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.

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

  1. It takes the whole book until we know who is buried. What is discovered is very surprising.

    This 2sentences really intrigued me. I really like books that can’t be guessed,or at least difficult to guess. It seems that you always read interesting books.

    By the way,I like that blue hardback cover too…it looks simple but interesting

    • The mystery part was well done. It could have been anyone lying there and even the murderer could have been anyone. And as I said there was a surprise. The blue cover strays from the often romanticized picture we have of Iceland. Sure, it is a country of stunning landscapes but the people are as good or bad there as anywhere else and this book is as much about people as about the land itself. The industrial setting in the blue cover is perfect for the book.

  2. I too like mysteries that keep me guessing until the end. Once you’ve figured everything out, it’s hard to keep reading.
    I know so little about Iceland, so something like this appeals to me. Thanks, Caroline.

  3. I came close to buying this at least twice after reading my first Mankell, Caroline, but now you have me thinking I should check it out of the library instead. I like the archeology and the Iceland angles, though, and I got a kick out of your Absolut Vodka reference too! P.S. I’ve seen two other covers for this book, one from the U.S. and one from the UK. Always find the artwork comparisons interesting myself.

    • You might like it. I guarantee it is “unicorn-free”. All in all it is not a pretty book. Harsh reality, really. Library is a good idea. Covers always puzzle me. I am reading Sebald’s Austerlitz at the moment. First time I see that a cover looks the same all over the world. Maybe he had his say.

  4. All your Icelandic lit reading is really whetting my appetite for it. The setting is SO intriguing. This book sounds pretty interesting, and I am in the mood for crime thrillers right now, and I actually like to read bleak and chilly stories in the winter, so this might be a good one to go on the list.

    • Let me know if you liked it, should you read it. A friend told me that others in the series might be even better. Maybe I will try another one after all. I am definitely not done with Icelandic authors.

  5. I’ve not yet read this author, but I’m not sure why as I am very interested in Iceland in general. Have you read Yrsa Sigurdardottir? She writes mysteries featuring a woman lawyer. The first one was about ritualistic murder, which I thought the tiniest bit outrageous, but I like the main character enough to read more of her work. Do you not like Jo Nesbo?

    • I will have to try a Sigurdardottir. A female lawyer makes a nice change. I think Nesbo’s novel is the only thriller/mystery I ever read that I had to force myself to finich and that after I bought more than one. I found the book so cliched and boring…

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