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An electrifying work of literary suspense from internationally bestselling author Katrine Engberg, The Tenant—heralded as a “stunning debut” by #1 New York Times bestselling author Kathy Reichs—follows two Copenhagen 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.

Evocative and original, The Tenant promises “dark family secrets—and a smorgasbord of surprises” (People).

Prologue PROLOGUE
The morning light swirled up dust from the heavy drapes. Gregers Hermansen sat in his recliner and watched the motes dance through the living room. Waking up took him so long these days that he almost didn’t see the point. He laid his hands on the smooth, polished armrests, tipped his head back, and closed his eyes to the flickering light until he heard the final sputters of the coffee maker in the kitchen.

After a brief countdown, he got up, found his slippers, and shuffled toward the linoleum floor of the kitchen. Always the same route: along the mahogany cabinet, past the green armchair and the damn handgrip on the wall that the aide had installed last year.

“I’ll do fine without it,” he had insisted. “Thanks anyway.”

So much for that.

In the kitchen he tossed the used coffee grounds from the machine into the trash bin under the sink. Full again. Gregers untied the bag and, supporting himself along the table as he moved across the kitchen, he managed to open the back door with his free hand. At least he could still take his own trash down. He looked askance at his upstairs neighbor’s collection of bottles on the landing. Esther de Laurenti. One hell of a drinker, who held loud dinner parties for her artist friends that lasted late into the night. But she owned the building, so it was no use complaining.

The steps groaned under him as he held on tight to the railing. It might be more sensible to move somewhere safe, to a place with fewer stairs, but he had lived his whole life in downtown Copenhagen and preferred to take his chances on these crooked stairs rather than rot away in some nursing home on the outskirts of town. On the second floor, he set down the trash bag and leaned against his downstairs neighbors’ doorframe. The two female college students who shared that unit were a constant source of irritation, but secretly they also stirred in him an awkward yearning. Their carefree smiles reawakened memories of summer nights by the canal and distant kisses. Back when life wasn’t yet winding down and everything was still possible.

Once he had recovered a little, he noticed the women’s door was ajar, bright light pouring out of the narrow opening. They were young and flighty but surely not foolish enough to sleep with their back door open! It was six thirty in the morning; they may have just come home from a night on the town—but still.

“Hello…?” he called out. “Is anyone there?”

With the tip of his slipper, he cautiously nudged at the door, which easily opened. Gregers reflexively recoiled a little. After all he didn’t want to be accused of being a dirty old peeper. Better just pull the door shut and finish taking out the trash before his coffee grew stale and bitter upstairs.

He held the doorframe tightly and leaned forward to grasp the handle but underestimated the distance. For one horrible, eternal instant—like when a horse throws you until you hit the ground—he realized he wasn’t strong enough to hold his own body weight. His slippers slid on the smooth wood parquet, and he lost his balance. Gregers fought with all the strength he no longer had and fell helplessly into the women’s apartment, landing hard on the floor. Not with a bang but with a thud—the pathetic sound of an elderly man’s diminished body in a flannel bathrobe.

Gregers tried to calm himself with a deep breath. Had he broken his hip? What would people say? For the first time in many years he felt like crying. He shut his eyes and waited to be found.

The stairwell fell silent once again. He listened for yelling or footsteps, but nothing came. After a few minutes he opened his eyes and tried to get his bearings. A bare light bulb hung from the ceiling, blinding him, but he could vaguely make out a white wall; a shelf of pots and spices; against the wall leading to the door, a line of shoes and boots, one of which he was surely lying on. Carefully he turned his head from side to side to check if anything was broken. No, everything seemed intact. He clenched his fists. Yes, they felt okay, too. Ugh, that damned shoe! Gregers tried to push it out from under him, but it wouldn’t budge.

He looked down and tried to focus his eyes on it. The uneasy feeling in his stomach swelled into a suffocating paralysis that spread throughout his body. Sticking out of the shoe was a bare leg, half-hidden underneath his aching hips. The leg ended in a twisted body. It looked like a mannequin’s leg, but Gregers felt soft skin against his hand and knew better. He lifted his hand and saw the blood: on the skin, on the floor, on the walls. Blood everywhere.

Gregers’s heart fluttered like a canary trying to escape its cage. He couldn’t move, panic coursed through his impotent body. I’m going to die, he thought. He wanted to scream, but the strength to shout for help had left him many years ago.

Then he started to cry.
This reader’s guide for The Tenant includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book

Introduction

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 Kørner 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.

Topics and Questions for Discussion

1. Compare and contrast Jeppe’s and Anette’s personalities, attitudes, and working styles. Do you think their differences make them a good or a bad team? Why?

2. Discuss the development of Esther and Gregers’s relationship. Do you think they would have formed such a close bond if not for Julie’s murder? Why or why not?

3. When Julie was murdered, who did you first suspect was her killer? Did that change once Kristoffer was found? How did your suspicions shift throughout the novel? Did you ever suspect David?

4. Does the atmosphere of Copenhagen—the theater, the cafés, the sea—affect the story in any way? Do you think the novel could have taken place in any city? Would the novel have been as effective if set in a different city?

5. Jeppe’s divorce has a profound impact on both his personal and his professional lives. Discuss how the aftereffects of his divorce blur the line between the personal and the professional and how his ethics are then challenged. Do you think Jeppe is ethical? Do you think anyone in the novel is? Discuss why or why not.

6. On pages 130–31, Esther says, “People who carry around grief or who have faced great challenges are more interesting than the ones with easy, happy lives.” Discuss the various characters in the novel dealing with grief, loneliness, regret, and the loss of emotional connection. Do you agree with Esther that these characters are more interesting? Why or why not? Then discuss people in your own lives who have overcome challenges. How did those experiences change them?

7. Reread the passages the killer wrote on pages 162 and 218. What is their significance in the greater context of the plot? Did these help inform your suspicions as to who the killer might or might not be?

8. On page 233, Esther ponders that “writing a murder mystery is like trying to braid a spiderweb, thousands of threads stick to your fingers and break if you don’t keep your focus.” Discuss the mystery at the heart of the novel and if you think the plot twists and red herrings were effective. Were you guessing until the end of the novel, or did you predict the ending early on?

9. Discuss the meaning of the name Star Child in both Esther’s manuscript and David’s note to Julie. Why do you think the author chose this name? How would you react to someone giving you a slip of paper with the words Star Child on it? Do you think you would have reacted the same way Julie did?

10. “There’s a very fine line between seizing an opportunity and doing something that you know is just downright stupid” (p. 307). Discuss instances in the novel where the characters walked this line and whether they seized an opportunity or made a mistake. If the latter, do you think anything in the novel would have changed if they had had better judgment? Would you have made the same decisions these characters did? What would you have done differently?

11. On page 334, Jeppe muses, “You think you know a person.” Discuss the characters in the novel, their motivations, and how they surprised you throughout the book. Then, if you have a story to share, tell the group about a time a friend or family member did something extremely out of character and explain why it caught you by surprise.

12. After the killer is revealed to be David, you are given a glimpse into his young life and what eventually pushed him to murder. If he had had a different childhood, do you think he would have still become a killer? Or was he inherently evil? Discuss his motives for the killings and why you think he spared Esther. If he wasn’t caught, do you think he would have continued killing?

13. Scandinavian crime fiction is becoming more and more popular in the U.S. Compare The Tenant to American thrillers—books, TV shows, and movies. What qualities, if any, distinguish Jeppe and his team from detectives portrayed in American media?

14. One of the major themes in the novel is revenge. Discuss who seeks revenge, what motivates them, and what the consequences are.

15. Discuss the social criticisms made in the novel. In your discussion, consider violence against women; patriarchal societies; abortion, specifically forced or regulated abortions; and life in foster care.

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Plan your book club meeting as a potluck dinner party worthy of Esther de Laurenti. Buy Danish pastries, like wienerbrød, for dessert, and don’t forget the wine!

2. “There was consensus that not enough children were forcibly removed from violent families in Denmark and that far too many had to live with daily abuse and incompetent parents” (p. 235). Do you think this statement applies to children in the United States as well? Discuss with your group.

3. Before your book club meeting, read Science’s online article titled “This psychologist explains why people confess to crimes they didn’t commit” and discuss what you learned with the group. Do the findings mentioned in the article apply to Christian Stender’s confession? Why or why not?

4. With a fast-paced plot, a multifaceted setting, and relatable characters, The Tenant has all the makings of a blockbuster movie. Discuss with the group who you would cast in a movie adaption and why.
Photograph by Les Kaner

A former dancer and choreographer with a background in television and theater, Katrine Engberg launched a groundbreaking career as a novelist with the publication of her fiction debut, The Tenant. She is now one of the most widely read and beloved crime authors in Denmark, and her work has been sold in over twenty-five countries. She lives with her family in Copenhagen.

More books from this author: Katrine Engberg