Anticipated Books (Summer-Autumn) 2015: Science Fiction & Horror

2015Welcome to the third post in my Anticipated Books series for the second half of 2015. Today I bring you both my science fiction and my horror picks. For some of these I already have an (e)ARC or review copy, so they’ll definitely be read and reviewed. And for the rest, I’ll have to see whether I get the chance to get my hands on them!  Read More …

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.

Adam Thorpe – Hodd

Who was Robin Hood? A folk hero of Sherwood Forest who stole from the rich to give to the poor? The early ballads portray a quite different figure: impulsive, violent, vengeful, with no concern for the needy and no merry band.

Thus Hodd turns romantic legend on its head. The narrator, an elderly monk, recalls his boyhood as a minstrel in the greenwood, following a half-crazed bandit called Robert Hodd, who believed himself above God and beyond sin. But, as the monk slowly reveals Hodd’s true nature as a murderous felon, he must also wrestle with his own conscience, for it was his youthful ballads that elevated the outlaw into a popular hero.

When I started this book, I was confused for a minute. I thought the book was historical fiction, a retelling of the Robin Hood myth. If so, who then was this Francis Belloes and how come there where tons of footnotes? Of course, this is the central conceit of the novel: it is a translation by the aforementioned Francis Belloes of a far older manuscript. This manuscript is the autobiography of the monk mentioned in the blurb. So it is historical fiction, just done in a very clever way.

Before getting to the meat of the novel, I want to focus on the framework for a bit. This framework consists of the translator’s preface and the footnotes. I really thought these were well done. They made this book not just a historical novel of medieval times, but of World War I too. And the further the novel progresses, the more WWI intrudes into it through comments inserted into the footnotes by Belloes. The footnotes were the main reason I was confused at first. I looked some of them up and they all came out as existing titles, some of them even available from the library where I work! The amount of work that must have gone into researching not just Robin Hood and the medieval life, but into pre-Interbellum publications on Robin Hood-related texts and also WWI soldiers, is mind-boggling.

The story of Hodd isn’t so much about Robin Hood as much as it is about how the legend of Robin Hood was born. The novel’s narrator, a monk whose real name we never learn, was a minstrel before taking the cloth and through circumstance ends up part of Hodd’s gang. The novel is divided in four parts, much as our monk’s life was influenced by four masters. Only three masters are explicitly named, the hermit, Brother Thomas and Hodd, but one could name the Church as his final master under whose guidance he spent most of his days. Interspersed into the story of the monk’s time as Muche in Hodd’s band are his recollections of his previous masters. There are also some more theological contemplations, though never to excess as ‘Belloes’ has excised the largest part of these. The recollections provide an explanation of why he fell in with Hodd. They show how the monk felt himself superseded as first in his masters’ affections by new boys and feared abandonment. Hodd first makes him his first disciple and this lure proves too much for Muche.

While religion figures greatly in the story, it never becomes preachy. The religious outlook of the main character isn’t just due to his vocation as a monk; in the Middle Ages religion was the linchpin of most people’s existence. The book also shows the long overlap between Christianity and paganism in medieval times and the way people were still searching for what Christianity was exactly, resulting in various heresies, some of which are referenced in the book’s footnotes.

At the end of the book, the monk has come full circle and we’ve seen the birth of the Robin Hood saga as we know it. I truly enjoyed this book. While not a fast read, despite its slim 305 pages, it’s an engrossing one. It’s a fascinating look at how history can become legend and at the Middle Ages in all their rough, bleak glory.