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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Silence of the Grave

Arnaldur Indirdason’s second mystery, Silence of the Grave, is certain to please a broad range of mystery fans.   That the novel is an intricately structured police procedural focusing on a very cold case going all the way back to World War II is already enough to appeal to most readers; that its abundant backstory makes the main characters come to life, and that the novel is set in Iceland, adds icing to the cake.

Reykjavik, like large cities all over the world, seems to be always expanding, and what was remote countryside just a few decades earlier now offers suburban housing and shopping for city workers that can afford to move outside the city.  When one construction project exposes a skeleton that seems to have been buried for at least 50 years, Inspector Erlendur Sveinnson and his crew are brought in to sort things out.  Erlendur, unlike some assigned to the case, is determined to identify the murder victim despite the fact that the murderer, and anyone that might remember the victim, are themselves probably dead.

As a team of archaeologists methodically works to unearth the skeletal remains of the victim, Erlendur directs an investigation that progresses almost as slowly as the diggers.  In the tradition of the best police procedurals, it is one logical step at a time, sometimes even taking two steps forward before taking one step back.  But the luxury of time and patience eventually will pay off for both teams.

Sensitive readers should be warned that Indridason does not let his readers blink or turn their heads when it comes to detailing the horrible physical and mental abuse one man dishes out to his wife and children.  He tells it like it happens in the real world – often in enough detail to make one flinch while merely reading of the brutality.  These sections, however, are not there for shock value; they are at the heart of the mystery.

Almost as painful to read, is Erlendur’s backstory.  The man might be a good cop, but he is a flop as a father, having walked away from his marriage not long after the birth of his second child.  Now, he has to deal with his drug addict daughter, Eva Lind, who is in a coma after having lost the baby she insisted on delivering despite her inability to clean herself up.  Some of the book’s best moments come when Erlendur, having been advised to talk to his daughter despite her coma, but not knowing what to say, begins to tell her about his cold case – and about a heartrending incident from his own childhood that still haunts him.

Silence of the Grave is my second Erlendur novel, but it will most certainly not be my last.  I particularly enjoy mysteries that keep me speculating all the way to the end but still come to a logical conclusion.  I do not like trick endings or rabbits otherwise pulled from hats.  Solid police procedurals with the added depth of a revealing backstory are what I enjoy most in a mystery; this one did not disappoint.

Rated at: 4.5
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