“Links with the Past”: Arnaldur Indriðason, Silence of the Grave


He no longer heard any tales, and they became lost to him. All his people were gone, forgotten and buried in deserted rural areas. He, in turn, drifted through a city that he had no business being in. Knew that he was not the urban type. Could not really tell what he was. But he never lost his yearning for a different life, felt rootless and uncomfortable, and sensed how his last links with the past evaporated when his mother died.

I finished my second Arnaldur Indriðason novel, Silence of the Grave, last night. The Girl on the Train  is supposedly a “page-turner” but I read Silence of the Grave with much more rapt attention: it’s smarter, darker, and infinitely more gripping. It was almost too dark: there’s always something uncomfortable about being entertained by suffering, and at the center of Silence of the Grave is a tragic account of an abusive relationship in which the brutal physical violence is almost less harrowing than what the victim’s daughter calls the “soul murder” it causes. “She turned out to be like these bushes,” the daughter reflects about her mother:

They’re particularly hardy, they withstand all kinds of weather and the harshest winters, but they’re always green and beautiful again in the summer, and the berries they produce are just as red and juicy as if nothing had ever happened. As if winter had ever come.

The hope that things will turn green and flower and bear fruit again is hard to sustain in this relentlessly grim novel, not only through the history of this tortured family and its eventual, inevitable, cataclysm but through the time we spend with Inspector Erlendur and his family in the present. I noted that in Jar City I didn’t get much sense of Erlendur as a character. Here Indriðason made up for that, most notably through a bleak monologue delivered by Erlendur to his comatose daughter. This speech reveals in both words and tone much more about him, especially how he came to be the man he is, in the place he now has in the world. (There’s also a painful scene with his ex-wife that made Wallander’s family life seem positively tranquil.) The novel’s various elements all illuminate the ways in which families cause each other pain: the case under investigation may be an extreme, but the question the beaten wife asks applies to all of them: “What makes people like that?”

Inevitably, Erlendur’s work forces him to confront the causes as well as the consequences of people’s capacity for cruelty. That hardly makes for light reading, but I’m impressed that Indriðason presents this difficult material without turning us into voyeurs — which was my experience of reading The Girl on the Train, that it stimulated a kind of tasteless curiosity about how bad things were or might get. There’s nothing prurient about Silence of the Grave. There’s nothing slick or glamorous about its violence or its story, either. Indriðason lets it all be ugly, which is horrible but also true. I might be reluctant to read another of his books, though, if he hadn’t ended this one with just a hint of hope.

5 thoughts on ““Links with the Past”: Arnaldur Indriðason, Silence of the Grave

  1. Ludwig Richter August 19, 2015 / 11:55 am

    You might also try Icelandic crime novel writer Yrsa Sigurdardottir, whose novels feature a lawyer named Thora Gudmundsdottir. My favorite is The Day is Dark, set on the coast of Greenland.


    • Rohan Maitzen August 19, 2015 / 12:35 pm

      Thank you! I’ll look into them — though I do feel like I need a break from grim northern noir for a little while.


  2. lawless August 19, 2015 / 12:08 pm

    If I’d been able to find the card that lets me borrow from any of the libraries in the county as if it were my library, this is the Indridason I would have checked out. Bummer. (My home library has exactly zero books by Idridason.)

    I know I had the card the last time I went to my current library because I asked them about it. Maybe I left it there, but as I don’t think my name is on it, I don’t have high hopes of recovering it. I will have to find out how to replace it.


    • Rohan Maitzen August 19, 2015 / 12:36 pm

      That’s so annoying! I hope you find or replace your card soon. My library system has a couple of his recent books available in their e-book collection too: I find that very convenient (though the selection is often quite limited) because I don’t even have to leave the house to get them!


  3. Dorian August 19, 2015 / 2:31 pm

    Terrific review that really does this book justice. (As I recall I bought my copy at the Book Mark in Halifax several years ago…) Indridason is in a class all his own, IMO.

    My wife is going through an intense Sigurdardottir phase right now. I’ve only read The Day is Dark, but had mixed feelings about it. I gather the recent ones are the best. They’re dark-ish, but nothing like Indridason.


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