29 May 2012

Damaged People (very damaged)

Dan Conrad mentioned that The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis was a compelling and well-written book.

Since he mentioned it, I added it to my to-read list and then, there it was, in the new book section of the library.

The book is set in Denmark and written by two Danes.

My paternal grandmother was Danish -- first generation born in the USA. I've always thought of Denmark as a mostly rural place with lots of small farms. Oh, there's Tivoli, wonderful pastries, open-faced sandwiches, Elsinore, the Louisiana Museum, Roskilde, the Little Mermaid, and lots of great domestic design. I've been there twice and those are some of the highlights of my visits. Those and the times I have been stopped on the streets of Copenhagen by tourists asking for directions.

I tend to overlook things like the Vikings -- merchants, seafarers, marauders, pillagers, invaders, and thieves. And that Norway for a long time was part of Denmark. And the World War II collaborators and the neo-Nazi Hells Angles motorcycle clubs and the anti-immigrant riots.

Denmark is a lot more complicated than my stereotypes. This book is full of more variety. Many varieties of damaged people. Somehow, damaged people aren't in my mental pictures of Denmark either. But, every character in the book is damaged -- some more damaged than others.

The main character is a nurse who is so damaged she can only function when she's ignoring her own family and rescuing someone else. She's the one who finds a three-year-old boy in a suitcase in a left luggage locker in Copenhagen's main train station. The boy is alive, but obviously damaged. The boy's mother (far away in Lithuania) is also damaged. Even the major evil people in the book are damaged.

It's a complicated story and a mystery-adventure, but it's not a police procedural. Most, but not all, of the characters do contact the police at appropriate times, but the police work goes on in the background. The stories include one about a mother trying desperately to find a kidnapped son, another about a rescuer trying to protect and learn the identity of a three-year-old who doesn't speak her language, and another about kidnappers trying to retrieve their hostage and get the ransom they've demanded. There are other stories and they do all come together at the end of the book.

This book almost wins a Heart of Gold award for improbabilities, but it's so well written and plotted that I didn't notice how large the stretches of reality were until I'd finished and begun reflecting on the book.

The book jacket says the authors' series has been translated into 9 languages. Series, eh? I did often feel that there were untold backstories and this book is probably not the first of the series.

This is one that kept me reading all through a rainy day at the lake. It's a bit frightening and suspenseful, but it is, as Dan said, well-written. I recommend it.

Anyone else read The Boy in the Suitcase? Or another in the series by Kaaberbøl and Friis? Write and tell us how you reacted to it (them).

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