THE GIRL WITHOUT SKIN
Author: Mads Peder Nordbo
Expected Publication date: June 11 2019
Important note: This book contains graphic mentions of sexual abuse and incest, as well as graphic depictions of violence.
Matthew Cave is a reporter who is tasked with covering the story of a mummy found frozen in the ice in Greenland. Matthew is struggling to deal with the loss of his wife and unborn child, while simultaneously trying to untangle a web of intrigue surrounding the mummy and a mystery from the 1970s which seems somehow connected to the mummy. Following his arrival in Nuuk, another murder takes place and chaos ensues.
Characters: The main character is Danish but lives in Greenland.
Matthew Cave, a reporter, lost his wife and unborn daughter in a car accident. His grief is perfectly mirrored in the grim, oppressive setting of Nuuk. He works closely with a photographer, his editor and a police detective. All of whom have their own unique insights and back stories.
The secondary main character (Jakob, also Danish and living in Nuuk) is told through the perspective of a diary and retellings of events that happened in the 1970s.
Tupaarnaq is a woman who has recently moved back to Nuuk after serving a long prison sentence for murdering her parents and two sisters when she was 15. Matthew and Tupaarnaq begin working together to solve the mysteries presented in the diary from the 1970’s.
At first Matthew is wary of Tupaarnaq and doesn’t trust her becaue she is not like anyone else he knows in Nuuk. She is abrupt, standoffish, and defensive and she repeatedly and openly states that she hates men. Matthew really doesn’t know what to make of her but their lives become entwined almost immediately after meeting.
Plot and writing: With the timelines jumping back and forth between the 1970s and the present day it could easily be confusing or become too densely written but it is such an expansive environment. The vast distances of Greenland and the vast number of years between the 1970s and the present day add a sense of enormity to the plot.
Because of the dual timelines and points of view there is a sense that both Matthew and Jakob are racing toward an inescapable ending, but as the reader, I was never quite sure what that ending would be.
A minor issue I had with the writing was when there seemed to be no direct translation there was no explanation for what something meant. In one scene there is talk about the demons that reside under the ice and with the dead and one of the characters mentioned a Tupilaq )which a quick google search revealed is the name of a demon in Greenlandic Inuit culture but in this instance it referred to a small carved icon that was supposed to protect one from evil spirits). However, this is a minor issue and in some ways it added to the authentic feel of the book by assuming the reader knew enough about Greenlandic Inuit culture to understand what a Tupilaq represents.
Unique aspects: Deeply atmospheric, the setting is so well written you could swear you were seeing Greenland through Matthew’s eyes. The isolated nature of the town of Nuuk comes through loud and clear. Despite the fact there is miles between Nuuk and the next town there is an oppressive force that feels like it is pushing in on Matthew and suffocating him. This is written so beautifully and evocatively.
The author clearly knows a lot about Greenlandic Inuit culture and has done research in order to be as authentic as possible and that adds to the overall feeling of a well crafted book.
Things that could be improved on: There is a lot happening in this book and it can feel overwhelming at times, though this perhaps may be a conscious choice by the author. The overload of plot development and character growth in a short span of pages creates a sense of urgency which can make it hard to focus on without wanting to rush through to the conclusion (or worse, sneak a peek at the last few pages!).
Things I loved:
The characters were all very well developed, with clear motives and reasons for their actions and decisions. No character seemed to act counter to their nature and it made for a believable and pleasant reading experience.
Again, the setting was spectacular and even though I read this in Spring it was like I was in the middle of a Greenlandic winter.
Similar Authors/books: Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Series
Overall thoughts and rating: 4/5 stars. Would recommend this to fans of atmospheric thrillers and mysteries.