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By Arnaldur Indri–ason
Translated by Victoria Cribb
Picador, October 2011 ($15.00)
Kindle eBook: $9.99
Reviewed by Larry Jung
Arnaldur Indri–ason is an award winning crime writer from Iceland. JAR CITY and SILENCE OF THE GRAVE, both part of the Inspector Erlendur series, were awarded the prestigious Glass Key Award for best Nordic crime novel. JAR CITY was made into a film and was Iceland's entry in 2008 for the Academy Awards category of best foreign film. Indri–ason is one of the most popular authors in his native Iceland. HYPOTHERMIA is the sixth book in the Inspector Erlendur series.
A woman is found hanging in a lakeside vacation cottage outside of Reykjavik. The local police conclude there was no foul play, and that tragically, the woman took her own life. Inspector Erlendur is given the assignment to inform the dead woman's husband. But what should have been a routine visit and the end of Erlendur's involvement develops into a personal crusade on the policeman's part to discover the circumstances that led this woman to decide to hang herself. Erlendur doesn't know exactly why he needs to investigate a straightforward suicide. A colleague asks why Erlendur is investigating the hanging as if it were a murder. What is it to Erlendur? The Inspector replies he doesn't suspect she was murdered. He just needs to know why she committed suicide, though it has nothing to do with him.
This comes at a time when he is visited by the father of a young man who went missing decades ago. Erlendur was one of the original policemen who investigated the disappearance but to this day, what happened to the son is a mystery. The parents used to drop by to find out from Erlendur if there was any news on their son. Husband and wife came together and when the wife died, the husband came alone. Now the man is dying from emphysema and this is his last visit. This spurs Erlendur to actively go over this case and two other missing persons cases that happened at the same time. He wants to provide the father with some sort of closure before the father dies. And what about the suicide? For him a suicide is a missing-person case, too.
Erlendur knows how the missing haunt those left behind. The questions of why, where are they now, and how did they go missing never leave the minds of those left behind. His brother went missing when Erlendur was a boy. The two boys and their father were separated in a fierce blizzard. Erlendur was found nearly dead from hypothermia. The father literally crawled his way home. Erlendur's brother was never found. Erlendur carries this trauma and knows the desperate need for closure, if even only to find a body.
Though the case is closed, new circumstances come to light that the woman who hung herself might have been driven to taking her own life. Erlendur takes up following up these leads, but unofficially. He makes up a white-lie that he is gathering information for a national study of suicides. Though he comes across as gloomy, he impresses those he interviews as trustworthy and his persistence uncovers some disturbing facts. He is drawn into the world of sťances and life-after-death experiences; the need to reach across to the other side to affirm, apologize, reconcile.
It begins to dawn on Erlendur that there may be a common element in the three missing persons cases and the current hanging-suicide. Was it a coincidence that the lakes around Reykjavik keep coming up?
The character of Detective Inspector Erlendur is appealing. He is described by those who know him as gloomy but trustworthy. Though he can't sort out his own failed marriage and his failure as a father, he has patience and empathy for those who need his help. Unlike his colleagues, each case is important because each case involves people who feel love, loss, hate, rage, fear, and helplessness. They were not a just a case load or faceless people lumped together as members of the underclass, as Erlendur's police colleague Sigurdur ”li would often say of druggies, uneducated employees, criminals, shop assistants, laborers — pretty much any one who Sigurdur dislikes for whatever reason. Above all Erlendur feels deep in his bones the human desire to know what happened and perhaps why it happened. This is the same desire that keeps a father coming back to see Erlendur for thirty years even though both know his missing son is long since dead.
I highly recommend HYPOTHERMA. Arnaldur Indri–ason's spare prose and narrative skill elegantly evokes the bone-chilling landscape of Reykjavik and the haunting ghosts of past wrongs. The pace of the story is relentless as clues start to come together. At the end of the book comes the revelation that absolute love has the power to destroy those you love the most. HYPOTHERMIA is a powerful story that probes the emotions of loss, regret, and unrequited love.
Books in the Detective Inspector Erlendur series.
THE DROWNING LAKE
SILENCE OF THE GRAVE
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