The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbol & Agnete Friis
Translated by Lene Kaaberbol
Following on the success of the Millennium trilogy by Steig Larsson there seems no end to the quality crime fiction coming out of Scandinavia. The boy in the suitcase, a prize-winning novel in Denmark, is a worthy offering which gives the North American reader a glimpse into the less savory aspects of Scandinavian society.
First in a prospective series, the novel’s protagonist, Nina Borg, influenced by her own personal tragic history, strives to help others even when this helping behavior results in her own detriment. As a nurse and married mother of two children one would assume that Nina’s life was full enough, but she cannot turn down a plea for help.
The novel begins when just such a plea comes from her old – and now estranged – friend Karin. Karin wants Nina to go to a locker in a train station and retrieve the suitcase within. Little does Nina know that the reason the suitcase is so heavy is that it contains a 3-year old unconscious boy. Realizing quickly that Karin must have become involved in something criminal, Nina flees with the boy. With news programs of human trafficking, and horrendous crimes against children, Nina does not know whom to trust.
Clearly this situation means that somebody has much at stake, and will be furious that their plans have gone awry. When Nina discovers Karin’s lifeless body, the situation becomes even more dire and Nina strives to keep herself and the boy safe with little support from anyone. Meanwhile, the boy’s mother is being released from hospital. She was told that she had a bad fall and that she had an alarmingly high blood alcohol content. She has no memory of the fall, nor does she drink.
Told alternately from the perspectives of Nina who flees with the boy, and Sigita, the boy’s mother who is desperate to find him, this is a thriller of the highest order. The tension builds while the reader is unsure as to whether they actually want to discover what lies on the next page.
The exploitation of the innocent is never a comfortable subject. For this reason I found it at times difficult to read this novel. That coupled with the foreign landscape and the unfamiliar character names, made the novel at times hard to follow. Given that, it was still an exemplary example of crime fiction at its finest. Written with a keen understanding of human nature, it described both the finest and worst aspects of the human psyche. Extreme love, avarice, loyalty, guilt, selflessness and psychological torment are portrayed in equal measure, each flawlessly. Also explored in the novel is the great class divide of Denmark or indeed any country. How there is seemingly one set of rules and morals for the rich, while there is a completely different set for the disadvantaged.
I highly recommend this novel and eagerly await the next offering from the writing team of Lene Kaaberbol and Agnette Friis.