Review: Hypothermia by Arnaldur Indriðason

Prior to this book I’d only read one of Arnaldur Indriðason’s Erlendur series, Jar City which I liked but didn’t love. However, when Hypothermia became available at my local library I thought I’d use it as my first book to count towards the 2010 Scandinavian Challenge being hosted by Amy at The Black Sheep Dances.

A woman is found hanged in her weekend cottage but all indicators point to suicide. Erlendur of the Reykjavik Police must talk to the woman’s husband but it seems to be a matter of routine. At around the same time Erlendur is reminded of one of his earliest cases: the disappearance some 30 years previously of a young man named David whose father is now dying and Erlendur feels obligated to look into the case one last. Although there is no identifiable action to take on either case Erlendur finds them occupying his thoughts and he becomes somewhat obsessed by uncovering the facts relating to each incident.

I’ve been trying for a couple of days but I can’t seem to explain why I found a book in which there’s not a great deal of action as quite as compelling and moving as I did.

As I read the book almost in a single sitting, I fell asleep at about 2:00am with a handful of pages to go and quickly devoured them the next morning, the word that kept popping into my head was yearning. Maria, the woman whose body was found hanged, is yearning so much for her mother who recently died and her father who died many years earlier that she is driven to seek out psychics and mediums. Erlendur too is yearning for a resolution to his own childhood tragedy which saw his only brother disappear forever in a wild storm one night. Erlendur adult daughter forces her estranged parents to talk with each other so that she might know the kind of family life she never had. And what dying father of a long-disappeared young man wouldn’t yearn to know what had happened to a much-loved son?

The way this is all teased out is via a rather simple but effective plot which involves Erlendur talking to the friends, relatives and acquaintances of both Maria and David and slowly piecing together each jigsaw puzzle. He does it without any official warrant so has virtually no assistance from his colleagues but the book is still a procedural of sorts I suppose.

Frozen Lake Þingvellir

Of course it’s impossible for a monolingual person like me to know for certain but I feel, by virtue of its invisibility if nothing else, that the translation is sensitive to the author’s original intent. It is certainly a very readable book in its English form. The sense of place in the book too is strong. Physically this is primarily due to the setting of several key scenes in and around Iceland’s lakes, in particular Lake Thingvellir (when Erlendur and his daughter spend a day driving around to see several lakes I couldn’t help but hit google for some images). Intellectually we see the interconnectedness between people and events that must be a part of life in a country of only 300,000 people and there is an undercurrent of the country’s folklore sitting, however uncomfortably, side by side with things modern.

Hypothermia is without the kind of explosive drama that a lot of crime fiction thrives on but, for me anyway, the subtle drama of these exquisitely depicted, intertwining stories was equally as intriguing. It is sad, though not depressing, thoughtful and ultimately quite beautiful.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

My rating 5/5

Translator: Victoria Cribb; Publisher: Harvill Secker [200]; ISBN: 9781846552625Length 314 pages; Setting: Iceland, present day

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Hypothermia is reviewed beautifully, as always, by Maxine at Euro Crime,

This entry was posted in Arnaldur Indriðason, book review, Iceland, Scandinavian Reading Challenge 2010. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Review: Hypothermia by Arnaldur Indriðason

  1. Maxine says:

    What a lovely review, Bernadette (and thank you for the kind mention). I very much enjoyed reading your piece, and I think you are right that “yearning” (for what is lost) is an apt word for this novel. Indridason seems to me to have been making his books sparer and simpler as they go on – as you say not much happens in this one and Erlendur’s police colleagues aren’t really in it this time, and there is very little in terms of police procedural. Some of these Scandinavian authors seem to have a wonderful ability to convey sadness in a simple but deep fashion, wihtout melodrama or much action- another one who does this well is Karin Fossum, and also (in Shadow) Karin Altvegen.


  2. JoV says:

    Wow it’s a 5. It must be really good…


  3. Dorte H says:

    This sounds like Arnaldur in excellent shape! I am glad I have this one to look forward to. It still costs more than seven pounds + shipping yet so I will wait a month or two and see what happens.


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  7. kathy durkin says:

    I got this from Book Depository and they don’t charge shipping charges and it wasn’t expensive.


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  9. kathy durkin says:

    Well, I finished it and thought it a very good book. Indridason does understand human emotions and can convey them well. It is sad and I found myself in tears at the end, something that does not normally happen to me while reading mysteries. However, the author writes very movingly about several tragedies. To go from reading Stieg Larsson’s third book to this one took a big leap and now I need a comedy. I can see why “Hypothermia” is in the running for the Dagger. I do need a break before I read Theorin’s book, a humor break.


  10. I’m so glad you liked it Kathy but I know exactly what you mean about needing a humour break – it can be tough to read several books like this in a row. Let me know what you decide to read for your comedy book – I’m always on the lookout for those.


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