Hypothermia by Arnaldur Indridason kept me up last night. I haven’t stayed up reading until one in the morning for many years. On the ferry home from Salt Spring Island, I kept reading, and when I got home, I started a fire in the wood stove and continued to read. Except for making a cup of coffee, I did nothing else.
I have a friend who says she is in love with Erlendur, the detective in this murder mystery. He is the main character in a number of Indridason’s novels. I understand. Erlendur is one of those unforgettable characters, as un-Jamesbondish as i’ts possible to be, flawed, frustrating, obsessed. He was a terrible husband and not much of a father. His own life has been completely messed up by the loss of his brother in a blizzard in rural Iceland.
Hypothermia isn’t a police procedure novel. The story begins with the suicide of a woman called Maria. Her death seems quite straight forward. There’s nothing to indicate that anything is amiss. Maria’s mother has died some time before. Maria has been depressed, unhappy, has her own obsession, a desire to know if there is life after death. Her husband is a respectable doctor.
Something, though, doesn’t seem quite right and when one of Maria’s friends comes to Erlendur to tell him that Maria couldn’t possibly have committed suicide, he begins to ask questions. There’s no indication of a crime and there’s no official police investigation. However, Erlendur is like a dog with bone. He can’t quit chewing on it.
The brilliance of Idridason’s writing lies in his ability to juggle plot elements, juggle plot and sub-plot and keep them unified. Along with Erlendur’s inquiries into an expanding circle of people connected to Maria, he is also bothered by the disappearance of a young woman and a young man many years before. There seems to be no connection between them. The case of the young man is kept alive for Erlendur because the parents and after the mother’s death, the father’s coming to the office once a year and, gradually, every few years, to ask if there has been any news of his son.
Idridason is highly skilled in that he plants tiny details in the story that at later stages have major implications. In the case of the missing young woman and man, he has a character describe the young woman’s car as being a bit of a wreck, the passenger door being stuck, the window handles not working. It seems one of those background details of no significance. By the time the novel is over, these details turn out to be critical to events.
My friend who says she loves Erlendur also says that she only reads a set amount of pages each day because she doesn’t want to finish reading about him, his travails with his children and his ex-wife, his grief over his lost brother, his determination to follow obscure possibilities until they fit together like a jigsaw puzzle to reveal a whole picture.
Put Hypothermia under your Christmas tree. Even non-fans of murder mysteries will be intrigued by this complex personality.