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Silenced by Kristina Ohlsson

Fifteen years ago a young girl was brutally attacked as she picked flowers in a meadow near her parents’ Swedish country home. The crime went unreported; the victim silenced.

Cut to the present. It is a bleak February morning in Stockholm, when Alex Recht’s federal investigation unit is assigned to two new cases. 

A man has been killed in a hit and run. He has no identification on him, he is not reported missing nor wanted by the police. Investigative Analyst Fredrika Bergman has the task of finding out who he is.

At the same time, a priest and his wife are found dead in their apartment. All evidence suggests that the priest shot his wife and the committed suicide. But is that all there is to it?

Two different cases, seemingly unrelated. But it is not long before the investigations begin to converge and the police are following a trail that leads all the way back to the ’90s, to a crime that was hushed-up, but whose consequences will reach further and deeper than anyone ever expected.

The cover of Silenced has a sticker on it that boldly proclaims “For fans of The Killing”. I’ve seen the television series and now that I’ve read the book, and had a good think about it, I’m inclined to agree. Both stories feature strong heroines who are outwardly tough but also exhibit an emotionally fragility. There are other similarities as well – both cover events in real time and focus quite heavily on the procedural components.

Ohlsson spends the time fleshing out the character of the various investigators. I particularly liked Peder Rydh specifically because he almost like a petulant child trapped in a grown-up’s body, good at police work but a spectacular failure at almost everything else. Nice to find a character in a novel that has such obvious failings. He is not prefect by any stretch of the imagination, is jealous of colleagues, throws the occasional strop and his attitude towards female co-workers is terrible. That said, all these faults make him all the more interesting to read. As the plot unfolds you get to learn exactly what makes all the team tick and there is valuable insight into their home lives. These aren’t just police men and women, they are people too. It’s probably fair comment that some may find this depth of detail too much or potentially distracting, but personally I felt it gave the story much needed human element. It helps to better understand various character motivations and makes them all seem that much more real.

Like the other experiences I’ve had with Scandinavian literature, Silenced starts off very small but quickly builds into something that manages to be thoroughly engrossing. I can understand why literature from this part of the world is gaining popularity here in the United Kingdom, I’ve not read a bad example yet. The likes of The Killing and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo have become a bona fide cultural phenomena and I don’t see why Silenced can’t follow suit. I’d certainly be interested in reading more novels featuring the same characters.

Ohlsson also manages to blend in elements from the political thriller genre into the mix. There are key scenes that take place abroad and some subtle social commentary regarding Swedish immigration policy. There are hints dotted throughout the narrative that there is something much larger going on and that the crimes are the tip of the iceberg but it is only toward the end of the story that all is revealed. These unexpected but welcome inclusions help to strengthen an already intriguing story. The skillful way that the seemingly disparate story threads eventually begin to weave together is very effective, and works well. The final revelations lead to a satisfying twisted conclusion.

If you like the sound of Silenced you may be interested to know that I’ve just had a little rummage around on Amazon and it appears Kristina Olhsson already has another title released, Unwanted.  This is a prequel to the events in Silenced and features some of the same characters. I think I may have to add it to my to read list.

Silenced is published by Simon and Schuster and is available from 30th August 2012.


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