Friday, December 2, 2011

The Boy in the Suitcase, by Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis

Soho Press, 2011
originally published as Drengen i kufferten, 2008
translated by Lene Kaaberbøl
313 pp.

The Boy in the Suitcase is the opening installment of a series featuring main character Nina Borg, a Red Cross nurse and member of an underground-type network that offers help to illegal immigrants in need who have little recourse to official services or other kinds of assistance.  It's a series I will be following as the books are published in English; while Boy in the Suitcase has some "thriller"-type moments, it also continues the tradition of voicing concerns regarding social issues, most especially those facing illegal immigrants in Denmark.   While I liked this book,  I have to say that I'm not too sure about the choices Nina makes throughout the story.  Talk about a flawed character -- at the same time she is serving as the ultimate Good Samaritan for those in rather desperate situations, Nina's family life is going down the tubes largely because of the decisions she makes. 

The authors hook the reader with the very first page.  A woman is lugging a heavy suitcase down the stairs of a building into the underground parking lot.  Before she gets to her car, she decides that maybe it would be a good idea to look inside the suitcase.  Shock overcomes her as she discovers its contents: a little three year-old boy, naked and folded up "like a shirt." But the biggest surprise was yet to come: the boy is alive.  Unable to deal with the situation, she calls her friend Nina Borg, and asks her to come to a Copenhagen train station, where she has put the suitcase back into a locker.  Nina finds it, then decides to go the police. Her plans, however, change, when the station police are called to the same locker from which Nina has just retrieved the suitcase, where a man is causing a scene, violently beating on the locker.  His behavior makes Nina change her mind about the cops; she begins to wonder just what her friend Karin has gotten herself into.  She decides to deliver the boy to her friend, only to discover that she's now dead -- violently murdered at the remote cabin where she has gone into hiding.  Now the only thing Nina can think of is to find the child's mother -- worried that the boy is possibly part of the wares of a human trafficker.  But Nina's efforts in helping out her friend, and her decision to try to locate the boy's mother lead her, the boy, and others into danger.    In the meantime, a Lithuanian woman wakes up to find herself in the hospital, and discovers she's there after taking a fall while very, very drunk. The problem is that she's not a drinker.  And no one seems to know where her little boy is. She goes to the police but, dissatisfied with the pace of the official investigation, decides she needs to take matters into her own hands.  Neither woman knows what she is getting herself into -- there's the guy who paid for the suitcase to deal with, and even worse, the extremely irate man who never got his money for the delivery.  As these plotlines develop and eventually merge, the story becomes an interesting insight into each person's past life and their relationship to the present crisis.

Although Nina Borg is the main character, the most realistic character in all of this is the boy's mother, Sigita.  The authors did a wonderful job with her, as the readers feel her pain and anguish, the sheer adrenaline that keeps her on track, and her desperation to get her boy back.  As far as Nina goes, I admire her sense of urgency in getting help for people who need it, at great personal cost, but at some point, it seems to me that Nina is turning her back on the people who need her most -- her own family, a fact that can't be avoided as you read through the novel.  I'm not so sure that this is "heroic" behavior when all is said and done.

There's a great deal of fast and high-powered action here, which will be good for thriller readers; there is also a good, plausible mystery at the heart of the story which is good for people like myself who prefer getting to the bottom of the why and the who. However, I think the thrill ride outweighed everything else, and although I liked The Boy in the Suitcase, and will be among the first to line up for the next installment in the series, I didn't love it.  But that's just me...looking around on the internet at various reviews, the book gets very high star ratings, so it's one you'll have to decide about on your own.

crime fiction from Denmark


  1. Nancy - Thanks for your thoughtful review, and I'm glad you liked this well enough to look for the next segment. As you say, some people are not as fond of the "thrill ride" kind of novel as others. So I'm glad you found enough of a solid plot and set of characters to keep you reading. Like you, I've read raves of this one, too, and I think I will read it myself even though I'm usually not a "thrill-seeker."

  2. Thanks for the review. Since the book seems to combine an unputdownable thriller pace and a real mystery and characters, it sounds like my kind of book.

    I just won this book from a terrific website. Friends are already lining up to borrow it, as they've heard the buzz about the book. I cannot wait to read it.

  3. Margot: It definitely kept me reading! And as you know,I'm more about a good, solid plot rather than the thrill of it all, hence the ambiguity.

    Kathy: Share your great website with the rest of us!

  4. I agree with you about Nina Borg - she's a mess on a mission, and that's not a good thing. I am nevertheless grateful that the authors had the nerve to present us with a woman character who is so neglectful of her family because it makes her anything but heroic and shows the downside of being driven by indignation and passion.

    I loved this book.

  5. Barbara: Very well stated! I must admit to not having thought of it that way. As much as I admired Nina because of her passion toward the people she helps, it was the ending that really got to me. And I think the fact that I could feel so strongly about Nina as a mom means that the authors have done their job as writers -- connecting the characters to the reader's individual experience. I also think that the very prominent differences between Sigita and Nina as mothers really connected with me as a mom, which is why I think I admired Sigita's character so much more.

  6. I've just finished this book. Like you, I liked it but did not love it. Nina was a bit irritating but I liked Sigita, who seemed more real.

  7. Nancy, by the way, I just saw the film of The Secrets in their Eyes, which is good. It's a thriller and a love story. It's long but worth it.

  8. Maxine -- we seem to be in the minority!

    Kathy: I have The secret in their eyes right here and plan to watch it tonight.


I don't care what you write, but do be nice about it