As a police team is called in to investigate a woman’s suicide at the Hólmsheiði prison outside Reykjavík, to detective Guðgeir Fransson it looks like a tragic but straightforward case. It’s only afterwards that the pieces begin to fall into place and he takes a deeper interest in Kristín Kjarr’s troubled background, and why she had found herself in prison. His search leads him to a series of brutal crimes committed twenty years before and the unexplained disappearance of the prime suspect, whose wealthy family closed ranks as every effort was made to keep skeletons securely hidden in closets – while the Reykjavík police struggle to deal with a spate of fresh attacks that bear all the hallmarks of a copycat…
And so to Silenced, the follow up to Sólveig Pálsdóttir’s excellent Icelandic debut The Fox, (translated by Quentin Bates, as this one is) which introduced us to detective Guðgeir Fransson. In the previous book Fransson was temporarily idling away his time whilst on suspension from the police, but this book sees him return as a detective, caught up in a particularly tangled and violent investigation…
Despite having enjoyed The Fox, I was even more impressed by this one, where the writing and plotting felt much tighter overall, and the complexity of the case with its shifting timeline was much more gripping from the outset. Bringing together the elements of a missing person case, and a series of sexual assaults which result in the suspicious suicide of one of the victims, history begins to repeat itself, and a deeper forensic analysis of the events some twenty years previously, brings Fransson and his colleagues on the trail of a sadistic and organised offender.
The theme of family and loyalty lies at the heart of the book. Franssson’s reconciliation with his estranged wife and child, moving to a new home and starting afresh draws him into the path of a new neighbour, who comes to be more centrally involved in the investigation. The case itself revolves around a very dysfunctional family, where a sense of twisted loyalty and the harbouring of disturbing secrets, cause this investigation to become even more troubling, and violence strikes at the heart of the investigative team. Pálsdóttir smoothly incorporates the more settled home life of Fransson, with the Eythorsdottir family, who all carry mental and physical scars from the events of the past, and bar their daughter, Andrea (a social influencer) are obstinately unwilling to assist Fransson as their troubled past begins to impinge on the present. They are a particularly unpleasant and obtuse group of individuals, bound up in a situation of manipulation and control but as Fransson chips away at the case, the true extent of their general unpleasantness become increasingly clearer.
Fransson is a solid character, being both a team player, but willing to go out on a limb when inspiration strikes, and refreshingly does not seem to carry the traits of most detectives in crime fiction, as an alcoholic maverick with commitment issues. He is magnanimous as one of his female colleagues is promoted above him, a keen listener and supportive as one of the team suffers a brutal physical attack in the course of the investigation. I was also struck by how rounded the characterisation of his police colleagues was as well, as sometimes they can fade into the background around the central police protagonist, and I particularly like the character of Særós, his superior officer, and the small details of her private life that are gradually revealed as the book progresses.
Throughout the book there are some interesting deviations into the world of social media and the nature of art, and how the deep and dark nature of the visceral paintings of Kristín Kjarr, a disturbed and abused young woman in prison, carry more weight and emotion, than Andrea Eythorsdottir’s ‘art’ as a somewhat fatuous and shallow social influencer. As much as Andrea sees her role as artfully presenting products and influencing her followers to buy them, the true power of art is actually borne out by Kristín’s paintings and drawings, that arise out of pure emotion and fear.
As I said in the introduction, I found Silenced a much more polished book overall, again with an excellent translation by author Quentin Bates, and this bodes very well as the Ice and Crime series progresses. I found the plot compelling, and I liked the little sub-topics that Pálsdóttir explores in relation to her characters and plot. She builds a sense of tension exceedingly well throughout, and as I become more familiar with detective Guðgeir Fransson, I like his sense of fairness and cool headed professionalism, the way he interacts with others, and how he sensitively puts the victim at the heart of his search for justice. Recommended.
Sólveig Pálsdóttir started writing seven years ago and since then her writing career has taken off quickly. She has a diverse background, being a trained actor and having performed in theatre, television and radio. She holds a bachelor‘s degree in literature from the University of Iceland along with a degree in teaching. Sólveig taught Icelandic literature and linguistics, drama and public speaking for many years and has produced a number of radio programmes and managed cultural events.
Her first novel Leikarinn (The Actor) was published in 2012 to rave reviews and weeks at the top of best-sellers lists. It is now being developed as a motion picture. The second novel, Hinir réttlátu (The Righteous Ones), was published the following year, and also became a best-seller. Both novels have now been published in Germany by publishing house Aufbau under their German titles Eiskaltes Gift and Tote Wale. Her third novel, Flekklaus (Pure), was published in March 2015. She recently released her fourth book, Refurinn (The Fox) which also made is way to best-seller lists. All her novels have been shortlisted for the Icelandic Crime Fiction Awards and have been praised for their narrative, attention to detail and sympathetic characters. The Fox deals with current events that affect societies on a global scale whilst being set in a sleepy Icelandic fishing village and its isolated surroundings for the most part. Sólveig’s books form a stand-alone series with each book being independent but with the same main characters. The novels follow the detective team of the family man Guðgeir and the ambitious Særós. Visit her website here: Sólveig Pálsdóttir
(With thanks to Corylus Books for the ARC)
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