The third volume in the Nina Borg series by Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis builds upon the successful elements of the first two novels and adds an historical element to the plot which makes the story even more satisfying.
Nina is a complicated character who challenges the conventional expectations of a devoted wife and mother while exhibiting tremendous courage and professionlism.
In her paid work as a nurse and in her volunteer work in that capacity for a network which assists those in crisis who cannot access traditional social service agencies and support sytems, Nina is capable, passionate and resilient.
“’What the hell makes you think,’ she said, in her most glacial voice, ‘that I am anybody’s victim?’”
In The Death of a Nightingale, a plotline emerges fully, which is rooted in a fragment of story which surfaced periodically in the first two volumes.
This adds immensely to credibility for readers who have followed Nina’s story throughout the series volumes, and this layering supports readers’ investment in the new plot elements.
(Quotations below are pulled eratically from the volume, so as to avoid spoilers while still revealing the prose style and thematic concerns.)
As with earlier volumes, images of disarray and decay dominate the prose.
“They had arrived in Mykolayevka in the fall right after the harvest, and Olga had hated the place instantly. Half the village’s houses stood empty, with rattling shutters and broken planks and beams. Most of the trees along the main street had been chopped down, and the few that were left had been stripped of their bark and were as dead as the houses around them.”
And, yet, the characters demonstrate such courage and determination that the overarching sense of the story is one of endurance rather than onslaught.
“Stop thinking like a mouse, she said to herself. Now you’re the hunter, and she is the one who has reason to fear. The days of shivering in the dark are over.”
As with The Boy in the Suitcase and Invisible Murder, the focus is on relationships and characters’ motivations are rooted in recognizable and human emotions and compulsions.
“The man who loves and smiles one day can hate the next. Turn your back for a moment, and feelings will change and flow in new directions.”
The tension is sometimes expressed overtly and other times appears in images and scenic details which add to the readers’ experience cumulatively.
“The route was too short; he had [to] circle the lake four times, which made him feel a bit like a hamster in an oversized wheel, and even though the council did clear the paths of snow, they were still slippery and greasy with a grey-brown mixture of gravel, shush, goose shit and salt.”
This is not a warm and attractive story; children and families are at risk, struggling against enemies known and unknown, against individuals driven by a personal vengeance and organizations (official and otherwise) fuelled by corruption and opportunity.
“Was Babko one of the bully boys who routinely beat detainees with water-filled plastic bottles or kept them handcuffed for days? He didn’t look like the type, but then, not many torturers did.”
Nina, too, might not look “the type” to assist in cases in which torturers play a part. But she is compelled to assist, in search of a happier outcome.
“The truth had left a sharp, metallic taste on her tongue. Nothing else.”
Death of a Nightingale leaves a sharp, metallic taste on readers’ tongues too.
The Nina Borg mysteries are the best kind of storytelling, informative and entertaining, disorienting and mesmerizing.
What mysteries have you been reading lately? Are these on your TBR?