Friday, March 29, 2019

Review of The Girl Without Skin by Mads Peder Nordbo (2018, Text Publishing)

Matthew Cave is a journalist in the small town of Nuuk in Greenland. Although born in Greenland he grew up in Denmark and has only recently moved there after the death of his pregnant girlfriend in a car accident. When a mummified body is discovered in a crevasse on an ice sheet he is sent to cover the story as it appears that it is a 400 year old Viking. The next day the mummy is gone and the policeman guarding it has been found dead. The policeman’s death is strangely similar to a series of murders in the 1970s when four fathers suspected of committing child abuse were found flayed and their stomachs cut open and entrails pulled out. Matt starts to investigate the historical deaths, but soon realises that his actions have unearthed secrets others would prefer kept suppressed. Joining forces with a young Inuit woman, Tupaarnaq, recently released from prison for manslaughter, having been convicted for killing her parents and two sisters, he keeps digging despite the risks.

Set in Greenland, The Girl Without Skin is the first book in a new series by Greenland-based, Danish writer Mads Peder Nordbo. The lead character is Matthew Cave, a journalist mourning the death of his pregnant wife who finds himself investigating two murder inquiries that spans two periods, 1973 and 2014. The story is told through two parallel threads. One follows the original police investigation in 1973, the other Cave’s contemporary investigation which is guided by the notebook of one of the policeman from the earlier period. The common links are men being brutally murdered and the discovery of a mummified body. The mummified body and Cave’s actions resurfaces old secrets and a political conspiracy that some want to remain hidden, placing Cave in danger, his fate eerily echoing that of the policemen in 1973. He is aided by the girl without skin, a local Inuit woman recently released from prison who’s body is entirely covered with tattoos. The start of the book feels a little clunky, which I initially felt was a translation issue but probably wasn’t; rather it was a handful of obvious plot devices to set up premises and plot trajectory. After that, it seemed to work fine, providing a social commentary on Greenland’s patriarchal society and political commentary on its relationship to Denmark. There’s a good sense of place and the twin narratives work well together, spinning out an interesting tale and creating some tension and mystery, with a nice twist near the end.

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