Wednesday, May 04, 2011
Finnish noir in German: Silence, by Jan Costin Wagner
Silence is the second of Jan Costin Wagner's crime novels featuring detective Kimmo Joentaa to be translated into English (by Anthea Bell). Wagner divides his time between his native Germany and his wife's native Finland, and his familiarity with Joentaa's country results in a vivid and unforced evocation of the place.
Silence, though, is very much a psychological story, told in looping intertwined narratives that go backward and forward in time, recapitulating events not so much from a factual standpoint as in terms of emotional reality. Joentaa continues to deal with the death of his wife (a major theme in Ice Moon, the first Joentaa book), but his pain is joined here by that of his former partner, now retired, who is obsessed with the unsolved case (33 years before) of a murdered teenage girl.
Another girl disappears in the same location, and her parents' pain is linked to the ongoing pain of the first girl's mother.
And as in Ice Moon, we see a perpetrator's mind from the inside, though in this case it's a witness who could have stopped the murder of the girl but didn't. His guilt and compulsion is another of the very strong emotional patterns of the book. We also see something of the life of the actual murderer, though he is affectless and doesn't actually participate in the maelstrom of the story's narrative.
Silence is an unconventional crime novel and presents difficult emotional states on the part of several characters, but Wagner's writing (and Bell's translation) carries the book forward and keeps the reader interested. There is a sort of resolution at the end, yet the reader knows more than any of the characters (literary irony), maintaining the emotional rather than literal truths of the story.
I'm pasting in the U.K. and forthcoming U.S. covers, as well as the German cover. The U.K./Harvill Secker cover (which has some similarity to the French cover I haven't pasted in) is, I think, the truest to the character of the book.