Sunday, January 15, 2012

THE BOY IN THE SUITCASE by Lena Kaaberbol & Agnete Friis

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.

THE BOY IN THE SUITCASE by Lena Kaaberbol & Agnete Friis
Translated by Lena Kaaberbol
Soho Crime
Publication date:  November 8, 2011
Source:  library


  1. I liked this book, too, though did not think it as good as some other Scandinavian crime published last year (eg Asa Larsson, Johan Theorin, Jorn Lier Horst or, from Denmark also, Jussi Adler-Olssen). I did enjoy it but I always find books about kidnapped, etc, children very hard to read, it is just not a subject I want to read about. I liked the character of the mother very much (but not so much Nina, she seemed a bit of a cliche). The ending was too much protracted violence, and in some ways was a bit of a cheat as the plot depended on information that had been withheld from the reader. Nonetheless, I don't mean to sound too critical as it is a lot better than most crime novels being written/praised today in English (eg Before I go to Sleep by Watson, very over-rated).

    1. I liked this book a lot and put it in my top reads of 2011. The pacing was good, nothing was boring. I liked Nina Borg, although she is far from perfect. She is portrayed as a complicated, multi-layered person, with flaws.
      I did also think that there was too much unnecessary violence at the end of the book. It threw me off for awhile as most of the rest of the book (most, not all) was not overtly violent.
      Given the quality of mystery fiction, especially in the States, this was a good one. I can't seem to get out of Scandinavia lately, because crime fiction is well-written, interesting and has a combination of character development, a good plot and sense of place.
      Can't wait for the next book about Nina Borg.

    2. Maxine- I'm by no means up-to-date on Scandinavian crime fiction (Adler-Olssen is the only one on your list I've read), but this is one of the better crime novels of the ones I have read in the last six months to a year. I think another reason I liked this book is because it didn't feel like a tired middle-of-a-series novel to me.

      Kathy D.- I don't see myself getting out of my Scandinavia kick any time soon either.

  2. I'm in two minds about this book as the subject matter really doesn't appeal to me. But the reviews have been pretty good so I really ought to give it a go.

  3. Tôi cũng nghĩ rằng có quá nhiều bạo lực không cần thiết ở cuối của cuốn sách. Nó ném cho tôi một thời gian như hầu hết các phần còn lại của cuốn sách (hầu hết, không phải tất cả) là không công khai bất bạo động.