Arnaldur Indriðason: Silence of the Grave (Reykjavík Murder Mysteries 2) aka Grafarþögn (2001) An Icelandic Mystery

Silence Of The Grave (Reykjavik Murder Mysteries 2)

Building work in an expanding Reykjavík uncovers a shallow grave. Years before, this part of the city was all open hills, and Erlendur and his team hope this is a typical Icelandic missing person scenario; perhaps someone once lost in the snow, who has lain peacefully buried for decades. Things are never that simple. Whilst Erlendur struggles to hold together the crumbling fragments of his own family, his case unearths many other tales of family pain. The hills have more than one tragic story to tell: tales of failed relationships and heartbreak; of anger, domestic violence and fear; of family loyalty and family shame. Few people are still alive who can tell the story, but even secrets taken to the grave cannot remain hidden forever.

Silence of the Grave is the second of Indriðason’s successful mysteries. When reviewing Sjón the other day I had forgotten that I had the German edition (Todeshauch) of this book somewhere. Very much in the mood to read more Icelandic literature I picked it up and was hooked right away. I wouldn’t compare it to Mankell though (as it is usually done in Germany), they don’t have a lot in common apart from two disillusioned inspectors and being disillusioned is all the two inspectors have in common. Mankell’s books are much more psychological. Indriðason is bleaker, drearier. You’d better put a coat on should you read this as it is chilly, very chilly. Picture one of the Absolute Vodka adds. Right, that’s how cold it is. In every sense. We tend to forget that Iceland is not only about beautiful landscapes but there is the city of Reykjavík in which the people have pretty much the same problems as anywhere else. Delinquency, drugs, child abuse, domestic violence. And all this in a climatically challenged setting of excessively long winter nights and never ending summer days.

The novel starts in April and already it is getting dark after 9 p.m. and the days start in the wee hours of the morning.

Inspector Erlendur is divorced. He has two children he rarely sees. One is a junky, lying in a coma all through the novel,  the other is completely estranged from him. His ex-wife hates him. This is important as his personal story gets as much attention as the crime that is to be solved. Both stories are interwoven with a third story line that takes place during WWII. This third story is one of the worst stories of domestic violence I have ever read.  We know that this is somehow tied to the crime that has to be solved. It is also interesting to read about Iceland during WWII.

In the beginning of the novel it is not a 100% clear if there really has been a crime. Children find some human bones on a construction site. Archeologists have to dig them out with painstaking slowness. It takes the whole book until we know who is buried. What is discovered is very surprising. There are as many differnet possibilities with regard to the victims as with regard to the murderers.

I am not always happy when authors jump back and forth in time and mix many story lines but Indriðason did a good job. He also did a good job at describing Iceland and its harsh winters. The moment you leave Reykjavík you are at the mercy of nature. Many people get lost in winter during storms and die a white death. A handy cover-up for many a crime, as we are told.

Silence of the Grave was very different from any other crime novel I have read so far. No comparing it to Mankell (more psychlogical), Larsson (more elaborate) or Nesbø (bad!), please. I liked reading it, kept on guessing and wondering who, where, why, when but I am not sure I am sufficiently interested in Erlendur and his life to read another one in this series soon.

I am always fascinated how different covers look in other countries. The one I have is the blue hardback one. I think it does the book more justice than the English and the German paperbacks.