Sunday, December 19, 2010

HYPOTHERMIA: the 2010 Inspector Erlendur Novel from Arnaldur Indridason

Arnaldur Indridason
What a year for exposure to Scandinavian thrillers and crime fiction, as the hunger for these novels pushes them into translation ... This year, the sixth Inspector Erlendur police novel arrived in the US, HYPOTHERMIA, written by Arnaldur Indridason and translated by Victoria Cribb. And here's an important aspect to the book: Although it's moody and sad at times, it is beautifully written, plotted with an impeccable urge toward justice, and ends with a relieved sense of possibility.

First, a quick side-note about Icelandic names. They don't operate the way American and British ones do -- "Indridason" is a patronymic, that is, a name that specifies who one's father is; it's not a "family" name. So the correct way to talk about this author is to say "Arnaldur." The same applies to the police inspector in the books, Erlendur.

When HYPOTHERMIA opens, it's not clear there's been a crime at all. In fact, every detail reinforces that in spite of the absence of any note, the death of a young woman named María, by hanging, at her country cottage, is clearly suicide.  It appears that Erlendur's involvement in the case will be limited to simply informing the woman's husband in Reykjavík. Yet perhaps it's the enduring sorrow that Erlendur carries with him that induced María's friend Karen to turn over to him a disturbing recording of a session that María experienced with a spiritualist, in her search to connect with her recently dead mother -- a session in which the woman may have heard the voice of her long-dead father speak to her.

Any other police officer probably would have filed the tape in a drawer and left the matter alone. There's no hint of crime there, either. But Elendur is himself haunted by a death that was never resolved: the disappearance in childhood of his brother. And there are two long-ago missing-person cases that also obsess him, well beyond what his co-workers think appropriate. Tying all of these together is a sense of cold: not of climate, but of disastrous danger and death.

Step by step, one interview at a time, Erlendur approaches the braided truths of all of these losses. When clarity finally comes, its price is exacted in grief, loss, and an inability to correct the past.

Although the writing is spare and unpressured, clues pile up like snowflakes adding up to drifts. At page 129 -- out of 314 -- I realized the who and how of the one crime involved. But the langorous unfurling of detail and quietly settling certainty of the rest of the story was well worth the time invested, and I expect to re-read this volume in another winter.

Here's the paragraph that continues to haunt me from the book:
Erlendur drove up to the house in Grafarvogur. It was getting dark, a reminder that winter would soon be here after the short wet summer. Erlendur felt no dread at the through. He had never dreaded the winter as so many did, not like those who counted the hours until the days would start to lengthen again. He had never regarded winter as his enemy. Time seemed to slow down in the cold and darkness, enfolding him in peaceful gloom.
Any victim of a crime who comes to the attention of this determined investigator will surely benefit from his insistent and patient attention.

NOTE: For an intriguing insight into the author, take a look at this interview by mystery author Julia Spencer-Fleming.

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