“The Silence of the Sea” by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

The Silence of the SeaI’ve always been fascinated by missing-person cases—is it possible for someone to just disappear without a trace? In real life, of course, many of these mysteries are never solved, which is why novels about missing people are so satisfying. By the end, you always find out what happened, and why.

In the case of The Silence of the Sea, you have several missing people: the crew and passengers aboard a luxury yacht that was making its way from Portugal to Iceland. The yacht had been repossessed after the owner went bankrupt; it was expected to land in Iceland with seven people aboard. Ægir, a member of the resolution committee working to reclaim the valuable asset, was on board, along with his wife and twin daughters. However, when it crashed into the harbor, it soon became apparent that not a single soul was on the yacht.

Reykjavik lawyer Thora Gudmundsdóttir is hired by Ægir’s parents, Margeir and Sigridur, who were babysitting their toddler granddaughter while their son took the rest of his family to Lisbon. It seemed like a great opportunity for a getaway; Ægir would take care of the business involving the yacht while his wife and daughters enjoyed sunny Portugal, and then they would all fly back to Iceland. But when one of the vessel’s crew members was sidelined with a broken leg, Ægir volunteered to replace him. After all, there would be plenty of room aboard for his family.

It turns out to be the cruise from hell, as one thing after another goes horribly, tragically wrong. The book alternates chapters about Thora’s investigation (the grandparents need to find out if their son and his wife are indeed dead in order to resolve custody issues involving the toddler) with flashbacks documenting the doomed voyage.

You don’t get the full “what happened and why” picture until the final page of the book, and getting there can be a bit of a slog; there are several very odd translation errors (for instance, one character says, “We’re doing our nuts here over the lack of information”), and the alternating-chapter structure of the book sometimes slows its momentum. The solution to the mystery is quite ingenious, however, and the ending is as bone-chilling as an Icelandic winter.