Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson of Reykjavik, Iceland, is a unique and fascinating character - a precise, conscientious man who approaches his work with compassion and a dogged resolve. When a woman hangs herself at her summer cottage, the inspector accepts the determination of suicide yet is unable to stop thinking of what might make such a woman choose death over life: “Suicide is a missing person’s case too.” Moody and contemplative (and these are positive adjectives), Erlendur is on his own this time on an unofficial investigation without any real motive to prove otherwise, but curious about the tragic woman in the summer cottage.
Hypothermia is peopled with ghosts: the disappearance of Erlendur’s younger brother years ago in a blizzard, his body never recovered; the unsolved disappearances of two young people thirty years earlier; and the accidental drowning of the suicide’s father when she was a child. Maria, the deceased, has been obsessed for months with communication with those who have crossed over. Although the inspector harbors no such illusions, he deeply empathizes with a woman who saw her father drown in the icy waters near their cottage and lost her beloved mother to cancer only two years ago.
Other than his own haunted past, Erlendur has nothing to go on but instinct. It is his way to focus on people and their circumstances, meticulously navigating through tangential relationships and old acquaintances until a picture forms in his mind, a reenactment of the crime. Trusting his intuitive powers from years of experience in the field, Erlendur is eerily prescient, whether inclined to make a case or not.
As in former thrillers featuring this protagonist, Erlendur’s grown children, Sindri and Eva Lind, occasionally burst into his life before receding to the background again. But in this novel, his son and daughter inspire a visit to the past and the painful failures of fatherhood. Most worrisome, Eva Lind has led a self-destructive existence, drug-addicted and furious with her father and an unfriendly world. With infinite patience, Erlendur accepts her angry intrusions, hopeful that she may forgive his mistakes.
Perhaps the most attractive aspect of this character is his humility in the face of tragedy, a profound understanding of the vagaries of human nature allowing Erlendur to communicate with victims, witnesses, criminals and families, unwilling to dismiss strange behaviors with simple explanations. Wthout the usual presence of Sigurdur Oli and Elinborg, his investigative associates, Indridason better defines this enigmatic inspector to his legion of fans.