Nordic mystery: The Silence of the Sea by Yrsa Sigurdardottiron

silence of the seaI don’t read a lot of crime fiction but now and again it feels the perfect kind of book and that nothing else will fit the need just as completely. After the rather draining experience of reading A Little Life followed by the, if not as desperately miserable, still sombre Did You Ever Have a Family, I was in urgent need of a less challenging read.

Fortunately Yrsa Sigurðardóttir was readily to hand. She’s an Icelandic writer of children’s fiction and crime-novels including a bestselling series featuring the lawyer Thóra Gudmundsdóttir. I’ve never read anything by her previously but saw her latest novel The Silence of the Sea recommended in one of the Sunday newspapers last year.

This is a locked-ship kind of mystery. It begins when a luxury yacht arrives in Reyjkavik harbour minus its three-man crew and its passengers. There are no immediately evident signs of foul play. There are no bodies either. Lawyer Thóra Gudmundsdóttir is recruited by an elderly couple whose son, wife and twin granddaughters were the passengers on the yacht as it sailed from Portugal.  Of course they want to know what happened to their loved ones but they also need Thóra’s help to get custody of the small grand-daughter that had been left in their care.

Thóra, like many in Reykjavik is intrigued. What happened to everyone on board that craft? Before long she’s in pursuit of the truth. The discovery of blood stains and a few bodies spice up the action. Interspersed with her investigations are chapters that take place on board the yacht, gradually building up our knowledge of what went wrong.  Without revealing the secret I’ll just drop one hint – the plot reminded me of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.  

Sigurdardottir does a fine job of ratcheting up the suspense and keeping you guessing without making the storyline seem ridiculously preposterous. Ignore the promotional blob on the cover hailing Sigurdardottir as “Iceland’s answer to Steig Larrson” – The Silence of the Sea is nothing like The Girl Who …… Not only does that comparison mislead readers it does a disservice to Sigurdardottir and her accomplishment in this novel which is to write a darn good yarn without resort to lots of whistles and bells. It’s not rich in terms of character development but its not devoid of that either.  Gudmundsdóttir is an interesting character, more detective than lawyer whose personal family concerns are revealed in just enough detail to make us warm to her as an individual. The only real gap for me was that I didn’t truly get a sense of Reykjavik or of anything uniquely Iceland. Maybe that criticism is a bit unfair given that so much of the action takes place at sea – exactly where the passengers don’t know since they’ve lost all radio contact and the navigation system isn’t working. It’s just a dimension that I enjoyed when reading Henning Mankell’s Wallander series or, come to that, Ian Rankin’s Rebus novels. It maybe I’ll find that missing element if I read some of Sigurdardottir’s earlier novels in the Gudmundsdóttir series (scratch the ‘if’ – I know I’ll be reconnecting with her next time I’m in need of a touch of crime.)

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on October 15, 2015, in Book Genres and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. This one sounds like a good mystery! I personally don’t mind that there’s not a lot of geographical description, I don’t have a lot of feeling with descriptions of surroundings so I don’t really mind. Never heard of this author before so thank you for the tip!

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  2. I can highly recommend Arnaldur Indriðason, who I know is translated into English. If you leave the crime fiction genre, there are two great Iclandic novelists, Jón Kalman Stefánsson (Fish have no feet(?)), Hallgrimur Helgason and Einar Mar Gudmundsson. In each their way they give a good impression of Iceland, and not only Reykjavik.

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    • I absolutely had to look up these names Marit. Jón Kalman Stefánsson sounded so good I have just ordered Sorrow of Angels (abe books said it could be read independently even though it is the second in a trilogy). Thanks so much for those recommendations……

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  3. I just learned about this author because she attended our city’s book festival last week. She was quite an interesting speaker and also read from works. I will have to try out her books! http://www.thecuecard.com

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  4. I have added this author to my TBR, mainly for my husband. Sounds like one he would really like. I know what you mean about mixing it up a bit with reading. I just finished Did You Ever Have a Family last night. Hope to complete a blog post today. I really loved it. Although I thought it might feel like a downer, it didn’t to me. But it is rather sombre. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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    • I’ll be interested to see what you have to say about Did You Ever Have a Family. I wasn’t all that enamoured with it – it was certainly an interesting way to tell the story but some of the storytellers didnt really seem to have all that much to add.

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