By Lene Kaaberbøl
and Agnette Friis,
translated by Tara Chace
Soho Press, $25; 338 pp.
In the Europe of the picture books and tourist guides, Budapest is the sparkling Hungarian capital along the Danube River and Copenhagen the fairytale Danish capital on the Baltic Sea. And so they are for anyone who carries the proper citizenship papers and a plentiful supply of euros or dollars. For the rest, the European Union, of which Budapest and Copenhagen are crown jewels, resembles a vision of Hieronymous Bosch.
Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnette Friis depict this hell. Among the wretched of Europe, none rank lower than the Roma (gypsies). Invisible Murder begins in an abandoned hospital, left behind by the Soviets as they withdrew from Hungary in the early 1990s, where a Roma boy is scavenging. He comes upon a device for radiological treatment and recognizes the possibilities: terrorists of every stripe will outbid each other to gain the essential ingredient for a “dirty bomb.” He does not worry that the casing is cracked.
Before the leaking cesium chloride condemns him to death from radiation poisoning, he finds a buyer in Copenhagen through what might be called social networking for terrorists. He steals the passport of his brother, who is studying law and trying to pass for an ethnic Hungarian.
He leaves behind tracks that the counterterrorism agents in both Hungary and Denmark begin to follow. The application of signals intelligence and facial-recognition software eliminate any vestige of privacy.
Before the security services can run down this Roma entrepreneur, he transports his deadly cargo to Copenhagen, taking advantage of the relaxed border crossings, hiding among illegal immigrants, and finding allies among sex traffickers.
He exposes others to radiation poisoning. Readers enter Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights” — revised for the twenty-first century.
A few indefatigable Danes try to mitigate the suffering of the wretched, giving shelter and medical care — sometimes illegally.
The most prominent is a nurse, Nina Borg, whose dedication to charity exposes herself to radiation and her family to violence.
Kaaberbøl and Friis describe this broken and terrifying world with the measured cadence of a network news anchor. From their report, civilization had a good run, but its lights are winking out.
Copyright © 2011, Capital City Press LLC • 7290 Bluebonnet Blvd., Baton Rouge, LA 70810 • All Rights Reserved