Hypothermia: An Icelandic Thriller
I first heard of Arnaldur Indridason during a conversation with the indefatigable Ali Karim, who writes for and is basically synonymous with a British crime fiction website known as SHOTS eZine (http://www.shotsmag.co.uk). After just a few visits there, I concluded that Ali is the world’s best source for mystery and thriller novels that either 1) have escaped my notice, or 2) have yet to be published in the United States. Accordingly, when Ali recommended JAR CITY, Indridason’s first novel translated into English, I jumped on it and have been catching up with his depressed and depressing creation, Reykjavik police inspector Erlendur, ever since. Indridason is considered to be the most popular author in Iceland, and, indeed, he moved onto my must-read list in short order. HYPOTHERMIA, Indridason’s latest effort to be translated (by Victoria Cribb, and major kudos to her), demonstrates why.
"Just about everyone in HYPOTHERMIA is a little bit off mentally, and Indridason does an incredible job of melding plot with character to create a bleak, gray storyscape that shimmers vaguely at the edges."
A disclaimer here: I like my fiction straight up bleak with a side of depression, and Indridason fills that order from beginning to end. Erlendur is driven, obsessed and seemingly incapable of joy. We find out why in HYPOTHERMIA, which delves deeply into Erlendur’s background (though I suspect there is more to come). Indridason, by the way, does a wonderful job bringing newcomers up to snuff on Erlendur and his lot, so don’t hesitate to jump into the new book with both feet. Just don’t plan on putting it down until you’re done.
HYPOTHERMIA begins with Erlendur being called to the scene of the suicide of a young woman named Maria. There is little question that the victim hung herself --- no sign of foul play exists, and she had been depressed since the death of her mother, to whom she was extraordinarily close, some two years previously. There is something about Maria’s death, though, that Erlendur cannot let go of.
In the meantime, he is confronted with two cold cases that have confounded him for almost a decade. One concerns a young man named David who seems to have disappeared into thin air. David’s father, who has kept in contact with Erlendur over the intervening decade, is now on his deathbed, and Erlendur feels pressured internally to resolve the mystery before the man passes on. The other involves the disappearance of a young woman who apparently climbed into her car one day and left her life behind. Both cases mirror an event in Erlendur’s own life that haunts him like a specter during his every waking moment and some of his sleeping ones as well, affecting his failed marriage, his children and his job.
At the same time, Erlendur is being pressured by his semi-estranged daughter to meet with his divorced wife, which he has no desire to do. As he presses ahead with his subtle yet incessant investigation into Maria’s death, incurring the irritation of his supervisor and the increasing anger of her husband, Erlendur confronts his own past and how it has affected the core of his being.
Just about everyone in HYPOTHERMIA is a little bit off mentally, and Indridason does an incredible job of melding plot with character to create a bleak, gray storyscape that shimmers vaguely at the edges. There is one moment in the final third of the book where Erlendur and his daughter are driving together and happen to encounter a young child. In two short sentences, Indridason demonstrates by way of reaction how Erlendur’s depression(?) appears to have been inherited or transferred by osmosis to his daughter. It’s a short scene, yet one of the most chilling in the novel, saying much about Erlendur without telling it. As portended by its appropriate title, HYPOTHERMIA is cold, dark and dangerous.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011