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by Arnaldur Indriđason and Victoria Cribb, trans.
Random House Canada, October 2009
320 pages
$32.00 CAD
ISBN: 0307357813

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

If Inspector Erlendur lived in a more crime-ridden city, he might never be able to undertake the investigations he does. Instead he might be happy to accept what appears to be evident and move on to the next rape, murder, or enormous drug deal. But Iceland is both small and quiet and so he tends to have a bit of time on his hands.

Therefore, he is troubled by the suicide of Maria in her lakeside summer home one chilly autumn night. True, she does have a history of depression and true, she has been inconsolable since the loss of her mother to cancer a couple of years ago, but something about the recording of a seance that she attended just before she died troubles him.

Readers of previous novels in this series will recall that Erlendur is haunted by a childhood tragedy. He, his brother, and his father were caught out in a sudden blizzard; the three were separated and, though the father struggled home, the two little boys were buried in the snow. Erlendur was found and revived the next day; his brother's body was never recovered. Unsurprisingly, the three member of the family who did survive, mother, father, and son, were never the same thereafter. Many years later, Erlendur's mother charges him with her dying breath to find his brother. Erlendur has never been able to do that, but he does try his best with other wintery disappearances that come his way, even if, in some cases, they occurred thirty years ago. Two such, a young man and a young woman, still have a claim on his attention after all those many years.

In some ways, HYPOTHERMIA is a ghost story, one obsessed with the question of possible life after death. Erlendur, the rationalist, is not convinced, but he does sometimes have to wonder. He himself survived a near-death experience and did not gain any insight into his prospects for an afterlife, but other characters are not so sure. Arnaldur is able to thread his way through both sides of the argument without apparently landing in either camp.

There is a focus and a concentration about this book that made it more satisfying for me than some of the recent entries in the series. The various plot lines converge in an unforced way and the development of Erlendur's character as a product of his childhood experience is affecting. Erlendur himself has become almost a part of Icelandic folklore - in the account of the event in a book about unexplained disappearances, he is said to have been left "gloomy and withdrawn" thereafter. Both Erlendur and his mother reject the characterisation, but the reader is not so sure.

The text is thick with unpronounceable but fascinating Icelandic place names that conjure up that curious country more vividly than it has appeared in some of the earlier books in the series. And there are descriptions of traditional Icelandic menu items that I don't remember reading about before and that I hope never to have to sample in real life.

Even Victoria Cribb's translation (into UK idiom), while far from perfect, is an improvement over ARCTIC CHILL. It is at least good enough to let us glimpse the brilliance of Arnaldur's conception and to comprehend the deep connection between Iceland's history and landscape and the flawed human being who tries to detect his way into making sense of it all.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, December 2009

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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