Review: DEATH OF A NIGHTINGALE by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis

DeathOfANightingaleLene23172_fAs with its two predecessors, DEATH OF A NIGHTINGALE once again takes readers into the world of some of Europe’s most marginalised and damaged souls. In this instance focus is on a Ukrainian woman, Natasha Doroshenko, who has been convicted in Denmark of the attempted murder of her fiancé. As the novel opens she escapes police custody and begins the dangerous task of being reunited with her young daughter, Katerina. The girl, a chronic asthmatic, is housed at a nearby refuge under the watchful care of nurse Nina Borg. When there is a murder almost immediately following Natasha’s escape police suspect her and step up their efforts to recapture her but she is also being hunted by people connected to her past. One of whom Natasha only knows as The Witch.

In a way there are three stories being played out across this novel and at times this does become confusing. In addition to the present-day tribulations of Natasha we are introduced early on to a pair of sisters living in Stalinist Russia in the 1930’s. As you might expect this thread does eventually connect with Natasha’s story but not before reminding us all that ‘Uncle’ Stalin’s world was a bloody bleak one. The third narrative element is learning about Natasha’s past which allows us to get some sense of what has led to the development of the fiercely protective and necessarily resourceful mother we meet. I’m not entirely convinced the rapid swapping between time periods and perspectives was the best way to tell this story and there seems to be an unwillingness to allow the natural drama of the events being depicted to carry the story so some implausible and unnecessary plot elements exist.

With character development the authors are on surer ground. Nina Borg can be extremely frustrating but over the course of the three books in the series (so far) they have provided ample insight into why she is the sort of person you want on your side in a crisis even if she might not be the woman you’d want as your own mother. Nina needs to save others with the force of an addiction. And, like addicts, she often can’t put a halt to her behaviour even when she can acknowledge the harm it’s causing to her personal relationships. This makes her an unusual and complex person and compelling to read about. Continuing their tradition of depicting strong, if damaged, female characters Natasha Doroshenko also proves captivating.

It is partly through Natasha, though there are others including a Ukrainian policeman working alongside the Danish police to track her down, that the authors continue one of the themes woven into all of their novels: an exploration of the complicated political and social environment that has developed in Europe since the collapse of the Soviet Union. From my little vantage point at the bottom of the world news headlines from the region often seem incomprehensible but Kaaberbøl and Friis do an excellent job of teasing out the complexities that lie behind such headlines in a way that offers explanation if not justification. To me, for example, it seems preposterous that something one’s grandparents did or didn’t do can have any baring on events happening today but this book shows in a very believable way that in some cultures what happened two generations or more ago is as important as what occurred yesterday.

For me the plot of DEATH OF A NIGHTINGALE is a little too manipulated to be entirely credible and there’s some unnecessary confusion but this criticism pales into insignificance when stacked up against the fascinating social context and engaging character development. For those who read crime fiction – or any fiction really – to gain some new perspective on the infinitely complicated world in which we all live I highly recommend this book.

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I have reviewed both earlier novels in this series THE BOY IN THE SUITCASE and INVISIBLE MURDER

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Translator Elisabeth Dyssegaard
Publisher Soho Crime [2013]
ISBN 9781616954406
Length 329 pages
Format hardcover
Book Series #3 in the Nina Borg series

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7 Responses to Review: DEATH OF A NIGHTINGALE by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis

  1. I also think it’s a fascinating perspective on life as a Ukrainian living in Denmark, Bernadette. And I do respect the way Nina Borg is so passionate about what she does. As you say, I wouldn’t want her as a mother, but she’s an interesting character. As you say, I think these authors do a very effective job on character development, and I’m looking forward to their next.

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  2. Nina Borg is frustrating but I think I will give this book a go. I have not read the second in the series, and was disappointed with the way the boy in the suitcase was resolved so it will be nice to compare Nina’s development as a character in the third. Thanks for a great review.

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  3. MarinaSofia says:

    Great review – sounds like an interesting series which I may attempt in future.

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  4. Kathy D. says:

    Well, I must part company on this one. I didn’t like it, thought the plot lines confusing and the whole story implausible, didn’t like the characters either.
    Yes. I like Nina Borg, enjoyed The Boy in the Suitcase and Invisible Murder. Not only did I find Nina interesting — although not her parenting skills — but learned a bit about Copenhagen, especially its immigrant communities and bigotry towards them, especially the Roma and Muslims.
    Quite a contemporary series.
    I avidly look forward to more books in this riveting series. I just hope they don’t try the plot device of flashbacks mixed with contemporary events. I don’t think they work here.
    I’ll be glad to get back onto solider footing in today’s Denmark.

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  5. Kay says:

    This is a series that I’ve meant to try. Thanks for reminding me. I like the idea of getting a better perspective one life in Europe after the Soviet Union’s demise. Putting the first in the series on my “to be read sooner than later” list.

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  6. Belle Wong says:

    I still have to get to The Boy in the Suitcase. I hadn’t realized this was a series, which, oddly enough, makes me think about getting to The Boy in the Suitcase sooner rather than later.

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  7. I liked The Boy in the Suitcase, but haven’t followed the series up yet. The moment will come….

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