😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂
Police Constable David Maratse has been retired following serious injuries he received in the course of his previous case. Still suffering terrible pain and with difficulty walking, he has decided to move to a small village in the very north of Greenland, where he intends to spend his time hunting and fishing once he regains his fitness. But when a neighbour takes him out on a fishing trip on the fjord, they have an unexpected and shocking catch – the body of a young woman. Meantime, in Greenland’s capital, Nuuk, the First Minister is preparing for an important debate with her political opponent when she discovers that her daughter, Tinka, has gone missing…
The plot of this is firmly fixed in the political world of Greenland, and Petersen gives an excellent picture of the concerns of this harsh and sparsely populated island, way up in the Arctic. He shows the rising nationalist movement seeking independence from Denmark, and the divisions between those who are ethnically Greenlandic and the Danish people who live there. Language is a symbol of the nationalist debate, and the First Minister’s opponent is using it to stir up resentment towards those who speak Danish as their only or first language. Petersen throws in a few words in Danish and Greenlandic, but only very simple ones – yes, no, thanks – and uses these effectively to highlight the different cultures and as a kind of shortcut to remind the reader of the tensions in the political debate.
The descriptions of the landscape and way of life are great. Petersen shows the harshness but doesn’t labour it – this is the land and weather the characters are used to, so while they seem extreme to those of us in warmer climes, they are normal to the inhabitants of Greenland and they don’t think about it any more than Scots do of rain or Californians of sunshine. Petersen shows the contrast between the modernity of life in Nuuk – a small city, but the centre of power – and the more traditional style of life in Inussuk, Maratse’s village, where people still routinely fish and hunt for their own food, though even here some modernity is creeping in with the advent of technology.
It is in Inussuk that every year the inhabitants dig seven graves before winter sets in and the ground freezes, to bury those who die before spring. Petersen uses this brilliantly in the first chapter to very quickly give the reader an idea of the relative deprivation of the island, where life expectancy is much lower even than in Denmark itself. Seven graves for a population of fifty-six people, and two of the graves for infants. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. And now one of those graves will be allocated to Tinka, since Nivi, the First Minister, grew up in Inussuk and still considers it home.
The characterisation is just as good as the setting. Maratse himself is very well drawn as a man refusing to allow himself to be defined by pain, and fighting to regain his physical strength. He also has to contend with the loss of a career that he loved, but he’s not one for wallowing so he’s also looking forward to getting back to the kind of small settlement life in which he grew up. Petra is still with the police force in Nuuk, but she and Maratse are friends as well as former colleagues, and when she is put in charge of Tinka’s case they find themselves working together again, as Maratse becomes unofficially involved in the investigation. Nivi is also very well portrayed – a strong woman as her position as First Minister would indicate, but having to cope with the grief of her daughter’s death while still carrying out the important political role that drives her professionally.
The plot is intriguing for the most part, centring round political machinations and manoeuvrings, although it loses a bit of credibility as it heads into thriller territory at the end. But it kept me absorbed throughout, and didn’t cross the line too far for me to be able to happily go along.
All-in-all I found this a thoroughly enjoyable read and felt I learned a good deal about Greenland along the way, without the author ever falling into the trap of information dumping. It’s the first in a series starring Maratse of which there are now several, and I’m looking forward to reading more of them.