Review: Silenced

Sólveig Pálsdóttir – Silenced (Blog Tour)

Author Sólveig Pálsdóttir

Published by Corylus Books, ebook (£3.79 on Amazon Kindle at the time of review). Translated by Quentin Bates. I received a copy of the novel from the publisher for review purposes. Many thanks to Ewa Sherman for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.

First, the official blurb: As a police team is called in to investigate a woman’s suicide at the Hólmsheiði prison outside Reykjavik, 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 Kristin Kjarr’s troubled background, and why she had found herself in prison. His search leads him to a series of brutal crimes committed 20 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 Reykjavik police struggle to deal with a spate of fresh attacks that bear all the hallmarks of a copycat.

Andrea, half-dozing alone on her balcony in the Reykjavik sun, recalls another much sunnier day with her family, spoiled only by a persistent cockroach. What an unsettling little scene to open a novel with! Unsettling too is the fact one of her brothers, Jóhannes, went missing during an earthquake just a few weeks later, his body never found.

The sense of clashing realities continues as Andrea (who ostensibly makes her living as a social media influencer) carefully arranges a “spontaneous” tableau of champagne and sun cream on her balcony to post a photo online – then receives a message containing a video of clearly distressed woman swallowing pills. Disturbed by the video and her memories, when her new neighbour, Guðgeir Fransson, knocks on her door to borrow a hammer, on discovering he is a police detective Andrea finds herself telling him about her brother’s case.

When Guðgeir is called to investigate a suicide in a woman’s prison – who managed to find and swallow a large amount of pills – he is very interested in the fact that the woman, Kristin, has paintings and sketches all over her cell walls, many of them portraits of a man who looks very like Andrea’s remaining brother, Daði. Guðgeir becomes more and more interested in the links between Kristin and Andrea’s family, which turn out to be more complex and deeper than he first thought – they go back two decades, to when Kristin was Jóhannes’ girlfriend, and to why they split up and the family’s response.

As he and his team dig deeper into why Kristin took her own life, colleagues are investigating a series of brutal rapes in the city, including one victim that is particularly close to home. They discover that some years ago, there were a similar series of rapes by a man who was never caught. Is this a copycat? And how can they catch him when he is so careful about forensic traces? 

I have not read the previous novel in the series, The Fox, but while you gain depth from reading more in a series, I didn’t feel I was missing anything about Guðgeir and those around him, with family and colleagues, and his relationships with each, being deftly drawn in just enough detail to round them out as people without slowing the plot (a nod here to Quentin Bates for his smooth, unshowy translation skills which also keep things moving along nicely).

The reveal is cleverly played out, and the ending was definitely not expected – and it’s satisfyingly sharp, too. Some characters will have to live with what they did or didn’t do; some will be able to shut the door and move on, as there’s a feeling of closure in among the loose ends.

This isn’t the novel to pick up if you want to read about Iceland’s landscape, history or folklore. The country is the backdrop, but Sólveig Pálsdóttir is firmly focused on her characters and their interaction. Kristin did not have an easy life, relationships with her family and with men both being difficult. Andrea has an uneasy relationship with Daði, and the pressures to be perfect and yet attainable, to be the successful “influencer”, are starting to show. Pálsdóttir has a sharp eye for both the false images presented and the effect on those posting them. 

Money. Power. Family. Connections. With power you can control people, manipulate situations, turn events to your liking and outcomes to ones that benefit and protect you. Can those without power ever win it, and wield it, even briefly? Perhaps, if they battle wisely. Though the fact Andrea has a voice but does not use it, and Kristin was desperate to speak but was never heard remind us that things are never so simple or fair as we would wish them to be.

This is on the one hand a fresh take on the police procedural, and on the other a thriller that deals with themes that will chime in particular with women readers: pressures from family and society, online and offline, expectations of how to look and behave – and the punishing disapproval for those who do not yield. Pálsdóttir has carved her way to the heart of the matter boldly but sympathetically. She pulls no punches in showing the impact of violence, but never goes into gratuitous detail about that violence. It’s sometimes a tough read because of its themes, but reality is tough, and I believe crime writers who ignore reality do readers a disservice.

Overall it’s a thoughtful, striking read. I shall be going back to catch up with The Fox soon, and look forward to seeing what Pálsdóttir and Corylus will bring us next.

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. Silenced is the second of her novels to be published in English by Corylus Books after The Fox in 2020. Silenced received the 2020 Drop of Blood award for the best Icelandic novel of the year and is the country’s nomination for the 2021 Glass Key award for the best Nordic crime novel of the year. Sólveig lives in Reykjavík.

You can follow the author on Twitter here: @solveigpals
Find her website at: http://solveigpalsdottir.is/

Don’t forget to check out the other reviews from those taking part in the blog tour!

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