Thursday, 10 September 2009


It was Indridason who, in effect, broke the bank with the CWA Daggers; his win instigating a rule change restricting books in translation to their own foreign ghetto. From the Daggers point of view, this was probably a good thing, because Hypothermia is not only Indridason's best novel yet, it is the best one I've read so far this year, and will take some beating.

Hypothermia opens with a straight-forward suicide; a woman, despondent since the death of her mother, found hanging from a beam in her summer cottage. There is nothing suspicious about the death, but when one of her friends gives Erlendur a tape of a séance which the dead woman had attended, seeking to communicate with her mother and know about the world beyond, Erlendur becomes fascinated with her death and, on his own time, investigates what would have brought her to the point of suicide. Meanwhile, he is also re-opening a couple of old missing-person cases, because the father of one of them is dying.

Those who understand the tropes of crime fiction might immediately guess the cases are connected, but they are not, at least not in any forensic sense. But what connects them, besides Erlendur's one-track fixation on closing the cases, is the sense of understanding. The missing children are a boy and girl, and by this time in the series Erlendur's own missing children, a boy and girl, are back in contact with him. And of course the central event in his own past, the night when he and his brother were lost in a storm on Hardskafi mountain, and his brother never found, haunts him. In fact, the heart of the book may be when Erlendur finally reads to his daughter an account of his and his brother's disappearance, and the empty part of himself becomes sadly evident.Just as much as Maria, the woman who has hung herself, Erlendur is looking for an answer to questions which may be unanswerable, which is why he has devoted his life to seeking answers that can be found.

Which of course he will do here. The book is billed 'A Reykjavik Murder Mystery', and there is enough old-style detection here to make this story almost cosy, the tale of a cleverly-worked out killing. But there is nothing cosy about the heart of the novel, which is about the real way people react to death, and to loss, and the way a shutting down, or closing off, a coldness toward the world, can have intense consequences. This is one reason Hypothermia, which also presents a clue in the murder mystery, may be a better title for a book called Hardskafi in Icelandic. This is a book about emotion, about love, about loss, and about closure. It doesn't have a 'happy' ending, but it has the kind of ending that reflects exactly what it is saying about life and death. Indridason has been building to this point, carefully, with his previous books, yet you don't need to have followed them to appreciate this one. But Hypothermia will take on added reasonance if you have. It is a fine novel, the best yet in a very strong series, and as I said the best I've read thus far this year.

by Arnaldur Indridason
translated by Victoria Cribb

Harvill Secker £11.99 ISBN 9781846552625

NOTE: This review will also appear at

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