Thursday 16 November 2023

Ten Years of the Petrona: THE SILENCE OF THE SEA by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, translated by Victoria Cribb

As it's the Iceland Noir festival at the moment, our fourth post on the first ten Petrona Award winners focusses on the Petrona Award 2015 winner THE SILENCE OF THE SEA by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, translated by Victoria Cribb and published by Hodder & Stoughton in 2014. 

Today we have a new piece, kindly donated by friend of the Petrona, author Margot Kinberg. Margot has recorded a video post for her In the Spotlight series on THE SILENCE OF THE SEA, and the text is also reproduced below.


For ten years, the Petrona Award has been given to the best in translated Scandinavian crime novels. The award was established to pay tribute to the late Maxine Clarke, who was a great friend to the genre, and particularly knowledgeable about Scandinavian crime fiction. Since its establishment, ten distinguished novels have won the award, and many others have gotten much-deserved recognition. I am privileged to be a part of the Petrona Award’s tenth anniversary commemoration, and In The Spotlight can only be improved by discussing Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s THE SILENCE OF THE SEA, translated by Victoria Cribb. This was the 2015 Petrona Award winner. 

As the novel opens, a luxury yacht crashes into a Reykjavík pier. Oddly enough, there’s no-one on board. There’s plenty of evidence that the yacht was occupied, but it’s empty now. It’s all over the news, so attorney Thóra Guðmundsdóttir is well aware of the incident when she gets a visit from Margeir Karelsson and his wife, Sigrídur Veturlidadóttir. It seems that their son Ægir, his wife Lára, and their twin daughters Arna and Bylgija were on board the yacht. They haven’t returned to their home, and there was no sign of them on the boat, so although there’s no incontrovertible evidence, Margeir and Sigrídur believe they’ve died. The only member of the family that’s left is Ægir and Lára’s baby daughter Sigga Dögg, who was staying with her grandparents. Now, Margeir and Sigrídur want help navigating the insurance paperwork that will provide a future for the baby. Thóra agrees to take their case, knowing that she will have to prove to the insurance company’s satisfaction that the policyholders are dead and did not commit fraud. 

Then, the body of one of the yacht’s crew members is discovered near the boat. The police begin a thorough investigation, and here, their interests align with Thóra’s. The goal in both cases is to find out what happened to the captain, the other crew member, and Ægir and his family. As the story goes on, we learn that the yacht had been en route from Lisbon to Iceland, and that the company Ægir worked for was handling the repossession of the yacht from its former owner. Little by little, Thóra talks to people who knew the family and the crew, as well as the yacht’s former owner, and she pieces the story together. And in the end, we learn what happened to the people on the yacht. 

The novel is told in alternating timelines, just a few days apart. In one timeline, Thóra talks to people, works with the police and other agencies, and finds out what she can. In the other, we follow along as Ægir and his family board the yacht and set off on their journey. As their trip continues, we learn what happened to everyone. Readers who dislike dual timelines will notice this. That said, each timeline change is set off with a change in perspective (mostly Ægir’s and Thóra’s), so readers know which timeline is being described.

The novel is atmospheric. The yacht trip is not the sun-drenched luxury experience that’s shown in brochures and travel advertisements. Without spoiling the story, I can say that there’s a strong sense of gathering menace. The tension is increased as it slowly becomes clear that some things are not what they seem, and that not everyone can be trusted. There is a sense of almost ghostlike eeriness, although there’s nothing paranormal in the novel. 

In keeping with that atmosphere, the novel is very sad. Learning the truth about what happened does not make anything alright again, and more than one family is left devastated. Although there isn’t gratuitous gore, this is not a light novel in which all is well at the end. 

Still, the novel does have some light moments. Thóra has an ongoing conflict with her assistant Bella, and that offers some funny comments and scenes. Fans of the series will be pleased to know that many of the regular characters, like Thóra’s partner Matthew, her children Gylfi and Sóley, and of course, Bella, make appearances in the story. In fact, in one sub-plot, Gylfi is on the brink of an important decision, and Thóra must reckon with his choice.

THE SILENCE OF THE SEA tells the eerie story of a family that takes what they think will be a straightforward, even fun, trip on a luxury yacht. It’s dark, but not completely bleak, and features characters whose fateful decisions turn out tragically. Have you read THE SILENCE OF THE SEA? What elements do you see in it?

Margot Kinberg @ Crime Writer Margot Kinberg

No comments:

Post a Comment