4 reviews

The Boy in the Suitcase
by Lene Kaaberbol, Agnete Friis

Published: 2011-11-08
Kindle Edition : 0 pages
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Recommended to book clubs by 3 of 4 members

Nina Borg, a Red Cross nurse, wife, and mother of two, is a compulsive do-gooder who can't say no when someone asks for help—even when she knows better. When her estranged friend Karin leaves her a key to a public locker in the Copenhagen train station, Nina gets suckered into her most ...

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Nina Borg, a Red Cross nurse, wife, and mother of two, is a compulsive do-gooder who can't say no when someone asks for help—even when she knows better. When her estranged friend Karin leaves her a key to a public locker in the Copenhagen train station, Nina gets suckered into her most dangerous project yet. Inside the locker is a suitcase, and inside the suitcase is a three-year-old boy: naked and drugged, but alive.
Is the boy a victim of child trafficking? Can he be turned over to authorities, or will they only return him to whoever sold him? When Karin is discovered brutally murdered, Nina realizes that her life and the boy's are in jeopardy, too. In an increasingly desperate trek across Denmark, Nina tries to figure out who the boy is, where he belongs, and who exactly is trying to hunt him down.

Editorial Review

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Holding the glass door open with her hip, she dragged the

suitcase into the stairwell leading down to the underground

parking lot. Sweat trickled down her chest and back beneath her

T-shirt; it was only slightly cooler here than outside in the shimmering

heat of the airless streets. The strong smell of decaying fast food from

a jettisoned burger bag did nothing to improve the flavor of the place.

There was no elevator. Step by step she manhandled the heavy suitcase

down to the level where she was parked, then realized that she

didn’t really want it in her car until she knew what was in it. She found

a relatively private spot behind some dumpsters, sheltered from security

cameras and the curious gazes of passersby. The case wasn’t locked,

just held closed by two clasps and a heavy-duty strap. Her hands were

shaking, and one of them was numb and bloodless from carrying the

ungainly weight for such a distance. But she managed to unbuckle the

strap and unsnap the locks.

In the suitcase was a boy: naked, fair-haired, rather thin, about three

years old. The shock rocked her back on her heels so that she fell against

the rough plastic surface of the dumpster. His knees rested against his

chest, as if someone had folded him up like a shirt. Otherwise he would

not have fit, she supposed. His eyes were closed, and his skin shone

palely in the bluish glare of the fluorescent ceiling lights. Not until she

saw his lips part slightly did she realize he was alive.


The house sat on the brink of a cliff, with an unhindered

view of the bay. Jan knew perfectly well what the locals

called it: the Fortress. But that was not why he looked at the white

walls with a vague sense of dissatisfaction. The locals could think

what they liked; they weren’t the ones who mattered.

The house was of course designed by a well-known architect,

and modern, in a functional-classical way, a modern take on the

Swedish “funkis” trend. Neo-funkis. That’s what Anne called it,

and she had shown him pictures and other houses until he understood,

or understood some of it, at least. Straight lines, no decoration.

The view was meant to speak for itself, through the huge

windows that drew the light and the surrounding beauty into the

room. That was how the architect had put it, and Jan could see

his point, everything new and pure and right. Jan had bought the

grounds and had the old summer cottage torn down; he had battled

the municipal committee until they realized that they most

certainly did want him as a taxpayer here and gave the necessary

permissions; he had even conquered the representative of the local

Nature Society with a donation that nearly made her choke on her

herbal tea. But why should he not establish a wildlife preserve? He

had no interest in other people’s building here, or tramping all over

the place in annoying picnic herds. So there it was, his house, protected

by white walls, airy and bright, and with clean uncluttered

neo-funkis lines. Just the way he had wanted it.

And yet, it was not what he wanted. This was not how it was supposed

to be. He still thought of the other place with a strange, unfocused

longing. A big old pile, an unappealing mix of decaying 1912

nouveau-riche and appallingly ugly sixties additions, and snobbily

expensive because it was on Strandvejen, the coast-hugging residences

of the Copenhagen financial elite. But that was not why he

had wanted it—zip codes meant nothing to him. Its attraction was

its nearness to Anne’s childhood home, just on the other side of the

tall unkempt whitethorn hedge. He couldn’t help but imagine it

all: The large family gathered for barbecues under the apple trees,

he and Anne’s father in a cloud of Virginia tobacco, holding chunky

tumblers of a very good Scotch. Anne’s siblings by the long white

patio table, with their children. Anne’s mother in the swing seat, a

beautiful Indian shawl around her shoulders. His and Anne’s children,

four or five, he had imagined, with the youngest asleep in

Anne’s lap. Most of all, Anne happy, relaxed, and smiling. Gathered

for the Midsummer festival, perhaps, with a bonfire of their own,

and yet enough of them there so that the singing sounded right.

Or just some ordinary Thursday, because they felt like it, and there

had been fresh shrimp on the pier that day.

He drew hungrily at his cigarette, looking out across the bay.

The water was a sullen dark blue, streaked with foam, and the wind

tore at his hair and made his eyes water. He had even persuaded

the owner to sell. The papers were there, ready for his signature.

But she had said no.

He didn’t get it. It was her family, damn it. Weren’t women supposed

to care about such things? The nearness, the roots, the closeknit

relations? All that stuff. And with a family like Anne’s, so . . .

right. Healthy. Loving. Strong. Keld and Inger, still obviously in love

after nearly forty years. Anne’s brothers, who came to the house regularly,

sometimes with their own wives and children, other times

alone, just dropping in because they both still played tennis at the

old club. To become part of that, in such an easy, everyday manner,

just next door, on the other side of the hedge . . . how could

she turn that down? But she did. Quietly, stubbornly, in true Annefashion,

without arguments or reasons why. Just no.

So now here they were. This was where they lived, he and she

and Aleksander, on the edge of a cliff. The wind howled around the

white walls whenever the direction was northwesterly, and they

were alone. Much too far away to just drop in, not part of things,

with no share in that easy, warm family communion except by special

arrangement now and then, four or five times a year.

He took a last drag and tossed the cigarette away, stepping on

the butt to make sure the dry grass didn’t catch fire. He stood for a

few minutes, letting the wind whip away the smell from his clothes

and hair. Anne didn’t know that he had started smoking again.

He took the photo from his wallet. He kept it there because

he knew Anne was much too well raised to go snooping through

his pockets. He probably should have gotten rid of it, but he just

needed to look at it sometimes, needed to feel the mixture of hope

and terror it inspired.

The boy was looking straight into the camera. His bare shoulders

were drawn forward, as if he hunched himself against some

unseen danger. There were no real clues to where the photo had

been taken; the details were lost in the darkness behind him. At

the corner of his mouth, one could see traces of something he had

just eaten. It might be chocolate.

Jan touched the picture with one forefinger, very gently. Then

he carefully put the photo away again. They had sent him a mobile

phone, an old Nokia, which he would never himself have bought.

Probably stolen, he thought. He dialed the number, and waited for

the reply.

“Mr. Marquart.” The voice was polite, but accented. “Hello.

Have you decided?”

In spite of having made his decision, he hesitated. Finally the

voice had to prod him on.

“Mr. Marquart?”

He cleared his throat.

“Yes. I accept.”

“Good. Here are your instructions.”

He listened to the brief, precise sentences, wrote down numbers

and figures. He was polite, like the man on the phone. It was

only after the conversation had ended that he could no longer contain

his disgust and defiance. Furiously, he flung the phone away;

it arced over the fence to bounce and disappear on the heathered

slope beneath him.

He got back into his car and drove the rest of the way up to the


Less than an hour later, he was crawling about on the slope,

looking for the damn thing. Anne came out onto the terrace in

front of the house and leaned over the railing.

“What are you doing?” she shouted.

“I dropped something,” he called back.

“Do you want me to come down and help?”


She stayed out there for a while. The wind tore at her peach-colored

linen dress, and the updraft blew her fair shoulder-length

hair up around her face, so that it looked as if she were falling. In

free fall without a parachute, he thought, only to check that chain

of thought before it could continue. It would be all right. Anne

would never need to know.

It took him nearly an hour and a half to find the stupid phone.

And then he had to call the airline. This was one trip he had no

wish to let his secretary book for him.

“Where are you going?” asked Anne.

“Just a quick trip to Zurich.”

“Is something wrong?”

“No,” he said hastily. Fear had flooded into her eyes instantly,

and trying to calm it was a knee-jerk reaction. “It’s just a business

thing. Some funds I need to arrange. I’ll be back by Monday.”

How had they ended up like this? He suddenly recalled with

great intensity that Saturday in May more than ten years ago when

he had watched Keld walk her up the aisle. She had been fairytale

pretty, in a stunningly simple white dress, pink and white rosebuds

in her hair. He knew at once that the bouquet he had chosen was

much too big and garish, but it hadn’t mattered. He was just a few

minutes away from hearing her say “I do.” For an instant, his gaze

caught Keld’s, and he thought he saw a welcome and an appreciation

there. Father-in-law. I’ll take care of her, he silently promised

the tall, smiling man. And in his mind added two promises

that weren’t in the marriage vows: he would give her anything she

wanted, and he would protect her against everything that was evil

in the world.

That is still what I want, he thought, tossing his passport into

the Zurich case. Whatever the price.

Sometimes, Jučas had a dream about a family. There

was a mother and a father and two children, a boy and a

girl. Usually, they would be at the dinner table, eating a meal the

mother had cooked for them. They lived in a house with a garden,

and in the garden there were apple trees and raspberries. The people

were smiling, so that one could tell they were happy.

He himself was outside the house, looking in. But there was

always the feeling that any minute now they would catch sight of

him, and the father would open the door, smiling even wider, and

say: “There you are! Come in, come in.”

Jučas had no idea who they were. Nor could he always remember

what they looked like. But when he woke, it would be with a

feeling of muddled nostalgia and expectation that would stay with

him all day like a tightness in his chest.

Lately he had dreamed the dream a lot. He blamed it on Barbara.

She always wanted to talk about how it was going to be—him and

her, and the little house just outside Krakow, close enough that her

mother would need to take only one bus, and yet far enough away

for them to have a bit of privacy. And there would be children. Of

course. Because that was what Barbara wanted: children.

The day before it was to happen, they had celebrated. Everything

was done, everything ready. The car was packed, all preparations

were in place. The only thing that could stop them now was if the

bitch suddenly changed her pattern. And even if she did, all they

had to do was wait another week.

“Let’s go to the country,” said Barbara. “Let’s go find someplace

where we can lie in the grass and be alone together.”

At first he refused on the grounds that it was best not to alter

one’s own pattern. People remembered. Only as long as one did

what one always did would one remain relatively invisible. But

then he realized this might be his last day in Lithuania ever, if

everything went according to plan. And he didn’t really feel like

spending that day selling security systems to middle-range businessmen

in Vilnius.

He called the client he was due to see and canceled, telling

them the company would be sending someone Monday or Tuesday

instead. Barbara called in sick with “the flu.” It would be Monday

before anyone at Klimka’s realized they had been playing hooky at

the same time, and by then it wouldn’t matter.

They drove out to Lake Didžiulis. Once, this had been a holiday

camp for Pioneer children. Now it was a scout camp instead, and

on an ordinary school day at the end of August, the whole place

was completely deserted. Jučas parked the Mitsubishi in the shade

beneath some pines, hoping the car wouldn’t be an oven when they

returned. Barbara got out, stretching so that her white shirt slid

up to reveal a bit of tanned stomach. That was enough to make his

cock twitch. He had never known a woman who could arouse him

as quickly as Barbara. He had never known anyone like her, period.

He still wondered why on earth she had picked someone like him.

They stayed clear of the wooden huts, which in any case looked

rather sad and dilapidated. Instead they followed the path past

the flag hill and into the woods. He inhaled the smell of resin and

sun-parched trees, and for a moment was back with Granny Edita

on the farm near Visaginas. He had spent the first seven years

of his life there. Freezing cold and lonely in the winter, but in

the summer Rimantas moved in with his Gran on the neighboring

farm, and then the thicket of pines between the two smallholdings

became Tarzan’s African Jungle, or the endless Mohican

woods of Hawkeye.

“Looks like we can swim here.” Barbara pointed at the lakeshore

further ahead. An old swimming platform stuck into the waters of

the lake like a slightly crooked finger.

Jučas stuffed Visaginas back into the box where it belonged, the

one labeled “The Past.” He didn’t often open that box, and there

was certainly no reason to mess with it now.

“There are probably leeches,” he said, to tease her.

She grimaced. “Of course there aren’t. Or they wouldn’t let the

children swim here.”

Belatedly, he realized he didn’t really want to stop her from taking

her clothes off.

“You’re probably right,” he said, hastily.

She flashed him a quick smile, as though she knew exactly what

he was thinking. And as he watched, she slowly unbuttoned her

shirt and stepped out of her sand-colored skirt and string sandals,

until she stood barefoot on the beach, wearing only white panties

and a plain white bra.

“Do we have to swim first?” he asked.

“No,” she said, stepping close. “We can do that afterwards.”

He wanted her so badly it sometimes made him clumsy like a

teenager. But today he forced himself to wait. Playing with her.

Kissing her. Making sure she was just as aroused as he was. He

fumbled for the condom he always kept in his wallet, at her insistence.

But this time she stopped him.

“It’s such a beautiful day,” she said. “And such a beautiful place.

Surely, we can make a beautiful child, don’t you think?”

He was beyond speech. But he let go of the wallet and held her

for several long minutes before he pushed her down onto the grass

and tried to give her what she so badly wanted.

Afterwards, they did swim in the deep, cool waters of the

lake. She was not a strong swimmer, had never really learned how,

so mostly she doggy-paddled, splashing and kicking. Finally she

linked her hands behind his neck and let herself be towed along as

he backstroked to keep them both afloat. She looked into his eyes.

“Do you love me?” she asked.


“Even though I’m an old, old woman?” She was nine years older

than him, and it bothered her. He didn’t care.

“Insanely,” he said. “And you’re not old.”

“Take care of me,” she said, settling her head on his chest. He

was surprised at the strength of the tenderness he felt.

“Always at your service,” he murmured. And he thought that

perhaps the family in the dream was him and Barbara, perhaps that

was the point of it all—him and Barbara, in the house just outside

Krakow. Soon.

Just one little thing to be done first.

Excerpted from The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberb�l; Agnete Friis. Copyright © 2011 by Lene Kaaberbøl; Agnete Friis. Excerpted by permission of Soho Crime, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

Suggested by Members

What is driving each character and what does each of them want?
by janvbarnes (see profile) 08/26/12

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

Note from the authors:

A small boy, folded into a suitcase – naked, but alive.

Sometimes stories begin not with a clever idea, but simply with an image that won’t go away. Like this one – a boy in a suitcase. Why was he there? Who treated him like that, as if he were nothing more than a piece of luggage for someone to collect? Where did he come from, and was it possible to save him?

It turned out that it took two authors to answer those questions. When we started, Lene was the author of a string of successful YA fantasy novels; Agnete was a journalist and the PR officer for an organic food cooperative. Neither of us had written crime fiction before, but between us, we produced a novel that won the Danish Thriller of the Year Award.

We couldn’t have done it without the help of two formidable women: our main character, Danish Red Cross nurse Nina Borg, who finds the boy, and Sigita Ramoskiene, the boy’s Lithuanian mother, who is in desperate search of her child.

We hope you will enjoy their story. We certainly enjoyed writing it.

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A myriad of people, their relationships, and what drives them swirls together in a story of love, murder and mayhem.

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "Go along for the ride"by Julz721 (see profile) 02/18/13

I really enjoyed this book. From the way it began to the journey that it took you on. Trying to figure out why the boy was in the suitcase and what Nina would do with him in the end only to get to the... (read more)

  "What happened to Mikas?"by karie96 (see profile) 11/06/12

We chose the book as our October read and found it difficult to finish. We have a club of 10 and only 2 finished and discussed it. It was poorly written. The beginning throws in so many characters that... (read more)

  "Great read!"by colleenberg1 (see profile) 10/18/12

  "The Boy in the Suitcase holds your interest, and hold onto your heart."by janvbarnes (see profile) 08/26/12

This book will invoke many emotions as you travel along with Nina, a nurse who wants to save the world from harm, as she struggles to find the who, what, and why behind finding a naked little boy barely... (read more)

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