#9 Jan Costin Wagner / Silence

Jan Costin Wagner, Silence, translated from the German by Anthea Bell (London: Vintage 2011 [2007]). The second novel in the Kimmo Joentaa series. An absorbing police procedural and a sensitive portrayal of grief  5 stars


Opening sentence: The time came when they got into the little red car and drove away.

I wrote a short but enthusiastic post on Jan Costin Wagner’s Ice Moon back in March. While German by nationality (and writing in German), Costin Wagner is an honorary Finn by marriage, and appears to have acquired the stylistic DNA of nordic crime in the process. His police detective Kimmo Joentaa convincingly goes about his business in and around the Finnish city of Turku, and little within the narrative hints at the fact that its author was actually born and brought up in Frankfurt, nearly 1500 kilometers to the south-west.

Silence is the second in the Kimmo Joentaa series. The first, Ice Moon, depicted the harrowing weeks following the death of Kimmo’s young wife Sanna, and his desperate attempts to manage his grief by throwing himself into police-work. Silence is set a year or so later, and continues the sensitive exploration of Kimmo’s grief, as well as other kinds of grief felt by those around him, such as the parents of those who have disappeared or been murdered, or the former work colleague trying to communicate with his gravely troubled child.

When I’ve read an outstanding first novel, I’m often a bit wary of reading the second in the series, in case it doesn’t live up to the high standards of its predecessor. But Silence does a fantastic job of picking up the threads of Ice Moon, while developing the characterisation of the investigative team and providing the reader with an aborbing new crime narrative. In particular, the developing relationship between Joentaa and his recently retired and rather curmudgeonly boss, Ketola, is very nicely handled.

The novel’s investigation centres on the sudden disappearance of a teenager on her way to volleyball practice. The girl’s bicycle is found in exactly the same spot where another girl was attacked and murdered thirty-three years earlier, raising the possibility of a belated copy-cat killing. The cold case, in particular, has haunted Ketola, who was involved in the original investigation at the beginning of his career, and who now employs some rather unorthodox methods in his attempts to uncover the truth. In common with Ice Moon, the narrative also shows events from the perspective of the perpetrator, allowing readers to gain insights into the circumstances of the crime that are denied even Joentaa and Ketola. By employing this dual narrative structure, the novel succeeds in both satisfying the reader and in providing a thoughtful, nuanced, and rather disturbing conclusion to the case.

The third novel in the series, The Winter of the Lions, has just been published in translation by Vintage.

Mrs. Peabody awards Silence a classy 5 stars.

13 thoughts on “#9 Jan Costin Wagner / Silence

  1. Very nice review. I like this series very much too, though I thought that the character of the boss was not so good in this book – he was so hilariously splenetic in Ice Moon. I also was a bit disappointed in the denouement of this novel (did not quite seem to add up psychologically to me). But these are quibbles, it is a very good series and I enjoy reading them very much.

    • Thanks, Maxine. It’s a little while since I read Ice Moon, so will have to go back and refresh my memory of Ketola’s characterisation there. But his portrayal in Silence didn’t strike me as jarring with the earlier portrayal in IM, and I liked the depiction of his relationship with his son. I thought the denouement worked well (will have to discuss this in more depth with you elsewhere to avoid spoilers!) – and liked in particular that not all ends were wrapped up for the investigators – closer to reality than many other crime novels which show the whole truth of a crime being revealed. Looking forward to number 3 already 🙂

  2. Have to put these on my TBR list.
    By the way, the 12th episode of The Killing U.S. was quite good. It overcame the insipid 11th episode. And I realize how superb is the actress who plays Sara Linden, not to mention the entire cast. One more episode to go, and then all of us here who are fascinated by the series go into post-series-depression.

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  6. Did you know ‘The Silence’ has been filmed? No neither did I. I found out when the latest Movie Mail catalogue arrived, it’s set ingermany not Finland, which is a disappointment. Any way they
    give it a good review, plus it’s on sale at£5.99. Needles to say I’ve put my order in. Anyone who is
    interested, just go to moviemail.com, I’ve used them for15 years or more, recommend them.
    More film film news, the two Leif Persson books that have been published here, plus the concluding book in the so called trilogy, only 2 actually deal with the Palme killing, the film rights
    have been bought by Nordska films, so hopefully if filmed, we will get to see them.
    The publication rights for ‘The Dying Detective’ have been sold for England, would think it’ll
    be out in 2014, after that who knows, will we get his books from 80’s & 90’s?

    • Thanks, Brian. I’ve actually got the film version of The Silence sitting on my shelf at home waiting to be viewed! It looks very atmospheric, but I didn’t realise it relocates to Germany. Intriguing, and makes some sense, I suppose, given the author’s German background. Thanks too for the Persson update – can’t wait for more, and will be very intrigued to see how the film adaptations turn out.

  7. Pingback: Film of Jan Costin Wagner’s The Silence on BBC4 tonight (Saturday 23 March) | Mrs. Peabody Investigates

  8. Thanks for your well-written article. As a review it succeeds in many ways not least of which is to make me add this book (and Ice Moon) to my to-reads. I have to admit I came by this by learning about the movie (also through you). Thanks again!

    • You’re very welcome, Jeremy. It’s a wonderful series, and I hope you enjoy them. Start with Ice Moon if possible, as I think this will give you a better understanding of Joentaa’s character.

  9. Pingback: Deutschi Crime Night and the ‘Crime Fiction in German’ volume | Mrs. Peabody Investigates

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