***This book was reviewed for Manhattan Book Review
The Boy in the Suitcase is a fast-paced crime thriller with a ticking clock. The first in N V Baker’s Concealing Seas Series, this book introduces us to Magdalena, a middle-aged woman trying to find her place in life, and move past a rough breakup. A cruise in the Baltic seems just the ticket. Maybe even the ticket to new love. It’s not a man whose friendship she first makes though, but eleven year old Carter, who seems far more grown up than his years suggest. When his parents are disinclined to tour St Petersburg, Carter goes out with Lena, and to Lena’s surprise, they don’t even see him off, nor want to formally meet his new friend. Sketch. Add to that Carter’s fear of the ‘creepy’ woman he says is following him. Kellie Rose claims to be a friend of Carter’s parents, and expected Carter to go into St Petersburg with her.
Lena suspects child neglect, but Carter’s secret is something bigger than mere neglect. When Lena finds him alone abovedeck one night, contemplating suicide, she talks him through it, relating her own experiences, and agrees to take him to a Friends of Dorothy for LGBT folk meeting happening the next night so he can talk to someone like himself. Lena agrees.
When Carter doesn’t show for the morning trip into Helsinki, Lena fears the worst- that he’s been kidnapped. Others fear the worst too- suicide by jumping overboard. Unable to convince anyone that Carter did not kill himself, Lena takes matters into her own hands, but can she solve the case before her closed scene is lost at the next disembarkation destination?
Oh gods, I felt so bad for Carter, bearing the burden of family who couldn’t or wouldn’t accept him as he was. Yes, I sad bearing, not being. Emotional abuse is worse than neglect. You don’t try to shame a child for wanting to honour the truth of who they are, telling them that the are just doing it to ‘hurt’ the parent. What selfish arseholes. Why can’t people just listen? And not judge? Thankfully, the ordeal that follows opens said parents’ eyes. A good amount of the time, parents aren’t aware of being neglectful or emotionally abusive, and truly do love their children. It just takes a sharp smack upside the head for them to listen. A nice ‘what’s wrong with you’ Gibbs smack.
Rife with tough themes, kidnapping and sex trafficking follow on close heels to that of hardships faced by children like Carter, and the perils of suicidal ideation. The trafficking part made me feel dirty. I think there has to be something wrong with you if it doesn’t… Just sayin’. I cried for Carter and what he went through, and almost went through. This is one tough kid, though. I’m glad he’s got Lena for a friend.
All of these themes together made for a tense read. I finished it in about 5 hours! I just had to know what happened to Carter, to make sure he was okay. Heaven help the few people who dared interrupt me. They earned Loki-worthy glares of annoyance.
I loved that Lena was so tenacious. She kept pushing, delving into dark corners, even when warned by authorities to stop. I’m guessing that Marcus plays a bigger part in future books. While likeable, he didn’t seem necessary. His part could have easily been played by a partially sympathetic security officer. And Carter! Oh, I loved how ‘old soul’ this eleven year old seemed. So serious, when most children are rambunctious. Precocious and intelligent. It’s sad part of that solemnity lay in how his family treated him, being dismissive of his needs, and fears.
📚📚📚📚📚 Highly recommended. I look forward to future Concealing Seas installments.