Arnaldur Indriðason – Hypothermia

One cold autumn night, a woman is found hanging from a beam at her holiday cottage. At first sight, it appears like a straightforward case of suicide; María had never recovered from the death of her mother two years previously and she had a history of depression. But then the friend who found her body approaches Detective Erlendur with a tape of a séance that María attended before her death and his curiosity is aroused.

Driven by a need to find answers, Erlendur begins an unofficial investigation into María’s death. But he is also haunted by another unsolved mystery ­­­- the disappearance of two young people thirty years ago – and by his own quest to find the body of his brother, who died in a blizzard when he was a boy. Hypothermia is Indriðason’s most compelling novel yet…

Hypothermia was one of the four books I won in a giveaway over at Floor to Ceiling Books. I chose to read this one first, because it was a slim book at 314 pages; it also proved a very entertaining read. It was my first non-US, UK or AU-situated crime novel and the experience was a pleasant surprise. Though at times it was a little strange, since it was at once familiar and foreign, and I kept tripping on the names trying to figure out their pronunciation – because, obviously, it’s just wrong if you pronounce them wrongly in your head – it was ultimately fun to find myself in such a different environment, both literally and figuratively.

What struck me most in comparison to the crime novels I’ve read most recently, though admittedly, it’s been awhile, was the slow start to the story and its pacing as a whole. It takes a while to even establish whether a crime has actually been committed. The case isn’t solved in a matter of days or even weeks, days may pass between one interview and the next; the missing persons cases that Erlendur pursues are even over thirty years old. The story depends far more on its psychological autopsy of what happened to María than on action-packed scenes chasing the bad guy down. This is enforced by the short flashback sequences interspersed in the novel which are told from María’s point of view. These show us events and motivations which at once clarify and obscure the investigation in the novel.

The main theme seems to be the need for closure. Closure on why María committed suicide, closure on what happened to Davíd and Dúna, and on what happened to Bergur, Erlendur’s brother. The need to know what happened to have peace is given face by both Davíd’s dying father and Erlendur’s memories of his own mother. It’s what drives the novel forward, not the need for justice or revenge as is so often the case. I found it refreshing and more true to life, in the end we all want to know what happened and why.

Hypothermia is book six in the Reykjavik Murder Mysteriesseries, but can be easily read as a standalone. At least, I don’t think I missed information to understand the novel and there isn’t really any referencing of earlier cases. The only situation where I felt prior knowledge of the other books could have provided clarification, was in the dynamic between Erlandur and his daughter Eva Lind. I found this relationship fascinating and it’s made me curious about what happened between them and why and to learn more about Eva Lind’s history.

In the end Hypothermia was an enjoyable, engrossing and fast read with an intricate plot that slots together in an unexpected but satisfying manner. It’s a great introduction to Scandinavian/Icelandic crime writing and it’s definitely made me look forward to reading more of it. If you are looking for a great winter read Hypothermia can definitely fill that spot.