5.02.2013

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

The Boy in the Suitcase
What is it about Scandinavian writers in the last decade that led them to create such twisted mysteries? The first Scandinavian mysteries I read were were the Lizbeth Salandar thrillers by Stieg Larsson, but writers like Arnaldur Indriðason, Henning Mankell, and Peter Høeg have been turning out mysteries and thrillers for more than ten years. I don't know that the the Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis is quite in that league yet, but their The Boy in the Suitcase shares some of that twisted darkness. Reading these books makes it clear that there are two Scandinavias. There's the one we read about in articles that show how far behind social services, education, and quality of life are in American when compared to the Valhalla that is Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark. Yes, there is a high price to pay in taxes, but those countries are probably the best places on Earth to live. Then there is the other Scandinavia, the one inhabited by immigrants who have fled there looking for a better life. There's horrific brutality, prostitution, human trafficking, drugs. All of these mysteries and thrillers coming out of Scandinavia spring from this tension, I think, between the idealized life and the harsh realities.

In The Boy in the Suitcase, a well meaning nurse named Nina Borg is pulled into a tangled crime gone wrong when an old friend asks her for an odd favor. The friend tells her to go to the train station, open a specific locker, and take what she finds inside. In the locker is an old suitcase. And, as you can guess from the title, a boy--drugged--is inside the suitcase. Nina is about to turn the boy over to the police to help reconnect him with his family when she sees a very large and very angry man trying to kick the hell out of the locker she just emptied. Kaaberbøl and Friis rapidly introduce us to the boy's mother, Sigeta; Jan Marquart, the man who bought the boy; and Jučas, the boy's kidnapper. Kaaberbøl and Friis let their various narrators tell the story, revealing why Mikas was kidnapped and how he came to be in the suitcase and how the notorious "simple plan" spiraled out of control all due to a seagull hitting a plan and delaying it.

The authors work together very, very well and the book reads like the work of a single author with a distinct voice. The characters are wonderfully drawn, even if I mentally stumbled over how to pronounce some of the names and locations. Nina, in particular, is a very interesting crusader. She's the sort of do-gooder who will actually pick up stakes and go to Darfur or Tblisi or other site of human suffering and actually do something about it. Unfortunately, her family pays the price for her absence. At one point, Nina comments that her husband Morten resents it. Morten is outraged by the news, of course, but doesn't do anything more than talk. Nina actually acts. It's an interesting dilemma, to see a person torn between two sets of equally important ideals. (The feminist in me would like to point out that this wouldn't be such a crisis if Nina were a man.)

The book ends with a coda that makes it clear that Nina's adventures in making things right is only the beginning. I'll have to keep an eye open for the next installment.

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