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SILENCED
by Kristina Ohlsson and Sarah Death, trans.
Emily Bestler Books/Atria, March 2013
352 pages
$25.00
ISBN: 143919890X


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The Ahlbin family, father a vicar, mother a cantor in the Church of Sweden, both in their sixties, two daughters in their thirties, seems to have presented a most misleading façade to the outside world. Despite all their apparent respectability, the father appears to have killed his wife and himself while suffering from a bout of the depression from which he had suffered all his life, his crisis evidently precipitated by his daughter's death from a heroin overdose. His other daughter is nowhere to be found.

The other immediate case for the federal investigation service is that of an unidentified (and, it will prove, very hard to identify) pedestrian, the victim of a hit and run accident. Frederika Bergman, in the midst of a pregnancy that is proving difficult, is tasked with sorting this one out.

On the face of it, the two events would seem to have nothing to do with one another. But as the team looks further into the Ahlbin case, they are confronted with a number of questions that lead them away from the original murder/suicide conclusion. And the remaining daughter remains stubbornly absent. Ultimately, the trail will lead as far as Bangkok before coming home to roost in Stockholm.

Ohlsson unfolds her narrative in a series of alternating chapters from various points of view. We are treated to vignettes involving copshop politics and the conflict between two of the male investigators, scenes between Frederika and the father of her as yet unborn child (he is, predictably, married and considerably older than Frederika; he also loves his wife), the adventures of an unnamed woman in Bangkok in yet another version of "The Vanishing Lady" chestnut (that's the one where a young woman visiting Paris leaves her ailing mother in their hotel room and when she returns, the mother has vanished and no one admits to having ever seen either of the tourists before), and the sorrows of a young illegal immigrant from Iraq. The author manages to delay the revelation as long as she does by the irritating device of withholding vital information from the reader. An example, quite early on: The as yet unnamed female in Bangkok is having trouble reaching her parents in Sweden. There was, she thinks, "one more person she ought to be able to ring. Just to make sure everything was all right....Yet she still hesitated. They had not been close for several years now, and from what she had heard, he was in considerably worse shape than he had been then. On the other hand, she did not have many options left." The party answers. And then the chapter ends and we're back in Stockholm, having been privy to a conversation between someone whose name we do not know and someone to whom we have not been introduced.

The plot that Ohlsson develops is intended to trick and deceive, leading us down one long and winding garden path only to wind up in a different garden, but the devices she uses have been trotted out too often before. Nor are any of the characters particularly winning. Even the title seems essentially arbitrary, having little to do with the novel at hand or with the original Swedish. The chief attraction of this novel is incidental, lying in the details of a very Swedish way of dealing with crime. The translation, by the way, is very readable, though the US publishers do not see fit to credit it. The UK version, however, does feature the translator's name - Sarah Death, who has had a distinguished career as a translator of Scandinavian literature.

§ Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, March 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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