Hypothermia, by Arnaldur Indridason

Iceland is a strange, austere and beautiful place. And the prize winning Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason is some ways like his country – strange and surprising, somewhat austere in his writing style, but beautiful as well, with an ability to evoke sentiments and create a desire to read his stories.  And Erlendur – the detective in this and the other books in the Reykjavik Murder Mystery series – is Indridason and Iceland as well – thoughtful, compassionate, with some strong inbuilt desire to resolve old criminal cases and disappearances. And as usual, the inter linkages between past and present and perhaps even reality and supernatural, complex as they may be, are made gradually explicit, exposed and made understandable as we follow this strange yet so likable man in his investigation and his somewhat deductive but so complex reasoning in this mystical, magical tour of a story.

In Hypothermia Erlendur’s gloomy, perhaps even somewhat miserable life is showing signs of improving. He seems to be finally moving on from his infernal diet of micro waved food. As well, there are at least some signs that there may be improvements ahead for his children. But Erlendur – and we know him well by now – seems to have a need for misery and mystery. And this time he finds mystery at many levels.

This time it is a strange suicide in beautiful lakeside surroundings that starts the detective from Reykjavik pondering. A woman is found hanging from a beam in her summer cottage. It is a straightforward suicide – that’s not where the mystery is.

The mystery – perhaps fascination is a more appropriate description – starts when a friend of the woman gives Erlendur a tape of a séance attended the dead woman, where she tried to communicate with her mother and learn about the world beyond. As we know Erlendur has a deep need to know and understand, and now he feels a need to understand what it was that made this woman commit suicide.

Erlendur examines and reflects on the woman’s obsessions. As it turns out, the search for an answer to this case and a couple or other, seemingly unrelated cases, brings him far into the depths of his own personal history and the event that more than any other he needs to understand and make sense of – the loss of his young brother in a blizzard.

Hypothermia, excellently translated by Victoria Cribb, is beautifully written, moves at a pleasing speed, and is full of interesting observations. It is more than just another crime fiction book – it is also a book sentiments; love, loss, longing. It tells sad stories without happy endings, but in a remarkable and very insightful fashion. One of the very appealing aspects of this book is how the psyche of the detective – Erlendur – which has evolved and emerged gradually in the series, is also at the same time a constituent in both the mystery and it’s “solution”.

Hypothermia is, to my mind, the best novel so far in one of the best modern crime fiction series. A lovely book.


“This series places Indriðason at the center of the best of contemporary crime fiction. He is a master storyteller, and has a real gift for evoking complex humanity.”

— The Guardian

“Inspector Erlendur is one of the most compassionate detectives to come this way in a long time.”

— The New York Times

“One of those crime writers who rises above genre, combining suspense with moving insights into the human condition.”

— Sunday Times

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