Loved the premise; loved the outcome; loved the atmosphere.

‘The Silence of the Sea’ is apparently Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s sixth novel featuring lawyer Thora Gudmundsdottir, but it worked perfectly well as a standalone. I like a story where the main focus is on the current investigation, rather than on the protagonist’s current life issues, and this story definitely does that. (There is a minor story thread involving Thora’s son, but it doesn’t impinge on the main plot.)

What’s it about?

When a luxury yacht crashes into a port in Reykjavik, those waiting ashore are stunned to discover it is completely unmanned. What happened to the crew and – more perturbingly for the loving parents / grandparents waiting on the quayside – what happened to the family of four who were travelling onboard?

When Thora is hired by the missing family’s parents to investigate their disappearance, she finds further mysteries. Where is Karitas, glamorous young wife of the yacht’s former owner? Whose is the body that has washed up further along the shore? With everyone on board missing, can anyone ever discover the truth about events on board?

What’s it like?

Atmospheric. Chilling. Cleverly plotted.

After a dramatic prologue starring the deserted yacht, Sigurdardottir moves back and forth between two timeframes: the investigation, which mostly consists of Thora processing paperwork and talking to people about what might have happened to the passengers, and the fateful trip itself, from the moment the family board in Lisbon. The two narratives work well together as the events in Thora’s timeline provide welcome respite from the intensity of the scenes on the ship, and, as the paranoia on the ship ratchets up, the rate of Thora’s discoveries increase…

The conclusion arrives in a slightly jarring manner – there is an abrupt realisation, then an oddly anticlimactic chapter in which Thora lays out the conclusions she has been able to reach. It feels a little like, after so many pages of investigation and fear, Sigurdardottir ran out of wordcount and wanted to wrap everything up quickly. Equally, as we have always seen the investigation purely through Thora’s eyes, the ending makes sense in context. Although Thora is a lawyer, the methodical way she examines the case and the interactions she has with the police gives this the feel of a police procedural. Evidence must be procured, sifted through and assessed before any conclusions are reached. Once again, this is a good contrast to the chapters set on board the ship, where the action develops in a rather more chaotic fashion!

Finally, there is a chapter which feels like an epilogue and neatly addresses some outstanding mysteries. I do love a satisfying conclusion, especially when you can look back over the story for the clues you missed along the way and enjoy the way everything – even tiny details – slots into place.

Final thoughts

I have seen Sirgurdardottir speak on book panels and, when she says she is not afraid to kill off her characters, she means it! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. The central mystery hooked me in and I loved the way that even though certain events are, obviously, extraordinary, the story itself feels so real still as the characters find themselves thinking, If I hadn’t done x, I wouldn’t be enduring y… Similarly, I liked the way that the reader knows more than the story’s chief investigator by the story’s end – but still not every little detail. The truth doesn’t always come to light!

The relationships between the characters were convincing, especially the characters on the boat as their sleep deprivation escalated… Even Bella, Thora’s unhelpful admin assistant, turns out to have a use beyond the mere secretarial (which presumably explains why Thora hasn’t fired her yet) which means she’s a good foil to her boss.

This is the second book I’ve read by Yrsa Sigurdardottir* and I am really looking forward to reading more by her.

‘The Silence of the Sea’,
Yrsa Sigurdardottir,
2014, Hodder & Stoughton, paperback, translated by Victoria Cribb

* I previously read and enjoyed ‘The Legacy‘, which was also a very gripping and very well constructed story.