The Silence of the Sea
by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir
translated from Icelandic by Victoria Cribb
I picked up this book because Sigurðardóttir was recommended by Gav Reads and Savidge Reads, whose taste I often share. I managed somehow to start this crime series with the sixth book about lawyer Thóra, but I don’t think that spoiled the story and she seems pretty badass.
In this episode of Icelandic noir, a luxury yacht crashes into Reykjavik harbour wall with no-one on board, not one of the seven people known to have boarded in Lisbon. The parents of one of the missing people employ Thóra to prove that their son Ægir is dead – they really need to claim his life insurance money to be able to afford to raise their (now presumably orphaned) granddaughter.
A second timeline follows Ægir from the day he, his wife and their older two children leave Lisbon on the yacht. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience luxury beyond their means – the yacht is being repossessed by the bank Ægir works for. But from the surly skeleton crew to hideous seasickness, it’s a nightmare from the start. One that only gets worse.
“His shout pierced the stillness but faded instantly. The ensuing silence felt heavier, more tangible, as if it resented the disturbance…He took a step backwards to get a better view and began to shine his torch back and forth along the white aluminium hull, at which the shadows resumed their jerky dance. He tried to illuminate the waterline to check that the uninvited guest hadn’t fallen overboard but could see nothing unusual. A red Coke can was floating lazily beside the ship; otherwise the sea looked as if it had been vacuum-cleaned.”
This gets dark, shockingly, even upsettingly so. But it’s also at times funny, particularly the scenes with Thóra’s receptionist/secretary Bella – a caustic goth who happens to have gone to school with the yacht’s co-owner, the famous-for-being-famous Karitas (who, coincidentally, is also missing). I also appreciated the pronunciation guide at the front of the book to pronouncing Icelandic names. I now know “gg” is said like a hard k, which may or may not ever be useful knowledge!
The book is unfortunately let down by slightly clumsy or cliched phrasing at times. I’m not sure if that was the translation or the original but it did prevent this otherwise rather unusual crime story from giving me a new favourite writer in Sigurðardóttir. (I do, however, love her Twitter feed – she’s great!)
Brakið published 2011 by Verold Publishing.
This translation published 2014 by Hodder & Stoughton.
Source: A local charity shop, probably the St Peter’s Hospice one.