It also marks the first consistent statement of protagonist Erlendur Sveinsson's (and his creator's) equivocal feelings about postwar Iceland and their place in it, a preoccupation that has remained through the subsequent novels:
"[Erlendur] had been born elsewhere and considered himself an outsider even though he had lived in the city most of his life and had seen it spread across the bays and hills as the rural communities depopulated."The novel is a story of domestic abuse in the past and its echoes and consequences in the present, and if you even think of rolling your eyes, then you haven't read the book. Not only is Arnaldur unsparing in his description of the abuse, he has a character remark the woeful blandness of the term domestic abuse, its insufficiency to describe acts of such enormity. (I wonder that the Icelandic term is and what its connotations are.)
Arnaldur also has a way of investing crime-fiction conventions with resonance they lack elsewhere. The protagonist whose personality clashes, sometimes humorously, with a colleague's is one such convention. Here, a human skeleton uncovered under grimly humorous circumstances triggers the investigation. The burial, it transpires, may be decades old. For Erlendur, haunted in his personal and professional lives, the past is a constant presence. His colleague Sigurdur Óli is of no such gloomily poetic temperament:
"`All these people are dead and buried long ago,' Sigurdur Óli said wearily. `I don't know why we're chasing them.'"Erlendur knows why.
(Here's what the Crime Writers' Association said when it awarded Silence of the Grave its Gold Dagger for best crime novel in 2005.)
© Peter Rozovsky 2009