Monday, August 2, 2010

A review of Hypothermia by Arnaldur Indridason (Harvill Secker 2009; 2007 Icelandic)

A middle-aged woman is found hanging from a beam in her summer cottage, a few metres from Lake Thingvellir.  The woman had long been depressed and the death of her mother two years previously had sent her on a downwards spiral.  The death seems like a straightforward case of suicide.  And yet, Detective Erlunder, senses that something isn’t quite right.  No stranger to loss and depression himself, he starts to piece together her life, undertaking an unofficial investigation in order to understand why she hung herself, confounding his colleagues and upsetting the woman’s husband.  At the same time he takes a look at two unresolved cases, a young man and woman who simply disappeared in the 1970s.  All three deaths inevitably make him reflect on the death of his younger brother in a snowstorm when they were children, which he survived, and his sense of loss and guilt.

Hypothermia is a book that slowly draws you in, wraps a warm blanket around you and envelopes you in intricately woven narrative layers.  Indridson’s skill is in the plotting and pacing of stories; in placing his readers in the landscape and culture of Iceland and capturing the humdrum interweaving of lives, the mundane and everyday conflicts and betrayals, and exploring the small and petty things that people do to each other.  The under-stated narrative is driven by a steady pace and emotional register, rather than high tension or drama, with the same questions about love, loss, guilt and life after death repeated discordantly with respect to the cases Erlunder investigates and his own life.  The result is a book with qualities like a fine wine – a subtle but complex blend of colours, smells and tastes rather than the whiz-bang of a rollercoaster.  Hypothermia is a fine addition to the Erlunder series which has developed into a strong and satisfying set of stories that make perfect reading for wet and windy nights.


5 comments:

Kerrie said...

glad you enjoyed it Rob. I love the way you've described it.

Jose Ignacio Escribano said...

A great book and a very fine review Rob. Glad you like it too.

pattinase (abbott) said...

He's a great writer. Can't wait to read it.

Bernadette in Australia said...

I like your description of this book as a fine wine. It was a brilliant book (my favourite of the international dagger shortlist this year)

kathy d. said...

"Hypothermia" is a beautifully written book, makes one think and is emotionally wrenching. I actually cried near the end which I never do when reading mysteries.

Agree with your essay about it.

Meanwhile, I am reading "The White Gallows," which you so kindly sent to me and which I'm enjoying, but took a break to google "Curraugh" internment camp so I could read about its history.

I just learned that the barracks were renamed for those killed for their roles in the Easter Uprising. That is powerful stuff.