Book Reviews

The Girl Without Skin by Mads Peder Nordbo (Grønland #1)


Released: 2017, translated into English February 2019
Publisher: Text Publishing
Pages: 352
Rating: 3.75/5

An archaeological discovery in Greenland reveals there is much more hidden beneath the country’s icy surface.


From Goodreads:

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.


For this archaeologist, the opening chapters reeled me right in. A viking mummy discovered that far out into the ice sheet of Greenland? Yes please! So many questions could potentially be answered, namely what the lives of the Vikings in Greenland were like and why they suddenly disappeared without a trace after centuries of living in one of the harshest environments known to man.

Soon, though, we were all taken on a much different and much more gruesome ride. The discovery of the mummy results in a shocking murder out on the ice, sending the journalist covering the discovery chasing after a murderer who may have ties to a string of similar unsolved murders from the 1970’s. The author absolutely pulled no punches in describing the killing and flaying of several people, leaving almost nothing to the imagination. Those with weak stomachs or those who can’t stand reading about animals being hurt would do best to steer clear of those chapters.

The hunting didn’t happen nearly as often as the murders, but even if its for sustenance I can’t handle animals being killed or hurt. I can read about fictional humans doing pretty horrendous things to each other without so much as batting an eye, but if something furry gets hurt I’m out. I understand it’s the way of life for the inhabitants of Greenland and without things like seal meat supplementing their diets many wouldn’t survive, but it’s still difficult for me to read. My husband often makes fun of me because when we used to watch The Walking Dead, I wasn’t that upset by most of the various characters’ deaths, but as soon as they had to kill one of their pigs or when the tiger got hurt, I had to leave the room.

Aside from that, The Girl Without Skin was a very interesting book. During this dark and twisty journey through Greenland, I learned so much about its people, geography, and history. It’s a country I’ve always wanted to visit, but one that I didn’t know much about beyond the history of its early settlement. It was pretty grim learning about the destruction of Inuit culture by the Danes and how rampant child abuse and sexual assaults are in Greenland, with numbers as high as one in every three women experiencing some kind of abuse. I did a little research to make sure that these statistics weren’t a plot point, but devastatingly I learned they’re accurate and abuse is essentially considered a part of life in Greenland. It’s so normalized that even if reported, the crimes aren’t often acted upon or investigated so most tend to go unreported. Luckily, though, it appears that women and victims of child abuse are finally saying “Enough is enough,” and several movements have sprung up demanding social change and justice.

At times the story was a little difficult to follow, especially during its action packed final chapters. I have to wonder, though, if that is more due to things being lost in translation rather than the author’s inability to keep a story flowing cohesively when it starts to pick up speed. Because the rest of the book was pretty gripping and fascinating, all building up to that climatic ending full of shocking revelations.


This is a truly dark book and not just because of the long nights Greenland gets in the winter. It was pretty captivating, though, and one I enjoyed reading. The book was mostly well written and was full of really engaging characters. Plus it was set in such a unique location, one that isn’t featured in many books I’ve come across. It’s definitely not a book that I would recommend for those unable to read about blood, gore, or abuse, but for those who like their thrillers on the grittier side, this is a solid choice. I’ll definitely be reading any further English translations in this series.

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