Review: THE BOY IN THE SUITCASE by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis

There’s absolutely no ambiguity about the title of this book: there is a boy and he is indeed in a suitcase, discovered there by Danish nurse Nina Borg after a frantic phone call from an old friend demanding that she pick the suitcase up from a  local railway station. For reasons that I still don’t fully comprehend when she discovers the perfectly healthy 3-year old boy in said suitcase Nina goes into hiding with him rather than contacting the police, her husband or anyone who might be any use at all in such circumstances. One thread of the book follows her as she tries to work out who the boy is (he doesn’t speak the same languages as Nina) and what she should do with him.

Three other threads follow three other characters: Jan, a wealthy Dane whose travel delays result in him missing out on a very important appointment; Sigita, a single mother in Lithuania who wakes up in hospital with a broken arm and everyone believing her a drunk and Jucas, a criminal type working on a sure fire way to earn the money he needs for his dream life in Poland with his wife. The stories do all connect though not in an entirely predictable way.

I found this book uneven in quality: some of it was very good and some downright clunky. With the exception of Sigita the characters don’t seem properly fleshed out or, in the case of Nina, not quite credible. I could deal with her not being terribly sympathetic but did roll my eyes a bit at her sometimes ludicrous and thoroughly juvenile behaviour. At the end of the novel (in one of the clunkier passages of writing) this behaviour is explained if not justified but even so it still didn’t ring true (for example if she were truly on a mission to save the world then I don’t see how she could have let the young prostitute walk away as easily as she did at a certain point in the novel). So for me Nina’s ‘drive’ felt more like a plot device than a real character trait and I think there was probably a way to tell this story without stretching the credulity of readers to the extent that mine was. As a counter balance though Sigita is a terrifically authentic character, displaying a mixture of guilt, terror, indecision and tenacity that I found truly compelling and believable for her circumstances.

The story was more even and overall was good, though the very short chapters chopping from one perspective to another repeatedly did take some getting used to. However it maintained a good pace and did manage to keep a few surprises up its sleeve until near the end. I was going to write that the book didn’t have a particularly strong sense of place but then I realised that while it might not have screamed Denmark from every page it is a very European book in the way that it mixes people from several countries, all of them multilingual and crossing borders with ease. None of that would be possible on the giant island I live on.

In the end I liked but did not love this book though I think I am in the minority (again) as most reviews seem to have been much more positive. I suppose the thing that struck me most was that some of the themes it raises are dismissed quickly in favour of providing another plot twist whereas I’d have liked to see some of those themes and ideas explored in more depth and would have been happy to sacrifice a plot twist or two for the cause.

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THE BOY IN THE SUITCASE has been reviewed at Barbara Fister’s Place, DJ’s Krimiblog, Petrona, Reviewing the Evidence, The Crime Segments

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My rating 3/5
Translator Lene Kaaberbol
Publisher Random House [2011]
ISBN 9781569479827
Length 313 pages
Format eBook (for Kindle)
Book Series standalone ?
Source I bought it
Creative Commons Licence
This work by is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

This entry was posted in Agnete Friis, book review, Denmark, Lene Kaaberbol. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Review: THE BOY IN THE SUITCASE by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis

  1. Anonymous says:

    I have the audio version of this one, but the timing hasn’t been right yet…LOL (enjoyed your review, but hoping I like it a bit more).


  2. Maxine says:

    Well on this occasion I agree almost word for word with your review. It is an uneven book, and I found the two parts where gruesome violence is described (when Nina discovers a body fairly near the start; and a protracted scene at the house near the end) rather bolted-on, as if these descriptions at this level of detail are somehow part of a package for a contemporary crime thriller that “have to be there”.
    I agree that it is a “European” book, perhaps Denmark is more prone to the cross-border elements than other Scandinavian authors? (Thinking of Leif Davidsen) but not particularly Danish in flavour.
    As previously mentioned, the character and actions of Sigita were the most convincing, involving and memorable for me. The other characters seemed either irritating (Nina) or underdeveloped/cardboardy. I also thought the rationale was a slight cheat in that the reader had not been informed of certain information, but I did not mind too much as I had guessed the broad outline of the reasons for the whole suitcase thing in the first place.
    I shall aim to read their next book, but hope that the Nina character is a bit more realistic and that the authors steer clear of the auto-psychology in future 😉


    • I think our difference of opinion on Defending Jacob must have been an aberration 🙂

      I didn’t realise it was the start of a series until I saw comments at other reviews – I will probably read another but it won’t be at the very top of my list. I do agree that the scene at the house was unnecessary – that was the kind of thing I thought could have been excised.


  3. Kathy D. says:

    I liked the book quite a bit and could not put it down. I give authors a lot of license on the characters they create, as it would be quite boring if everyone were similar and did everything they are supposed to do in life. A lot of male characters are very irresponsible, including to their loved ones, go on alcoholic benders, don’t show up when they’re supposed to, or have psychological problems. A favorite of mine, Erlendur, didn’t deal with his former spouse or children the way he should have, and they have scars from their family dysfunction. Martin Beck didn’t do it right either all of the time.
    I give the Nina Borg character some slack in that she creates interest. Just what are her demons and why does she have them? She’s complicated and flawed, like many people. There must be some backstory there. I’m curious about her. I want to know what she does next.
    Where I do agree is on that unnecessary violence at the end. It was out of character with the rest of the book and just seemed plopped into the pages to add a thriller element. It didn’t work for me. I didn’t need it.
    I also agree that some of the themes and ideas should have been explored more, even if that meant giving up a plot twist or two. Yes.
    I did get the feel of a European city with people from different countries traveling easily to Copenhagen and living there. I realized people can just drive there or grab a train ride.
    And even though my city is global, with inhabitants from everywhere, living in close proximity to each other and accessible from Canada and Latin America, the borders are very tight. And it still requires plane flights or ocean liners to get here from many continents. I enjoyed the concept of being able to drive to Copenhagen from other countries with different languages.
    All in all, I liked this book a lot and I cant’ wait for the second one.


  4. The opening premise hooked me — a three year old boy in a suitcase? From there it seemed to go downhill from there based on your review. I’m seeing more and more of this lately; books that got most of the ingredients right but mix it up wrong creating a mess instead of a masterpiece. To those writers I offer encouragement to persevere and perfect your craft.


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  7. susanbright says:

    The Second book in the Nina Borg series, Invisible Murder was just released.


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