Mystery Books for Sale

[ Home ]
[ About | Reviews | Search | Submit ]


by Arnaldur Indridason
Harvill Press, May 2005
224 pages
ISBN: 1843431858

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

While waiting to pick up his little brother from a birthday party, a medical student happens to notice the rather odd toy a teething baby is using to soothe her swollen gums. He instantly recognizes a human rib.

The body it belongs to has surfaced in ground being developed for a new housing estate -- Reykjavik was a small town in 1940; now it has trebled in size and is reaching out into the countryside for places to put the kind of houses Icelanders prefer. The body has lain buried for over 50 years and it is disinterred by an archaeologist more interested in using the dig as a learning experience for his students than as a crime scene, so detectives Erlendur and Sigurdur Óli, must be patient while they wait to learn even the gender of the corpse.

The painstaking, slow disinterment mirrors the police investigation into the long-buried crime, but it is not the only narrative. Present-day detection alternates with vivid, compelling chapters describing a horrendous case of wife-beating (now, of course, termed 'spousal abuse') that occurred in the neighbourhood over 60 years before, when Iceland was occupied by the US army following the Nazi occupation of Denmark.

At the time, the combination of rural isolation and traditional attitudes concerning women conspired to reduce a woman, her two sons and handicapped daughter to almost helpless victims of a man who took sadistic delight in their pain and terror.

Ironically, it is this old tale that is the more suspenseful of the two narratives, as the reader awaits its outcome, hoping for the best but fearing the worst. The answer of course comes when the corpse is finally freed from its grave and its identity revealed. Along the way, the contrast between past and present provides a quiet but telling picture of what has and what has not changed in modern Iceland, a country that seems to share problems of drug dependency, rural depopulation, and urban sprawl with comparable European cities. If, however, the Icelandic reader might yearn for a return of the good old traditional past, the story of the desperate wife and her terrorized children will act as a brake on nostalgia.

It is a tribute to Indridsason's art that this tension survives what is at best a competent, at worst a clumsy translation by Bernard Scudder, who has difficulty producing credible, idiomatic dialogue. SILENCE OF THE GRAVE won the British Crime Writers' Association Golden Dagger in 2005 for best crime novel of the year and will be the last translated book to win, as the CWA has confined future awards to novels originally written in English.

Whatever one might think of the CWA's decision to confine the Dagger to English-language novels, it is hard to fault their choice to award the prize to Indridason in 2005. Anyway, who can resist an opening scene as cheerfully macabre as one in which a baby has to be firmly parted from her (well-washed) teether, a human rib?

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, June 2006

[ Top ]



Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

[ About | Reviews | Search | Submit ]
[ Home ]