Sunday, November 06, 2011

THE BOY IN THE SUITCASE: Available Nov. 8, Scandinavian Noir

Thank goodness for the pressure to translate the top Scandinavian crime fiction -- which brings us, this week, the first dark and intense translated book in the series featuring Nina Borg, a Danish Red Cross nurse.

Written by Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis, and deftly translated to English by Kaaberbøl herself, THE BOY IN THE SUITCASE stakes out new ground in modern noir. Borg herself is a determined, dedicated professional, working at a known sanctuary for battered women. She's no savior figure or superhero -- just one of those people who witnesses and tries to assist the painful one-step-forward, two-steps-back process of women attempting to take back their lives. Brutality, compulsion, power. She knows them. But she doesn't live at home with them, where she has a husband and two children of her own.

But her friends, even her long estranged friend Karin, know Nina's abilities and dedication. So when Karin entraps Nina in a situation where Nina collects a suitcase from a Copenhagen train station, and the suitcase contains a three-year-old child, naked, drugged, but thank goodness, very much alive and grieving, Nina takes on the responsibility of saving the child and searching for his home.

Danger and risk -- in today's most frightening forms of child trafficking, moneyed criminals, and mob connections -- follow the child and Nina. Yet there are no dramatic kick-boxing or firearms scenes, no made-for-TV car chases, no wise mentors or rescuers drifting into the scenes. Instead, Kaaberbøl and Friis powerfully present the horror of everyday challenges in escaping evil: the moment you've lost your cell phone in the woods while hearing danger behind you, and you've got to take care of a small child:
Her heart gave a wild leap and raced even faster under her sweat-soaked T-shirt. She stumbled to her feet, still with the boy locked in her arms.

And then she ran.

The boy's body was tense with resistance and difficult to manage, and she felt the extra weight now in her knees and ankles. She was getting older, she thought, too old to be fleeing with a child in her arms.

Seconds later, she reached the Fiat and yanked open the door to the driver's seat.
The very ordinariness of the characters and scenes in THE BOY IN THE SUITCASE push its powerful dramatic pace and make it at times quite terrifying. I found myself taking breaks from the emotions that every parent or grandparent knows: anguish at the dangers that life sends flying toward our children, terror at what could happen to them, clenched fists and heart as we become their defenders, at any cost.

Here's the ultimate opposite of the era's already noted Scandinavian thriller, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, for the committed women in Kaaberbøl and Friis's narrative aren't twisted by abuse, aren't crippled by their pasts -- they take hold of what they must, and they race for safety, carrying a toddler if necessary, screaming internally but running as fast as they can.

It's a great new addition to the shelf, whether on the Scandinavian side, the thriller side, the darkly driven crime fiction side, or as an investigation of how the ordinary can rise to compelling significance. Pre-order a copy online or reserve it at your local shop; the first printings (brought to us by the talent spotters at Soho Crime) are likely to fly into buyers' hands, and collectors in particular should grab them while they're available.

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