refugees: Death of a Nightingale by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis

For some reason beyond my imagining, many of the best murder mysteries and thrillers come from Scandinavia these days. I’ve read dozens of novels in the Nordic Noir genre. Only occasionally have I been disappointed. So far, the series of Nina Borg novels by the Danish duo Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis have been among the best. They’re worthy of comparison with the work of Henning Mankell and Jo Nesbø.

Death of a Nightingale by Kaaberbøl and Friis is set in Denmark and Ukraine. The story in Ukraine takes place in 1934-35. It’s centered on two young sisters, eight and ten years old when the novel opens. As the action proceeds in Denmark, there are frequent flashbacks to Ukraine. But only late in the story is the connection between the two storylines made clear.

Death of a Nightingale (Nina Borg #3) by Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis @@@@@ (5 out of 5)

Refugees are her obsession

In Copenhagen, Red Cross nurse Nina Borg becomes involved with an officer in the security police she previously worked with. They’re both engaged in the search for a young mother, an escapee from prison whom she had treated at a refugee camp. Nina’s life is a tangled mess. She is separated from her two children, who are living with her ex-husband. She rarely sees them, partly because of the hostility between her and her ex-husband, and partly because Nina is a workaholic. She responds to pleas for help at any hour of the day or night, mostly from refugees, who are one of her obsessions. In the course of the book, we also become acquainted with the mild form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that she is afflicted with.

A complex plot and suspense to spare

The escaped prisoner is a Ukrainian refugee (but with no discernible link to the two sisters in the 1930s). She has broken out of police custody to reunite with her young daughter, who is still living at the refugee center. A huge manhunt ensues throughout Copenhagen and its environs, triggering several murders.

Death of a Nightingale is suspenseful to the end. It’s also a study of life in Ukraine during the Great Famine that killed millions in Stalin’s drive to collectivize agriculture. The book also offers insight into Danish society today.

Kaaberbøl and Friis are unusually skillful at plotting. Their writing is accessible and enjoyable to read.

About the authors

Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis participated along with two other Scandinavian authors in a panel discussion I moderated on “Nordic Noir” at the second annual Bay Area Book Festival, held in Berkeley in June 2016. To prepare for the panel, I had read the second of their four Nina Borg thrillers. I was so impressed by that novel and by their adept performance on the panel that I’ve been reading the rest of the series — hoping  there will be many more to come. Death of a Nightingale is the third book in the Nina Borg saga.

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