Seven Graves, One Winter by Christoffer Petersen

Arctic crime…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

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.

Christoffer Petersen

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.

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38 thoughts on “Seven Graves, One Winter by Christoffer Petersen

  1. This is really tempting, FictionFan! I haven’t read a lot of crime fiction that takes place in Greenland, and I like that close look at the politics of life there. The mystery itself looks interesting, too, and it sounds as though it does justice to the fact of murder without getting gory.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think this may be my first trip to Greenland, and it was an excellent way to find out a bit about the country and the way of life, written from first-hand experience. I’m looking forward to reading more of his books – he seems to have quite a good following though I admit I’d never heard of him before.

      Liked by 2 people

    • I think this was my first trip to Greenland, so I was glad he gave such a great depiction of how the people there live their lives. Worth reading for the setting alone, and the characterisations and plot are an added bonus! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent review. This does sound a fascinating read for what it tells one about Greenland, its political scenario and life in general in a harsh harsh climate. This is definitely going on my list.

    The graves are unnerving yet practical, but I can hardly imagine having to think that way.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you! It was my first “trip” to Greenland so I was really glad he gave such a good depiction of how the people there live – an added bonus on top of a good story and characterisation! The graves thing is a pretty horrible thought, isn’t it, although you can understand the need for them. Hope you enjoy the book if you get to it sometime! 😀

      Liked by 2 people

      • It is awful, but given the climate also sensible. I love finding books that give one a chance to experience an entirely new place and culture and in a well told story. Will keep a look out for it.

        On a different note, last month I read a Japanese mystery The Village of Eight Graves. Your book is seven. Should I start getting shaky if I next find a book with six?

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Count me as another who’s not read much (if anything) set in Greenland. I find the cover with the blood spatters quite appealing! (in a crime novel sort of way…)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This sounds really interesting. I love mysteries set in remote places. I’ve only read two books set in Greenland before: Smilla’s Sense of Snow and The Greenlanders. Oh, also Wolf Winter I think was set there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m pretty sure it’s my first visit to Greenland, so I was glad he gave such a good depiction of how the people there live. I can’t understand how people manage in such harsh environments, but I loved the way he showed it as just being normal for the characters.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I know practically nothing about Greenland, so this book sounds pretty interesting. Glad to hear it’s not an information dump, something that too often goes along with a first-book-in-a-series.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nor me, Debbie, so I was glad he gave such a clear depiction of the way of life there, and explained the politics enough for the book to make sense without getting bogged down in unnecessary info-dumping. Real talent, I think!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I think I’ve learned more incidentally about the Nordic countries through reading crime than by any other means. This book appeals for that background Information as well as the story itself. What an evocative image that is, digging seven graves before winter, and how much it conveys about frozen realities.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Me too, and sometimes they all seem to merge into one so that I have to keep reminding myself if I’m in Norway, Sweden or Iceland! The setting in this one, though, is very distinctive and I felt he made Greenland a real part of the book. The chapter at the beginning where he describes the digging of the graves is brilliant – conveys so much about life there in just a few pages.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Ha, I prefer the weather in my books to be more of a match to the season rather than a contrast, so the fact that it was freezing here while I was reading this helped! It made me realise I should stop complaining – at least I didn’t have to pre-prepare graves for the winter… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hahaha, I keep telling you it’s educational! 😉 I know – and when it turned out that two of the graves were designed for infants it really hit home how lucky we are to live in societies where we expect children to survive into adulthood.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Ha, I just added the second book to my wishlist but knowing me, it’ll still be there five years form now! He really does the setting very well though and I thought the political angle was very good – not overdone.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Does it sound crazy of me to say that I’d love to visit Greenland? Perhaps because I’m from Canada, the idea of being in a very cold environment isn’t as daunting. The past few days here it’s felt like -30 Celsius with the wind chill, so it’s toughening me up as I write this haha

    Murder mysteries are just so much darker when they take place in a snowy landscape, I think this is part of the reason Nordic thrillers seem to do so well!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I prefer cold to heat, but I’ve never experienced really extreme cold so I don’t know how I’d cope with it – not well, probably! Greenland does sound interesting though and probably the way of life in the more remote parts isn’t dissimilar to Canadian Inuit life, I’d guess. Yes, cold definitely suits murder – apart from anything else, it’s much better for preserving corpses… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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