Thursday, 28 February 2019

The Girl Without Skin by Mads Peder Nordbo

The Girl Without Skin by Mads Peder Nordbo
First published in Danish as Pigen uden hud by Politikens Forlag in Denmark in 2017. English language translation by Charlotte Barslund published by Text Publishing on the 1st October 2018.

Featured in Cover Characteristics: Blood and WorldReads: Denmark

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

They were near the edge of the glacier. The sea beneath the helicopter was dense with pack ice. In front of them, the endless whiteness stretched as far as the light could reach. It hurt his eyes. Millions of white crystals. Except in one place. One spot. Right where the mummified Norseman had been found and Aqqalu had kept watch. There, the ice was glossy red.

When a mummified Viking corpse is discovered in a crevasse out on the edge of an ice sheet, journalist Matthew Cave is sent to cover the story. The next day the mummy is gone, and the body of the policeman who was keeping watch is found naked and flayed—exactly like the victims in a gruesome series of murders that terrified the remote town of Nuuk in the 1970s.

As Matt investigates, he is shocked by the deprivation and brutal violence the locals take for granted. Unable to trust the police, he begins to suspect a cover-up. It’s only when he meets a young Inuit woman, Tupaarnaq, convicted of killing her parents and two small sisters, that Matt starts to realise how deep this story goes—and how much danger he is in.

I was excited to read a second novel set in Greenland, the previous one being Crimson by Niviaq Korneliussen, because I know very little about this isolated country. Nordbo brings its troubled communities vividly to life and manages to naturally include issues such as attitudes to Danish colonialism and the problems the Inuit people faced as a result of abrupt changes to their traditional lifestyles. At one point characters discuss people leaving apartment windows open regardless of the weather outside because they are used to plenty of fresh airflow. Modern-styled apartment blocks are designed to exclude draughts but the future inhabitants' preferences weren't taken into account when the housing was built for them so now derelict buildings seem to be an all too common feature of town landscapes. Throughout reading The Girl Without Skin I was reminded of Native American peoples forced onto reservations and there seem to me to be remarkable similarities between their original free nomadic lifestyles and the problems of alcoholism, depression and abuse experienced as a result of that freedom being harshly curtailed.

At its heart however The Girl Without Skin is an exciting crime thriller. Its blend of detection and social commentary reminded me of the classic Sjowall and Wahloo novels, but this one is far more grisly in its crimes and owes more than a nod to the Stieg Larsson trilogy! I enjoyed following the dual timeline mystery especially when Nordbo uses aspects such as the foul ever-changing weather to create a tense and foreboding atmosphere. Not mentioned in the synopsis is a potential trigger warning for child abuse. I thought this part of the storyline was handled quite sensitively although I was a little irritated that, despite the title and the frequent protestations about improving the lot of Greenlandic women and girls, this novel felt to be all about the men. Women are portrayed mostly as victims or their roles are overshadowed by men's actions. Aside from this, I appreciated the intricacies of Nordbo's plot and the resolution is satisfying. If you're a fan of Nordic Noir, The Girl Without Skin is a must-read!

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  1. It sounds like this one is a good book for you! I love when you get to explore unfamiliar territory through reading and it sounds like this one opened a lot of discussions as well. And yay for it being a good thriller as well, if you put the setting and themes aside. Sounds good :D

    1. I was pleasantly surprised by this dark. A suitably dark thriller and a truly atmospheric location!

  2. Ooh! I am a sucker for tales where the weather makes it even more tense!