I like it when writers aren’t too set in their ways. Sólveig Pálsdóttir is happy to let her series of thrillers go where it may, in order to better explore the themes she’s interested in. Earlier, I wrote about The Fox, about the effects of isolation on mental health. Silenced, which follows directly on, explores power, coercion and the secrecy that arises from them.
The fortunes of a number of women are compared and contasted. Kristín Kjarr, a talented but troubled artist, commits suicide shortly before the end of a custodial spell. Andrea Eythórsdóttir is a social media influencer, bashing out insta stories like she’s going out of fashion. (She is.) Both women are battling addiction and both have been stopped from pursuing where their talents could have taken them. One of them has the outward facade of success, and Pálsdóttir invites us to think about how rotten a cover it really is.
This is the tale of two families, both dysfunctional and unpleasant. Neither family has supported Kristín or Andrea. Other siblings have been prioritised. Andrea was a witness to one of a series of crimes committed by one of her brothers who has since gone missing. She is not privy to what her family do in order to cover it up. We later find out that her life path has been altered without her consent or knowledge lest she accidentally blow the cover on the thing. Her surviving family seem to shout a lot and have a huge sense of entitlement. They are utterly odious and yet we can think of people in public life who seem to have similar characteristics albeit without the criminal activity. The crimes in Silenced are about power, too, some of the oldest crimes there are. These are described without sensation but with great effect: there is no need to explain every instance, but when the detective Elsa Guðrun is attacked and raped her trauma is described both sensitively and with a great impact on the reader. Translator Quentin Bates captures it all perfectly.
In contrast to Andrea and Kristín’s families, Pálsdóttir gives us Guðgeir Fransson, the detective. He’s back with his family after a year of estrangement. There are some warm scenes of domesticity and the kind of support and warmth that should be present in every family. What a treat Guðgeir is as a lead character. He was affected by his demotion and suspension a couple of novels ago, but has grace and class and I love to read about his tactics with suspects and how they contrast with the more haphazard style of his colleagues. A great creation: we want more from him.
We’re alongside Guðgeir and the rest as they receive clues and other information: we’re able to work out what’s going on and who’s committing the assaults, but that doesn’t mean we can predict the final twist. That twist again raises the issue of power. Who gets to decide what can be divulged? And is there a line beyond which family loyalty cannot follow? Without providing spoilers I can’t say too much about whether I thought the ending from Guðgeir and Guðrun’s perspective is realistic. But given that Pálsdóttir seems quite happy to include references to old crimes in subsequent books I wonder whether we will see these families return.
This is excellent fiction: angry, righteous fiction that speaks up for the powerless. More of this, please.
Thanks to Corylus Books for the review copy and to Ewa Sherman for the invitation to take part in the blog tour.