A review of The Silence of the Sea, by Yrsa Sigurdardottir
When a luxury yacht crashes into the harbour wall in Reykjavik, the police are surprised to find it empty. Where are the crew and the young family who boarded the yacht in Lisbon for the journey back to Iceland?
Hired by the parents of one of the missing men, lawyer Thora Gudmundsdottir must investigate the case and determine what happened to passengers and how they could simply vanish. But her case is complicated by the mystery surrounding the glamorous wife of the yacht’s former owner and the boat’s sinister reputation.
Warning – this is a hard book to review without a couple of spoilers.
I’ve always enjoyed crime fiction, especially Nordic noir. Yrsa Sigurdardottir is one of Iceland’s best known writers and I’ve read several of her previous novels, but I think this is my favourite. The premise for this book was particularly intriguing and I wasn’t disappointed.
This novel unfolds slowly, in alternating chapters, each one revealing something about what happened on board the ship, before returning to the onshore investigation. It owes much to Agatha Christie’s thriller And Then There Were None, providing plenty of twists and shocks before the final payoff.
What makes the story all the more shocking is the juxtaposition of murder alongside cosy domestic routine, as lawyer Thora’s family dramas are woven in with the main mystery. This has the effect of making some of the dramatic events more unreal, just as they would feel to those investigating the case.
This element of unreality is heightened by the ghost stories that surround the ship and throughout the book it feels that the story could go in a number of very different directions.
When we’re introduced to life on board the Lady K, the atmosphere is immediately uncomfortable. Banker Aegir has been tasked with overseeing the return of the yacht from Portugal after it was repossessed. When one of the crew members suffers an unfortunate accident, Aegir is roped into taking his place and brings his family along for the ride, expecting a pleasure cruise on a luxury yacht. Yet the captain and crew are openly hostile, doubting his ability and scornful of his lack of experience. And the failure of the ship’s radio as they leave port makes everyone on board uneasy. That feeling only intensifies after a series of frightening occurrences take place.
The fact that there are children on board the ship does add another dimension to the story and stops it from becoming a horror thriller. The author focuses on Aegir, who is a decent man caught up in a bizarre situation and far from his usual comfortable environment. Being aboard a yacht crewed by hardened sailors more used to life on a fishing trawler only makes his feelings of inferiority deepen. He’s keen to prove himself and that sees him make reckless choices that put his family in danger.
But it’s not only Aegir’s desire to impress that proves his undoing, it’s also the family’s lust for a luxury travel experience. This books proves that wealth and glamour can come at a price and there is often ugliness lurking beneath the beautiful veneer.
A mysteriously abandoned ship makes for a claustrophobic set up for a crime thriller and this book builds up to a chilling conclusion that will linger with the reader. There are a couple of moments that feel a little too convenient, but overall this is an engaging and, at times, horrifying tale of isolation and threat at sea.
Find out more:
The Silence of the Sea on Goodreads
The Silence of the Sea on Amazon (affiliate link)