I’ve been on a Scandinavian crime kick for the last six months, and this is the best book of the lot I’ve read. It’s also one of the best books, period, that I’ve read in a very long time. Almost always I find something that annoys me about a book: a section, a storyline, a character that feels out of place or just not real. I loved the characters, the pacing, and the tone in this book. Seriously, I have no complaints.
Nina Borg, a self-described burnt-out social worker and a Red Cross nurse discovers the boy in the suitcase, three-year-old Lithuanian Mikas, in a parking garage near the Copenhagen train station. It’s a gripping beginning. The story cuts from character to character involved in this kidnapping tale: Nina, wealthy business executive Jan Marquart, Mikas’s mother Sigita, and, finally, the villain Jucas.
The characters are real, complex people, and there is no idealized superhero among them. All the characters have interesting histories that do not let them off the hook for the not-so-great things they’ve done. Nina, for example, is a nurse who devotes her all to the refugee children in her care but can’t devote herself to her own children. Also, the main antagonist Jucas is not just a steroid-fueled monster, which is saying quite a lot for a villain in a thriller. Even the characters that we see just in passing are interesting, like Jan’s wife Anne.
The pacing of the story is great too, probably because the chapters are fairly short and alternate from character to character. Since this is not a typical police procedural or private investigator novel, there aren’t slow sections of witness interviews either.
Finally, I don’t feel manipulated emotionally by this book. It’s dark subject matter: kidnapped foreign children living in Denmark. And making the missing boy so young could be seen as a ploy for sympathy, but somehow I don’t feel yanked around by melodrama. The story doesn’t feel sensationalized.
Translated by Lena Kaaberbol
Publication date: November 8, 2011