Ever since visiting Iceland in 2013, I can’t help but read Icelandic mysteries as a means of teleporting back to the streets of downtown Reykjavik, walking down Laugavegur and Skólavörðustígur, the immensely colorful houses, hilly roads and exceptionally hip young mothers. Reading the books of my favorite Icelandic author, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir has never left me in want of a better mystery and The Silence of the Sea is one of her best to date.
In the sixth installment of the Thóra Gudmundsdóttir Icelandic mystery series, the novel opens with a luxury yacht pulling into an Icelandic harbor as the relatives of a family with two small twin girls anxiously await, only to find the vessel completely deserted. We are then taken on a deft and suspenseful journey by way of alternating chapters from the points of view of the family whose fate we have yet to learn, and lawyer turned amateur sleuth, Thóra Gudmundsdóttir. The details of the mystery unfold bit by bit as bankruptcy, an Icelandic socialite with an elderly husband, family secrets and several possible phantoms are thrown in the mix, leaving you guessing, and thankfully clueless, until the end. If you’ve followed the series, though it’s not necessary to enjoy the story, the same cast of characters that fleshes out Thora’s family and work life returns, including her now live-in love interest, German ex-pat Matthew, her barely out of high school son with girlfriend and new baby in tow, and of course, her assistant Bella who is annoyingly forced upon Thora through a contract snafu ensuring that she comes with the building in which Thora rents to practice law.
Sigurðardóttir’s writing is rock solid; the way that she builds the story from slow burn to twisted finish, withholding enough details along the way to keep you in constant, blissful suspense, and this latest in the Gudmundsdóttir series is no exception. She writes with steady characterization, giving us what’s essential to illuminate the personalities and lives of the characters without tending toward verbose details that sometimes mar the flow of the story. Sigurðardóttir’s portrayal of Thóra and how she relates to the world around her is truly the heart of each novel as she constantly evolves as the series advances. Thóra is different than most mystery archetypes, there are no cliches, private dick personas, or brooding, misunderstood types. She’s someone who you want to know, or probably already have in your life: she’s a single mom who’s attempting to juggle her career as a lawyer, her two children and new grandchild while trying to maintain a sense of levity about it all, as well as some semblance of a dating life. Another appeal of Sigurðardóttir’s writing is how she uses Iceland to set the tone, which perfectly lends itself to the mystery genre with an oftentimes supernatural presence, with its grey, cold and desolate atmosphere.
Whether or not you’ve visited Iceland, the descriptions take you on an armchair travel to another country, and a world where you just might believe in the supernatural and that the good guy, or rather gal, exists and has your back.