Book Review: “Silence of the Grave” by Arnaldur Indriðason

One of the things that I like about Nordic crime fiction is that it’s grim. The locales are cold, windswept places with few people, and many secrets. It feels like life is a little more tenuous in such forbidding places.

Last year, I read Arnaldur Indriðason’s book “Jar City” in which he introduced the no-nonsense Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson and his team – working murders in Reykjavik, Iceland. I enjoyed the book a great deal and looked forward to reading more from Indriðason. And last week, I finished “Silence of the Grave” – the following book in the Erlandur series. And in retrospect, “Jar City” seems like some sort of Sunday picnic. Well, maybe not. But speaking as a person that likes grim – this is grim.

Silence of the Grave

During the construction of suburban Reykjavik development a skeleton is discovered buried in the cold ground. Erlandur’s team must determine how old the remains are, who they belonged to, and who buried them. The story plays out both in the present and in WWII-era Iceland. In it, we learn that Steig Larsson isn’t the only Nordic writer that could write about abusive relationships (it might be worth noting that this book was published before Larsson’s “Dragon Tattoo” series…).

Some readers might be disappointed that this is not a crime thriller. All the action occurs in the past among players that are mostly deceased. Erlandur’s team expresses perhaps the reader’s frustration of “why are we worrying about this?” so long after the fact — but in a way, that’s the point. Because along the way, we also get a good deal more insight into Erlandur – his motivations, his relationships, and the events that have shaped his life. His story dominates the “present” tense of the story (it’s not pretty and tidy) – and maybe because we’re more invested in him than the people in the past, it’s the one that continues to resonate after you finish the book.

If I were allowed half-stars, this one would get 3.5, but because I’m in a good grim mood we’ll bump it to 4 stars out of 5.



11 thoughts on “Book Review: “Silence of the Grave” by Arnaldur Indriðason

    • Thanks, Budd — they’ve been good reads. I’d gotten a couple from the library a year or two ago that were “oh-kay” but it was before I started actively reviewing (which I blame Goodreads for…).

  1. Sounds like an interesting genre. I have not read anything like this before. I will have to look into these and see if our library has them.

  2. Thanks for that review. J is a mystery fanatic and I might get him this (although he’s a Kindle guy now, such a crappy thing for someone who buys books as gifts)! This also reminds me of that show Cold Case. It was soooo depressing but for some reason I enjoyed those cases more than “hot” ones.

    • Emmi — this one was very much like an episode of “Cold Case” now that you mention it. I definitely suggest getting “Jar City” first as that sets up the crew.

  3. I didn’t like the Steig Larsson books because the focus was on corporate crime, and I didn’t find the character of the investigative journalist especially sympathetic. But “Silence of the Grave” sounds interesting to me because I like books that wrestle with difficult moral questions and complex characters.

    My recent reading has been on the heavy side—I think it’s the weather, and that feeling I’ve never been able to shake that I should be in school now—so maybe this would be a good segue into somewhat lighter reading. (Though “Silence” doesn’t sound “light.”) Fall also encourages a darker outlook, what with Halloween and the darker nights approaching. But I tried reading vampire books, and they just don’t do it for me. Especially vampires that look like GQ models and sparkle in the light like disco balls.

    • H — In this series, I would read the initial book “Jar City” first — it lays out a good background for the characters. You don’t need to for any plot reasons in this book (which is stand-alone) but it helps flesh out the characters a little more, especially Erlandur.

      I agree with how the weather affects reading choices. When the summer starts, I always want to read some pulp thriller/beach-read (even if I’m not at the beach) — and things tend to turn more serious with longer evenings.

      As vampire books go, I agree — I’ve sort of left that genre behind. “The Passage” by Justin Cronin was good, original take and I’m interested in “The Strain” by Guillermo del Toro.

  4. Pingback: More Mystery Bites | Stevil

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s