story, she can’t leave it alone. Even when her editor hands her a different story on a plate her lack of enthusiasm to follow it up is palpable and she is casual in her approach to this new lead, preferring to look deeper into the case of the murdered man.
It is partly guilt that drives her. She had seen him the night before and walked past him, thinking he was another homeless man on the streets, but knowing that she failed to stop and talk to him or suggest ways that he could find refuge on a bitter evening when the snow was falling is eating at her.
The more she looks into his death, the more things don’t add up though and soon she is conducting her own investigation in parallel with the police enquiry. That in itself is a little tricky because she has something of a chequered history with D.I. Henrik Jungersen the lead Police Detective on the case and relationship is a touch volatile to say the least.
Heidi Amsinck clearly has a knack for creating interesting and warm characters and these populate this book in a way that makes you want to know more about them. I hope they will return because they make for an excellent ensemble cast.
Jensen is a fascinating character whose blend of spikiness, stubborn nature and devil-may-care behaviour makes her the perfect journalist. While she is not a crusader for justice in the mould of her editor, she does, in her own way, care about what has happened to the dead young man and that motivates her.
Jensen also has an interesting relationship with a prominent Danish politician, Ebsen whose irrepressible flirting made me smile and whose driver Aziz is loyal to his core. Margarethe’s nephew, Gustav is foisted on Jensen and though he irks her no end, he will eventually prove himself to be an invaluable ally. I think I’d kill to have a Liron in my life, too!
With two different cases to pursue, Jensen finds she is not short of suspects as the body count begins to pile up. Playing her Detective like a fiddle, she gets some information from him, and extracts more from those she interviews, building up a picture of who this man was, where he came from and ultimately what led him to be on the streets that night.
But the journey to get there is riddled with false leads and a number of suspects, and it is hard to see quite where this trail is leading. But a breakthrough comes when we understand the enormity of who this young man is and what has happened to him. It is down to Jensen’s dogged and unwavering commitment to get to the truth that answers are forthcoming, but that persistence will put not only her, but others in danger, too.
Amsinck has carefully set this novel to encompass some big themes and in these pages you will find not just a compelling and propulsive mystery, but some contemporary considerations of the state of homelessness in Denmark’s major city; problems with drug dealing, mental health and the widening economic gap between the haves and the have nots.
There are unsolved threads left in this book which gives me hope that there’s another book in the pipeline. I certainly hope so.
Verdict: A thoroughly enjoyable Scandi Noir novel with great characters and a clever, twisty and propulsive plot. Amsinck writes engagingly with characters you really warm to and Jensen is an excellent protagonist about whom there is clearly a lot more to learn. The sense of place is so well done and you feel you could be walking the streets of Copenhagen, not to mention all the lovely places to have coffee and cake.. I could really smell that cardamom coffee, too! Highly recommended
Heidi Amsinck, a writer and journalist born in Copenhagen, spent many years covering Britain for the Danish press, including a spell as London Correspondent for the broadsheet daily Jyllands-Posten. She has written numerous short stories for radio, including the three-story sets Danish Noir, Copenhagen Confidential and Copenhagen Curios, all produced by Sweet Talk for BBC Radio 4.A graduate of the MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck, University of London, Heidi lives in Surrey. She was previously shortlisted for the VS Pritchett Memorial Prize. She has a published collection of short stories, Last Train to Helsingor