For awhile I didn’t even know this was a thing. Over the past few summers, I’ve read and re-read and adored Stieg Larsson (yes, there are many problems with the Millenium books. That doesn’t make me enjoy them any less), but I had no idea there was such a ‘genre’ as Scandanavian crime fiction. But when I started work in a library, I began to realize there’s an awful lot of books by authors with extra vowels in their names, and they all seem to deal with similar issues and themes.
Which leads me to a face-off. I picked up novels by Lene Kaaberbol and Jo Nesbo and read them back to back, to see how they stacked up.
The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbol
The setup: The first book by Danish writer Lene Kaaberbol to feature Red Cross nurse Nina Borg, it starts with a bang as Borg, thinking she is doing a simple favor for an estranged friend, picks up a suitcase from a train station locker and opens it to find a drugged toddler. Soon on the run from a dangerous hit man and the police, Borg struggles to keep the child safe and learn where he is from. Meanwhile, the child’s Lithuanian mother works to piece together her son’s abduction and the people who took and lost him him desperately try to get him back.
The outcome: I enjoyed the fact that Kaaberbol dealt extensively with the meaning of motherhood, both willing and unwilling, something I haven’t seen often in my past experience with mystery and crime fiction. Nina Borg was a fascinating, deftly written character with a backstory I was itching to uncover as I tried to understand her motivation. Unfortunately, the plot is fairly unsurprising, and in order to try and keep it surprising, Kaaberbol ignored some key characters until pretty late in the novel. They were really interesting characters, and I wish I had known them earlier in the book. I figured out the reason for the kidnapping pretty early on (I won’t spoil it just in case, but the big reveal left me feeling pretty ‘meh’), and the ending was way too neat and tidy.
Rating: 3 stars
The setup: The Redbreast is Norwegian author Jo Nesbo’s third book featuring inspector Harry Hole, but the earliest translated into English, which is why I chose it. Shoved into a new job title that’s supposed to keep him from causing trouble, Hole uncovers an assassination conspiracy involving Norweigan soldiers who fought for Hitler at the Eastern Front. There are Neo Nazis, people with Multiple Personality Disorder, tangled and twisty plots, and lots and lots of bird imagery.
The outcome: The past- and present- setting of The Redbreast kept me on my toes and kept me guessing. The characters were incredibly complex, with no easy heroes and villains. Everyone had mostly empathetic motivations, even the Nazis. There were actual stakes; it’s not just the bad guys who have things to lose. And the prose was often surprisingly beautiful for a tense crime thriller. It was a long novel–weighing in at over 500 pages–but it I enjoyed every second of it.
Rating: 4 stars
Ultimately, I think Nesbo has fully moved onto my reading list. I can’t wait to read more of his work. But I’ll probably pass on Kaaberbol in the future. Her prose was good and Borg was a fantastic character, but I’m not hooked enough to check out the rest of her work.