Danes Lene Kaaberbøl, a YA fantasy writer, and Agnete Friis, a children’s author and journalist, have, for their first collaborative effort, produced a crime novel, The Boy in the Suitcase, about illegal immigration in Europe. They answer collectively.
What appealed to you about the crime genre?
Crime fiction lends itself to old-fashioned storytelling, the kind that grabs you by the throat on page one and drags you through hellfire and damnation until you arrive at the end out of breath and slightly sore from sitting in the same position for too long. To us, success is getting people to miss their stops on buses and trains. When Agnete did her stint at a local newspaper’s crime desk as a young journalist, it was the character dramas behind even relatively mild misdemeanors that surprised and impressed her. And the grab-them-by-the-throat style of writing definitely comes in handy when trying to engage the average 13-year-old reader. We’ve both learned a lot from 13-year-olds.
Why did you make your heroine, Nina Borg, a Red Cross nurse?
We didn’t want to make her a reporter or a policewoman, but who else gets into contact with death and human misery on a daily basis? That, after all, is the stuff that crime fiction is made from. So we made her a nurse, and furthermore, a nurse who has gone voluntarily to a number of the world’s trouble spots on various rescue missions. When we looked at Nina’s real-life counterparts, we realized that most of them went out over and over again. We were quite fascinated–what made these people continue to sacrifice their own comfort and safety like this?
How would you compare your book—and Danish crime fiction generally—to Swedish or Norwegian mysteries?
The similarities are relatively easy: the social perspective on crime, a certain moodiness, and sensitivity to weather that perhaps comes from lifelong exposure to dark, cold winters and short, brilliant summers. Danes are supposed to be a little less serious than some of their Scandinavian brethren. If you’re lucky, you may actually come across a bit of humor in Danish crime fiction.
How did it come about that Lene translated Boy from Danish for the English-language edition?
Lene freelanced as a literary translator some years ago, and has a healthy respect for the task of stripping a story from its original language and transplanting it into a new incarnation. It’s not an easy job. But the great thing about doing it with your own work is that you get to cheat. If something doesn’t work, you can change it. In that sense, it becomes more an extra rewrite, only in English.