We forget that we’re walking around on history. Our ancestors built many of the buildings. They walked around on the same streets. They’re buried under the ground. Arnaldur Indriðason’s Silence of the Grave reminds us of the stories that are hidden under our feet.
It begins with a bone. It is gruesomely being used as a teething toy by a baby. When a medical student discovers the rib bone at a child’s birthday part, he sets off the resurrection of a grim story from Second World War Iceland. A body, its hand reaching out as if trying to dig its way out, is found on a desolate hill top on the outskirts of Reykjavik. Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson and his team are called in to find out who the body was. A team of archaeologists set up shop, slowly uncovering the remains and sifting for forensic clues. At the same time, Indriðason tells the story of a woman who is so abused and terrorized by her husband that she can find no way out.
Indriðason shifts back and forth between the two tales, and adds a complication for Erlendur. The inspector’s daughter, Eva Lind, suffered placenta abruptio. Her child is stillborn and she is in a coma. The doctors don’t know when, or if, she’ll wake up. The doctors tell Erlendur that she can hear him if he talks to her. Lacking anything else to say, Erlendur tries to explain why he left his family so many years ago. He also talks about his case and his obsession with old missing persons cases.
While we learn more about Erlendur, Indriðason keeps his secrets about who is buried on the hill and what happened to the woman with the abusive husband until near the end of the book. I had no idea if that story would have a terrible ending or if, against all odds, the unnamed woman and her children manage to escape. I had to read the whole book in one sitting just to find out.
At the beginning of Silence of the Grave, Indriðason’s characters remark several times that Reykjavik’s sprawl is uncovering all sorts of secrets. Some would say that secrets are better left buried. Erlendur’s deputing, Sigurdur Óli, certainly agrees. Almost everyone involved is probably dead. With no one left to punish, what does it matter if the body is a murder victim or not? It’s a great question and I’m glad that Erlendur answers it the way I would have. No matter how long this person was buried or how they got there, their story should be told.