It is difficult enough to write a book by yourself, and it would seem doubly so with two in the mix. Think about it for a moment, and you will understand what I mean. That is but one element that makes the novels in the Nina Borg series so remarkable. Nina Borg is the creation of authors Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis, and the books that form their canon --- THE BOY IN THE SUITCASE, INVISIBLE MURDER, and now DEATH OF A NIGHTINGALE, newly published in the United States --- are smooth and seamless collaborations from which a complex and prickly character has emerged.
Nina is a Danish Red Cross nurse employed at a clinic at a Danish camp set up to administer to the needs of refugees and illegal immigrants. She is not entirely likable, given to impulsive acts and a single-mindedness that has cost her to lose her marriage and family. All the books thus far provide an unflinching, thousand-yard stare at humanity’s inhumanity, using the mystery genre as a backdrop. And mysteries there are a-plenty in the series, particularly in DEATH OF A NIGHTINGALE.
"All the books thus far provide an unflinching, thousand-yard stare at humanity’s inhumanity, using the mystery genre as a backdrop. And mysteries there are a-plenty in the series, particularly in DEATH OF A NIGHTINGALE."
The primary plot involves a Ukrainian refugee named Natasha Doroshenko and her young daughter, Katerina. While waiting for a determination on her immigration status, Natasha became engaged to Michael, a Danish man. It developed that Michael was abusive, a situation that Natasha suffered in silence until she caught him sexually assaulting Katerina. Natasha was arrested and charged with attempted murder, with Katerina being kept at a children’s camp near the prison. All seems well until one day Natasha is transported to the Danish police headquarters for questioning. When she sees two Ukrainian policemen apparently waiting for her, Natasha makes a daring escape. Shortly after, Michael is found tortured and murdered. Natasha’s first husband was killed in a similar fashion in Kiev some years before, and she was a prime suspect in his death as well.
While Natasha is on the run, Nina Borg takes on the self-imposed job of taking care of Katerina, which acquires a new and deadly importance when a daring attack is made on the children’s camp in an unsuccessful attempt to abduct Katerina. The Danish police are certain that Natasha was behind it, even though Nina, who thwarted the kidnapping, insists that the attacker was a male. Nina removes Katerina to an impromptu safe house while Natasha searches desperately for them, and the Danish and Ukrainian police look for Natasha, each with their own agenda in mind.
Meanwhile, the narrative is occasionally interrupted by a seemingly unrelated account of the goings-on that took place in a rural Ukrainian village in 1934 and 1935, when the area was under the horrific boot heel of the Stalin regime. That story focuses on two young sisters, Oxana and Olga. Oxana, the older of the two, has learned how to game the Stalinist system, becoming a loyal child apparatchik, a state of affairs that becomes a mixed blessing. While the primary mystery revolves around Natasha and her connection to two deaths separated by years and distance, the secondary puzzle concerns how events that had taken place almost 80 years beforehand in a hardscrabble village in Ukraine could be related to what is occurring in present-day Copenhagen. The solution to both puzzles, as well as the cat-and-mouse pursuit that runs throughout the book, will obsess you from the beginning until the surprising ending.
DEATH OF A NIGHTINGALE arrives with a great deal of pre-publication publicity, much of it borne on the wings of the quality of the first two installments of the series, and all of it deserved. This is a book that you will want to bump to the top of your must-read list and recommend to your friends. Please do.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on November 8, 2013