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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Silence of the Sea by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir

Minotaur Books, 336 pages (hardcover release date - 2/16/16), translated from Icelandic by Victoria Cribb

“Silence of the Sea” is the sixth book in the Thóra Gudmundsdóttir series set in Iceland. For the most part, the standing characters are described pretty well. The exception is the incompetent, belligerent secretary Bella. Throughout the book, if you don’t know what the background is, you will be wondering why attorney Thóra and her law partner don’t fire Bella. By my reckoning, she should have been fired at least eight times during the course of the book. So, as a favor to those of you who haven’t read her other books, here is a précis of Bella’s story. From “Last Rituals,” the first book in the series:

“When Thóra and her business partner, the older and more experienced Bragi, teamed up to open a legal firm together, they were so taken with the premises that they let the landlord add a proviso to the rental agreement: the firm would employ his daughter as a secretary. In their defense, they had no way of knowing what they were getting themselves into. The girl had a glowing recommendation from the estate agents who had rented there before them. Now, however, Thóra was convinced that the previous tenants had moved from the ideal location on Skólavördustígur solely to rid themselves of the secretary from hell.”

Now we can move forward.

Thóra is hired by the parents of a man presumed lost at sea. When a yacht is repossessed by a financial institution, its representative, Ægir*, takes advantage of the inability of one of the crew members to make the sailing from Lisbon, Portugal, to Reykjavík, Iceland, and signs on for the missing crew member. Because he was using the occasion to also take a family vacation, he has his wife Lára and two of his three daughters with him. Even though Ægir has no particular expertise in sailing a yacht, the captain and two bona fide crew members seem to be all that is really needed.

The yacht shows up in Reykjavík, but there is no one aboard. The three crew members and Ægir and his family have disappeared. The communications and emergency equipment have been disabled. Then the dead bodies start appearing.

Karítas, the wife of the man who lost the yacht to debt, haunts the book with a heavy presence in absentia. She was famous for being famous. Many of her expensive clothes and personal belongings are still aboard the boat.

Thóra has been asked to help obtain the life insurance benefits for his parents to help with raising the youngest daughter, who was left at home with them. So Thóra somehow has to provide substantive proof that, absent bodies, Ægir and Lára are dead.

In alternating stories, we follow both Thóra’s investigation and the events on board the boat during its final days. Spooky things are afoot in both stories, and there are shivers as Thóra and others are at a loss to explain sights and occurrences.

Are all on board dead? What does Karítas have to do with any of it? Yrsa gives the chills along with the requisite thrills. And what I like about Yrsa is that her stories also contain humor (especially vis-à-vis the not-so-bella Bella). She provides the counterpoint to her fellow Icelander Arnaldur Indriðasson’s dour mysteries.

*Ægir’s last name is never given. In Iceland, last names are patrynomics or matrynomics. Giving last names is generally not as important as in other Western cultures. His last name is probably Margeirsson, based on his father’s name.