This month’s mystery book club pick was Arnaldur Indriðason’s Hypothermia, published in 2007 (translated into English in 2010).
This is actually Inspector Erlendur’s eighth case, but only six of his books have been translated into English. Several reviews on Amazon incorrectly refer to this as his sixth case.
The story begins with a funeral; Maria’s mother has died after a long illness. In the next chapter, Maria is found hanging in her summer cottage by a friend. All appearances suggest suicide, but when Maria’s friend goes to Inspector Erlendur, an “unofficial” investigation begins. Not only was Maria haunted by ghosts from the past, but Erlendur himself is troubled by past events, including unsolved disappearances, his crumbled marriage, and the loss of a brother in a blizzard.
Now, a word about suicide in mysteries. Most mystery readers take it for granted that a suicide in a mystery novel is nothing of the sort. We now–long before the detective in some cases–that it’s not suicide. It’s just a dressed up murder. Therefore, the ensuing chapters can be bogged down by tedious “filler” until we get to the hunt for a murderer.
Perhaps this device should be retired, but it can be used effectively. It depends on how it’s deployed. Here, in Hypothermia, the story is more of a psychological exploration of what may have driven Maria to suicide. I don’t want to give away too much, but think of Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello. Iago does not kill Desdemona. Othello does. However, Iago is perhaps guiltier of the crime because he manipulated events.
Hypothermia also offers other plotlines of interest to keep readers engaged in the story. Discovering that a man who’s son disappeared over 20 years ago is dying, Erlendur feels compelled to re-examine this cold case and give the dying man some closer.
This really is a wonderfully written book. Though the story begins with a suicide that maybe isn’t, it draws readers into the story of fleshed out characters who are haunted by their pasts, by ghosts, and fears of what the afterlife holds.