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by Lene Kaaberbĝl & Agnete Friis, and Tara Chace, trans.
Soho Crime, October 2012
253 pages
ISBN: 1616951702

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

We first became acquainted with Nina Borg, Red Cross nurse, in THE BOY IN THE SUITCASE, where she was involved in a solo, desperate, and dangerous attempt to save a little boy who'd been checked like luggage in a locker in a train station. Now once again, Nina's quick (and not altogether thoughtful) sympathies are engaged, this time by a group of Roma who are hiding out in deplorable conditions in a garage in a suburb of Copenhagen, fearful of being deported.

Because of the danger she faced in her earlier adventure, Nina's husband Morten, a geologist, has extracted a promise from her not to engage in any missions of mercy when he is away working on the oil rigs as he periodically must. Nina dreads his absences as they leave her without any buffer between herself and her teen-aged daughter Ida, who appears to have inherited her mother's capacity for rage, but who has turned it not against mindless bureaucracy but against Nina. Despite Morten's absence and her promise to him, Nina finds herself unable to resist the call to try to help the Roma who are suffering from a particularly virulent stomach virus. She figures little harm can come of her brief visit - she is spectacularly wrong.

The story of what happens to Nina as a result of her well-meant charity alternates with two other narratives. One involves Sándor, a half-Rom Hungarian law student whose younger brother Tamás involves him in an extraordinarily unwise attempt to flog a dangerous object to a domestic terrorist. A third narrative concerns an elderly gentleman, Jĝrgen Skou-Larsen, married to a much younger wife, whose evident naivete in money matters worries Skou-Larsen very much.

Ultimately, all three strands converge in a quite satisfactory way. The authors' technique provides the opportunity for them simultaneously to provide a tense and compelling thriller while still exploring the social and psychological themes that clearly move them deeply.

In many ways, I preferred this to the previous entry in the series. The multiple points of view seemed to work more seamlessly this time and Nina's choices struck me as more comprehensible, less wilful. Nina is a difficult character to like - for a number of reasons, she feels compelled to combat injustice where and when she finds it (and these days, where does one not?) but she is almost completely oblivious to the emotional needs of her own family. In part, she appears to believe that anyone as privileged as they are has little call on her reserves of empathy and compassion. Compared to the endless sea of misery that is the modern world, they really have nothing to complain about and much to feel guilty for. Try telling that to a fourteen-year-old, especially one whose life has been put in danger by her mother's activities.

Still, by the end, Nina has lost so much more than she deserves to lose that we cannot help being on her side. Furthermore, that relic of the Cold War that young and naive Tamás has tried to flog to buy his family out of an impossible situation in Romania spreads its evil everywhere it goes, affecting older and sensible brother Sándor, who loses all he has worked for in order to respond to the bonds of family; it finally winds up quietly ticking away in suburban Copenhagen, where it could very well threaten the civil and domestic peace of an entire nation. It is a perfect metaphor for the perception that drives Nina - that the comfortable cannot count on their own safety as long as the hidden evil that creates so much misery is allowed to carry on unchallenged.

§ Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, November 2012

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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