Dark and gritty Nordic thriller with a great sense of place
- Book: The Girl Without Skin
- Location: Greenland
- Author: Mads Peder Nordbo
As the title suggests – this book is not for the faint of heart! I love a good Nordic thriller, and THE GIRL WITHOUT SKIN has every element that characterises the genre: a haunting atmospheric setting, a somewhat bleak atmosphere, gruesome crimes and two main characters scarred by their tragic back stories.
This is the first book set in Greenland for me, and though I thought that the setting was fantastic and starred as a character in its own right, it is no travel brochure. Nordbo, who has lived in Nuuk for many years, gives a chilling account of life in this remote place. There are many trigger warnings here, so if you are sensitive to topics of domestic violence, rape, incest and child abuse you should enter this one cautiously. For me, novels that are not afraid to expose the sinister side of society and offer some social criticism add some depth and meaning to my reading experience, and I feel that I learned something about life on one of the most remote places on earth.
Nordbo tells his story through the eyes of two main characters and two separate timelines 40 or so years apart. When the unsolved crimes of the past rear their ugly heads again in the present, troubled journalist Matt Cave becomes entangled in the investigation. Matt is an enigmatic, genuine and tragic character I warmed to immediately. Having lost his wife and unborn child in a terrible car accident, he is haunted by demons and the hopelessness that follows grief. Perhaps it is this that makes him somewhat fearless to expose crimes and corruption even if it comes at great risk to his own personal safety. And be assured, the people in this novel who want the past to stay hidden are ruthless in their pursuit! Seeing how people with demons tend to gravitate towards each other, it is no surprise that Matthew feels drawn to a young woman, Tupaarnaq, whose tragic childhood and past abuse have made her determined in the way that people who have little to lose sometimes become. Tupaarnaq, who is on a similar mission to seek justice for past wrongs, soon becomes a valuable ally to Matt. As other reviewers have mentioned, Tupaarnaq, who is tough on the outside but also strangely vulnerable, reminded me of Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander, and she added much to the story for me.
The second main character is Jacob, who is a police officer in Nuuk in the 1970’s, following up on reports of alleged incest and child abuse that is rife in society at the time, and which everyone is eager to ignore. A spade of horrific murders seems to follow his investigation, and the hierarchy are determined to shut him down. But Jacob has become close to one of the victims, and is determined to help her at all cost – which will put him right in the path of the killer.
When a body is found in an ice crevasse that bears the same MO as the murders in the 1970’s the two timelines connect, and we are being taken on a chilling and spine tingling story of corruption, murder and survival in the one of the harshest landscapes on Earth.
All in all, THE GIRL WITHOUT SKIN was an honestly brutal, chilling and yet utterly captivating book set against the haunting backdrop of one of the bleakest and most remote landscapes on Earth. It features everything I have come to expect in a good Nordic thriller, and swiftly drew me into its world like only very skilled writers accomplish with such ease. I very much look forward to the next book in the series, which I believe will be published later this year.