Something Rotten (plus Vile, Cruel, & Deadly) in Denmark

Have you ever tried guessing what you would do, if faced with some extraordinary situation? (“If a flood came and you could only save three things...”, maybe, or “If you could go back in time and stop ‘x‘ from happening... would you?”.) Whether it’s a solitary mental exercise or a discussion of hypotheticals at a dinner party, most of us enjoy such little games now and then.

One thing almost certainly never subjected to the “what if” treatment, though, is how you’d react to finding something--make that, someone--in a... well, in a most-unexpected place.  

Danish authors Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis tackle precisely that unusual--and horrifying--prospect, in their haunting tale, The Boy in the Suitcase.

***** // *****

Nina Borg is a weary, one-woman dynamo. Married with two children, she works as a nurse for the Red Cross. She also volunteers in an underground network that attempts to aid battered or shunted-off-to-the-side-and-otherwise-forgotten women, children, and elderly folks. Everyone who knows her knows she’s a soft touch; if you go to Nina in a bad way, she’ll move heaven and earth trying to make things better (even to the detriment of her own too-often-neglected family).

When an old college friend--a fellow nurse she hasn’t seen or talked to in years--calls with a frantic request for help, then, it’s only natural that Nina agrees. The request itself is an odd one, though; Karin needs Nina to pick up something--a suitcase--from a locker at the train station in Copenhagen, then transport it safely to her car before opening it up.

What, exactly, is in this suitcase, Nina asks, and why can’t Karin collect it, herself? Karen refuses to say any more--insisting that Nina will know what to do--then runs off, leaving her friend holding a numbered locker key.

Fearing the worst--drugs, perhaps, or some kind of stolen goods (after all, who knows what her beautiful but flighty friend might have gotten herself into)--Nina drives to the busy terminal against her better judgment. Finding the right locker, she wrestles out a surprisingly-heavy bag and briefly toys with the idea of opening it then and there--if only to see whether the contents might be rearranged for easier carrying--but the memory of Karin’s panic stops her. Only after she’s lugged the unwieldy case all the way to her car, a couple blocks away, does she dare open it... to find a naked child inside.

Years of training immediately take over, allowing her to focus on what--on who--is before her: a fair-haired young boy, perhaps three years old... breathing, ever so faintly. She carefully removes him and performs a quick visual inspection; he seems healthy enough, aside from his nearly-nonexistent respiration, and reasonably clean. But, what to do with him? Has he been kidnapped for ransom, she wonders... or is he yet another tragic victim of child trafficking? 

Her first instinct, of course, is to go straight to the police. Two things stop her, however; first, until she knows just what Karin is mixed up in, contacting the authorities seems unwise for everyone. Second, and more importantly, Nina has seen firsthand what happens to too many unfortunate souls who enter the public care system: they wind up in group homes, neither cared for nor loved, where abuse is prevalent, and their already-troubled lives are subsequently ruined. She cannot blindly sentence an innocent waif to such a fate... particularly not once he wakes up and speaks to her in a foreign language.

When the pair of them catch up with Karin--only to find her brutally murdered--Nina realizes beyond a doubt how dire their position truly is. They’re in grave danger... from whom, and why, she has no earthly idea... but their lives--and possibly those of their own families, as well--depend on staying enough ahead of the killer (or killers) to have the chance of finding out, and bringing whatever awful truth is out there into the open.

***** // *****

Over the past few years, I’ve come to expect amazing things from Scandinavian crime/suspense/thriller authors, so I approached The Boy in the Suitcase with big expectations. I’m totally jazzed to report that I wasn’t disappointed; this book is terrific.

From the start, there’s such a refreshingly female take on things. The women are unapologetically honest in their thoughts and actions; whether good or less-than-good, these characters ring true no matter what they’re doing, which lends the whole story an undeniable believability. (It would be nearly impossible to read this and not feel something for the characters and their situations.) Some tough realities are exposed, packing a lot of emotional wallops along the way.

Beyond the gut-level punches, though, this is just an all-around, well-crafted bit of story-telling, delivering a taut, tense, and terrific ride that never lets up. The story doesn’t go quite where I was expecting it to, either, which makes it that much better.

Whether you’re looking for a thrilling, stay-up-late-to-finish page-turner, a complex and compelling mystery, or a gripping psychological study, The Boy in the Suitcase delivers big time. 

GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Mousies 


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