This book could be the start of a whole new crime genre – something like Nordic noir, with all of its gritty realism and cultural quirks: let’s call it Greenland Grim. In this new thriller you can almost feel the bitter Arctic chill streaming from its pages. The mystery begins in Greenland’s urban centre, Nuuk, a far cry from the bright lights of a warm European capital. This small, isolated settlement sees snow for ten months of the year, and in mid-winter the nights last for 20 hours…
It’s here that the discovery of a mummified, eviscerated corpse prompts a newspaper reporter to review a series of similar deaths which took place 40 years ago. His investigations trigger yet more grisly murders as the guilty successors scramble to hide the crimes of the past.
That scenario alone is an intriguing basis for a thought-provoking thriller but this book also offers startling snapshots of life in Greenland itself. It reveals the social and political conflicts between the colony and its Danish government, and the cultural clashes between Danish and Greenlandic societal norms.
You might flinch at the opening chapter because it kicks off with a gruesome, stomach-turning sequence but that is by far the most explicit episode in the entire book. Thereafter it’s a sensitive series of insights into loss and loneliness, with the two storylines packaged in Russian doll fashion, one inside the other.
That title might also suggest a ‘girl on a train’ type novel, but this is much more ‘dragon tattoo’ territory. The strong female protagonist has as much attitude and more tattoos than Lisbeth Salander – and this book is much more Scandi crime than an ‘unreliable narrator’ domestic drama.
It’s also refreshing that the author chose to balance ‘the evil that men do’ with several more nuanced male characters; emotionally vulnerable, perceptive and considerate. Too often these days the entire male gender is portrayed as being culpable in all manner of forms of abuse against women and children. It was refreshing that author Mads Peder Nordbo avoided these clichés, and instead developed his fictional characters with the 3D complexity of real people, inevitably flawed but also inherently well-intentioned.
A riveting read, then, offering some beautifully nuanced moments which reflect the stark and complex splendour of Greenland’s uncompromising landscape. It’s almost poetic in places where the author incorporates the spiritual beliefs of the indigenous people. I hugely enjoyed the historical information about the early Norse settlers and their strange disappearance, too. Can’t wait for this author’s next offering.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
The Girl Without Skin by Mads Peder Nordbo is available at Amazon