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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Hypothermia, by Arnaldur Indridason (hardcover, $24.99) (c2010)

Now that it's really cold outside, I suppose I should be reading books set in the tropics. Instead I'm reading Arnaldur Indridason's recent dark mystery set in Iceland. Double-brrr.

Series hero Erlendur Sveinsson -- or just plain Erlendur -- is a loner who, unfortunately for him, is surrounded by people who want him to be more outgoing. His colleagues, his children, his ex-wife, his girlfriend -- and it's amazing he has any of these, given his uncommunicative demeanor -- force Erlendur to confront difficult issues. But mostly, rules and regulations are for other folk.

Hypothermia results from over-exposure to cold. It often leads to death, and in a country with the name Iceland, one would expect a few cases of hypothermia. In fact, Iceland's climate is affected by the Gulf Stream, so the weather is considered temperate. Nevertheless, there are many lakes with incredibly cold water, a brief exposure to which could cause death. And Hypothermia details a slew of disappearances and deaths in the cold of day and night.

The main case is the suicide of a woman who has been depressed since the death of her mother. She chose to hang herself in the family cabin beside the lake in which her father died of hypothermia years before. A persistent friend insists that Maria would never commit suicide, and she goads Erlendur into investigating further. At the same time, an old man comes to see Erlendur, perhaps for the last time. He is the father of a college boy who has been missing for a long time, and he periodically checks to see if any progress has been made in his son's case. Another old missing person's case, that of a shy young woman, also catches Erlendur's attention. These three cases start him thinking again -- although it's never far from his thoughts -- about the disappearance in a blizzard of his own brother when they were both very young.

Indridason is very clever in developing the storylines. However, it is hard for the reader to find a connection with Erlendur, because he is so distant and lacks the ability to carry out the usual give-and-take in relationships. His daughter is trying to stay straight and both she and her brother, both young adults, have formed a tenuous relationship with their father. His daughter wants more from him than he feels comfortable giving. Does she want him to say he's sorry for having deserted his family years ago? He doesn't fully understand her. Hypothermia is about the cold places in the heart that the missing often occupy.

The flawed protagonist is often more interesting than the unblemished heroic character. Sometimes the pull is in wondering when the protagonist will fall flat on his or her face? Sometimes it's in wondering if he or she will overcome the flaws and find a modicum of happiness. We have yet to see in which direction Erlendur turns, but there is a serious attempt in this book to push him towards revelation.

I found the resolution inadequate, but Carolyn loved it and awarded it a star. You say po-tay-toe and I say po-tah-toe.

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