Source: Review copy
Publication: 15 April 2021 from Corylus Books
ASIN : B08Y5KZ98J
My thanks to the publisher for an early copy for review
The darker the secret, the harder to bury it.
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.
Unusually, I’m going to start with the translation. Because all the way through reading Silenced, which I enjoyed enormously, I was struck by just how Icelandic this voice is. It’s not just the names, which, admittedly, help, but there’s something about the construct of the sentences from translator Quentin Bates that can’t be other than Icelandic. I love that…this is a translation that is firmly rooted in the country, its language and that sense of doing things properly that is the hallmark of civilised Icelandic society.
Detective Guðgeir Fransson is looking forward to embarking on a new chapter of his life. He is back in Reykjavík, in charge of the Special Investigations unit, and he and his wife Inga are moving back in together, this time into a new apartment which he is assiduously making sure is ready to receive them. Everything from the parquet floor to the plastered walls will be clean and fresh for this new start.
As he visits the flat one day, he runs into his neighbour, Andrea Eythórsdóttir, a social media influencer, who – on finding that he is a policeman – tells him plaintively of how little the police did to find her lost brother when he disappeared some twenty years ago. Johannes Eythórsson disappeared during the day an earthquake hit Reykjavík and was never found. There’s something vulnerable about Andrea and he resolves to at least look into it, as it sticks in his mind, not least because he doesn’t really understand what a social media influencer does…
Then Guðgeir and his partner Elsa Guðrún are called to investigate the suicide of Kristín Kjarr. Kjarr was in prison, and in her cell at the time of her death but there are marks on her body indicating that she may have been involved in a struggle or altercation, so Guðgeir and Elsa need to investigate further. Not only that, but the warden tells them that Kristin had not seemed anxious or depressed; rather she had been enjoying a creative period and was painting more than ever. In the cell they find a series of drawings that all seem to be of the same person.
What they also learn is that Kristin has been jailed for almost killing his Andrea’s mother. Kjarr was driving under the influence of drink and drugs when she crashed her car straight into the home of Andrea and Johannes’ parents.
Guðgeir is intrigued by this link to his neighbour and he begins to follow up on her plea to find out what happened to her brother, only to find that he is met with a wall of silence. Ansrea herself seems to have changed her mind and none of the rest of her family, including her other brother, Daði, want the case re-opened as it would be too painful.
The Eythórsson family are prominent business people in the city and have many important connections, all of which has served to underscore Andrea’s ability to grow her social media profile and business. But as Guðgeir and Elsa investigate Kjarr’s death, they come across more links to the family that raise more questions than answers.
It seems that Krstin Kjarr dated Johannes before his disappearance but the relationship was not an equal one. He treated her very badly, was violent and domineering and his actions culminated in the most brutal of actions. Kristin never recovered from that and her life thereafter was a shadow of the young, vibrant woman she had been.
Meanwhile in Reykjavik, other brutal rapes have been occurring and Guðgeir can’t help but wonder if some kind of copycat is at work.
Silenced is a strong piece of writing that demonstrates the myriad ways in which women can be silenced. She has created an intricately plotted dual timeline story that puts family firmly in the centre and then slowly pulls it apart to look at the ugliness than can be covered up in the name of reputation, loyalty or ‘a good name’.
Once the façade starts to crumble, we see only too clearly the kind of chains that have bound Andrea over the years as well as the damage that has been wrought on Kristin Kjarr.
On one level, this is a fascinating police procedural with a great cast of characters and a team of officers who work well together, refreshingly devoid of petty jealousies or massive flaws, but who are focussed on getting the job done. In that sense Silenced is a tense and exciting police procedural with excellent plotting and great characters.
But on another level the insights that Sólveig Pálsdóttir brings to the character of Andrea and the gaze that she is able to turn on Kristin Kjarr, make this a more intense insight into how women are disempowered and what value they often have in society alongside the lengths that some will go to in order to ensure they do not have a voice. Thus Andrea is an empty shell and Kristin Kjarr’s voice can only be heard through the power of her art.
Verdict: This is powerful writing that gets right under the skin and is sometimes very uncomfortable reading. But like the best crime novels, it asks uncomfortable questions about the society we live in and what we are prepared to accept. Highly recommended
Sólveig Pálsdóttir trained as an actor and has a background in the theatre, television and radio. In a second career she studied for degrees in literature and education, and has taught literature and linguistics, drama and public speaking, and has produced both radio programming and managed cultural events.Her first novel appeared in Iceland in 2012 and went straight to the country’s bestseller list. She has written five novels featuring Reykjavík detective Guðgeir Fransson and a memoir, Klettaborgin, which was a 2020 hit in Iceland.Silenced (Fjötrar) received the 2020 Drop of Blood award for the best Icelandic novel of the year and is Iceland’s nomination for the 2021 Glass key award for the best Nordic crime novel of the year. Sólveig lives in Reykjavík.