Nina Borg’s first appearance in The Boy in the Suitcase introduces her as a sensitive and determined nurse, willing to set aside her own convenience to meet the needs of others.

Invisible Murder also demonstrates this quality of her character, but readers are forced to recognize that the way in which Nina overlooked the needs of her own children to assist that young boy in the first novel was not necessarily an isolated instance.

Invisible Murder

2010; Trans. Tara Chace
Soho Press, 2012

As a volunteer in an underground network of professionals who assist those who cannot turn to social service agencies, Nina is on-call and in demand. As a wife and mother, these qualities are expected too, but Nina relies increasingly on her husband to fill the gap.

“As if Ida were only waiting for a chance to relegate Nina once and for all where she really belonged: Mom Hell. The place reserved for bad mothers, career women, alcoholics, and mentally unstable women where they might suffer for all eternity because they had dared to reproduce despite a complete absence of maternal qualifications.”

The complexity of Nina’s character, the reader’s awareness of her compassion and dedication to people in a crisis in contrast with her forgetfulness/neglect of the everyday needs and desires of her own children (and husband), adds immensely to the series’ heft.

Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis are interested in the cracks in the foundation, rather than a consistent smooth edifice. This is as true in their characterization as in their storytelling.

“The building had been in a state of disrepair for ages but in recent years the pace of its decline had picked up as if the building was trying to beat the bulldozers to it. Like a man committing suicide to avoid being murdered, Sandor thought. The plasterwork was peeling off in sheets, and it reeked of dampness, brick dust, dry rot. The rooms still had four-meter ceilings, but the electricity came and went, the water pipes were corroded and smelled like sewage, and after four months of empty promises and sheets of black plastic, he had ultimately given up and had repaired the window in his room himself.”

This is a long passage to share but it illuminates many of the series’ outstanding elements.

First, the tactility of the scene. As with The Boy in the Suitcase, the characters in Invisible Murder are introduced rapidly and sequentially, and the prose is clean but still evocative. The authors introduce new characters deliberately and offset the pace of their emergence with vivid scenes that assist the reader in understanding.

Next, characterization is supported by small details, so that readers observe Sandor’s resilience and endurance, even under siege. As a Roma, Sandor faces prejudice and persecution, bpth subtle and overt, in his daily life. The building in this scene is remarkable for its sensory detail, but it also exists as a symbol for social decrepitude.

And, furthermore, the image of architectural disarray is echoed in other scenes in the book; buildings that have been abandoned or are no longer used for the purposes for which they were constructed figure elsewhere in the novel. (Even avoiding spoilers, there are two locations in particular which are vitally important to the story which fit this idea and add resonance to the readers’ experience.)

“These days, even the most loathsome proclivities could find affirmation from likeminded nutters via the Internet, easily and more or less anonymously. And no matter what they wanted, it was out there — stolen antiquities, endangered species, illegal World War II souvenirs, pornography in all shapes and forms, weird drugs, and, yes, also arms, explosives, and dangerous chemicals.”

The Denmark of Invisible Murder, in “these days”, is a dynamic setting. And Nina’s work, which brings her into contact with a group of Hungarian Roma, intensifies the sense that this time and place is rapidly changing.

The professionals with whom Nina interacts, including Soren, the detective, who appears in the other two volumes of the series as well, offer commentary which aids the reader in understanding broader socioeconomic changes which influence the events unfolding on the pages of the novel.

“Earnings are way down in the prostitution business due to the financial crisis.”
“Do you know why?”
“Fewer courses, conferences, and fringe benefit trips. Greater need for security.”

But Invisible Murder is not about security. It is about rapidly evolving social change against a backdrop of prejudice and injustice.

“Soren didn’t what a murderer looked like anymore. And he supposed what she had wanted to commit wasn’t homicide, not in the standard sense. Just a quiet, invisible murder of the future.”

There isn’t anything standard about the crime in this volume of Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis’ series. Invisible Murder is a worthy follow-up to The Boy in the Suitcase. The focus on relationships and social justice continues, and readers who found Nina’s character of interest in the first volume will be intrigued by the developments in her life in this volume and eager to meet her in the third volume.

How about you? Is this series on your reading list?