Invisible Murder by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis is the second Nina Borg nordic mystery set in Denmark (available October 2, 2012).
When I saw that this book had finally come on the market, I leapt at the chance to read it. I loved the first novel in the Nina Borg series, The Boy In The Suitcase, and couldn’t wait to get my hands on the sequel. And I wasn’t disappointed: while it’s hard to top an excellent debut, Invisible Murder continues in the fine tradition set by its predecessor, presenting a socially conscious thriller that is high on both suspense and the compassion that elevates this series above the rest of the field.
Invisible Murder is set in the authors’ native Denmark, and follows registered nurse Nina Borg as she tries to balance her complicated family life with her compulsion to help society’s neediest. By day, she works at an asylum for refugees, but is often called on to provide aid for The Network, an extralegal organization devoted to assuring the welfare of Denmark’s deportees and impoverished, often illegal, immigrants. Her husband, Morten, does not approve of her involvement with The Network, particularly after the events chronicled in The Boy In The Suitcase. He goes so far as to ban her from going out on call for them while he’s away at work, stationed offshore on a mining rig for weeks at a time. He wants her to stop risking her life to help strangers and start devoting more time to her own family. Nina is desperately in love with him and wants to please him, but her feelings for her children—particularly for rebellious, adolescent Ida—are ambivalent. Perhaps it is her guilt at this that makes her push herself to work harder at her day job, even when she despairs of really making a difference.
Nina sat there for a bit. She could get a new job, she thought suddenly. A job that didn’t make her feel the way she felt right now. Mortal fear. That was what was wrong with [her patient]. Chronic anxiety that was turning into [a] permanent state of panic. How could she be expected to treat that with a few platitudes and a couple of aspirins? It was wrong. No, it was more than wrong—it was reprehensible.
So in spite of her best intentions to keep the promise she made to Morten, Nina finds herself involved with a group of Hungarian Roma immigrants whose children have been affected by a mysterious sickness. Just one visit, she tells herself, because her Network contact who had been helping them has fallen ill himself and can’t bring them the supplies they need. But one visit soon leads to another, and Nina finds herself jeopardizing all that she holds dearest as she becomes an integral part of recovering the item causing the children’s ailment, an item that certain people are willing to pay a very high price, and even kill, to acquire.
Also caught in this deadly web is a young Hungarian man, Sandor Horvath, who just wants to complete his law degree and quietly forget his past. Unfortunately for him, that past returns with a vengeance when his half-brother, Tamas, shows up at his college dorm one afternoon and asks to use his computer. This seemingly innocuous request rips Sandor from the anonymous life he’s tried to build for himself, eventually forcing him to trek across Europe on a deadly collision course with Nina and the criminals who will draw them together. On his journey, he struggles to reconcile the identity he was forced to cast aside with the one he wants to embrace, as he considers the words of the woman he loves:
I don’t think I have the strength to love someone who isn’t brave enough to be himself, she’d said. But . . . what if he was brave enough now? What if he could stop being just half a person? Somewhere deep down, he knew perfectly well that that was why he backed down so easily, why he never stood up to confrontation, why he was afraid of the authorities and walked away from most fights—even the most important ones. A half person has a harder time keeping his balance than a whole one.
It is passages like these that make the Nina Borg novels more than just page-turning thrillers. While you do have the terrifically written counterterrorism scenes (featuring, most memorably, characters named Soren Kierkegaard and Khalid Hosseini in what I imagine is a hat tip to two of the authors’ favorite writers), you also have the deep moral examinations of individual and social consciences. Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis aren’t afraid to explore society’s dark underbelly, where the helpless live in fear of those who would brutally exploit them. They also deftly navigate the complicated relationships within families, particularly between mothers and daughters, without providing pat resolutions that would ring false. In lesser hands, a novel like Invisible Murder would just be depressing, but the authors know how to properly convey hope, too.
Highly recommended for readers who want a novel that isn’t afraid to look unflinchingly, but not despairingly, at the world’s greatest social problems.
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Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She
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