Fiction - paperback; Soho Crime; 313 pages; 2011. Translated from the Danish by Lene Kaaberbøl.
If you thought all crime novels had to feature a police investigation, think again. In this Danish thriller, first published in 2008, there's nary a police officer to be seen. Instead the star "investigator" is a Red Cross nurse, Nina Borg.
A toddler in a suitcase
The story, which is told in the third person throughout but from multiple viewpoints, opens in dramatic fashion. Nina collects a suitcase from a locker in the left luggage department of Copenhagen train station, hefts it down to her car in the underground car park and opens it away from prying eyes. What she finds inside shocks her:
In the suitcase was a boy: naked, fair-haired, rather thin, about three years old. His knees rested against his chest, as if someone had folded him up like a shirt. Otherwise he would not have fit, she supposed. His eyes were closed, and his skin shone palely in the bluish glare of the fluorescent ceiling lights. Not until she saw his lips part slightly did she realise he was alive.
Why is the toddler in the suitcase? Who put him in there? Where is his mother? Who owns the suitcase? And, perhaps most intriguingly, why did Nina collect it?
Wide cast of characters
The narrative back tracks to introduce a wide cast of characters, all of whom play a part in this extraordinary crime which crosses borders and the class divide. There is rich businessman Jan and his beautiful wife, Anne; Lithuanian Jučas and his older Polish girlfriend Barbara; single mother Sigita and her young son Mikas; Nina's estranged friend, Karin; and then Nina herself, a nurse who helps abused women and children.
The story skilfully interleaves each character's rich back story with events that unfold in heart-hammering fashion as Nina tries to work out not only who the boy belongs to but why he has been kidnapped — and by whom.
And because she chooses to do this without involving the police and without even telling her husband — admittedly, their marriage is on the rocks — there are moments of great tension and danger throughout.
An exciting story
But this isn't an easy read. That's mainly because the various narrative threads, told in alternate chapters, take some time to come together — it's not until the final chapters that the reader comes to understand the connections between the different characters. But the effort is rewarding and the story is an exciting one.
Perhaps the novel's greatest strength is that the authors — Lene Kaaberbøl is a fantasy writer and Agnete Friis a journalist and children's author — take time to reveal the motivations of each character regardless of which side of the crime they are on. It makes for an intelligent, involving and compassionate read.
The translation, by one of the authors, is also superb. The prose feels effortless, but has a punch and depth to it, and it is so seamlessly written it's impossible to tell it is the work of two people.
The Boy in the Suit Case was shortlisted for the Scandinavian Glass Key Award for Crime Fiction.