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.
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.