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Arctic Chill: A Reyjavik Murder Mystery    by Arnaldur Indridason order for
Arctic Chill
by Arnaldur Indrišason
Order:  USA  Can
Minotaur, 2009 (2009)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In Arctic Chill - following Tainted Blood (also published as Jar City), Silence of the Grave, Voices and The Draining Lake - Icelandic writer Arnaldur Indrišason brings his ever growing legion of fans around the world the fifth in his fascinating Reyjavik Murder Mystery series.

The series star - the complex, committed and highly intuitive Reykjavik policeman, Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson - is middle-aged and has a dark personal history. He lost his younger brother Bergur rather mysteriously in a blizzard when they were young, and obsessively reads accounts of similar tragedies. He relinquished his role as a father after a difficult divorce - to his ultimate regret, as his daughter Eva Lind became a drug addict and his son Sindri Snaer an alcoholic. As adults, both make occasional demands of - and overtures to - their father. Erlendur has now begun a cautious (on both sides) relationship with biotechnician Valgerdur, and occasionally discusses cases with her, as well as with Eva, who has uncannily accurate dreams.

Now, in Arctic Chill, Erlendur must not only cope with the murder of a ten-year-old Asian child that reminds him of his brother's loss, but also with the looming death of his legendary mentor Marion Briem, 'a living database of Icelandic crime.' The dead boy's mother is a Thai immigrant, divorced from her Icelander husband. Though devastated by Elias' murder, Sunee focuses her concern on her surviving elder son, fifteen-year-old Niran, and hides him from the police. The police wonder about a racial motivation for the killing. They investigate a teacher at the boys' school, as well as a local repeat offender. They consider the possibility of a fight between siblings, involvement by Sunee's new lover or by Elias' father.

In parallel with the investigation, Indrišason gives readers insights into the private lives of Sveinsson and his colleagues. Erlendur's children ask questions about his dead brother. Elinborg's daughter is ill. Sigurdur Oli's wife Bergthora desperately wants to adopt a baby from abroad while he is unenthusiastic. Erlendur is also preoccupied by the case of a woman missing since Christmas. He suspects her new husband of killing her and also considers the possibility of suicide, but now she appears to be calling him, though volunteering little. Her voice haunts him. Then, when another body is found, Erlendur's intuition comes into play, in a plot turn that will surprise most readers.

What does it all mean? Erlendur concludes that 'Life was a random mass of unforeseeable coincidences that governed men's fates like a storm that strikes without warning, causing injury and death.' Harlan Coben calls Indrišason's work 'Gripping, authentic, haunting and lyrical'. Don't miss Arctic Chill or any of its excellent predecessors.

2nd Review by Tim Davis:

In a recent discussion with a prominent online and print reviewer of superb detective novels, I argued without yielding that I rather than he was North America's most enthusiastic and appreciative fan of Arnaldur Indridason's novels. My admiration for the Icelandic author's work began at a high level when I read his debut novel Jar City. With the appearance of Indridason's next three novels - Silence of the Grave, Voices, and The Draining Lake - my reading pleasures steadily increased, my critical observations of the author's talents were confirmed, and I announced in reviews in different magazines that each installment in the Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson mystery series was even better than its predecessors. Now, on the occasion of Arctic Chill, readers still unfamiliar with Indridason's superb police procedurals have the opportunity to discover for themselves why I remain so enthusiastic.

When the action begins, Elias, a ten year old son of a Thai immigrant, is killed near his apartment building in Reykjavik. Preliminary inquiries suggest that the reason for the senseless homicide may be rooted either in pedophilia or in Icelandic xenophobia and racism. So, Erlendur and his team (the slightly overbearing Elinborg, and the 'dyed-in-the-wool killjoy' Sigurdur Oli), begin to sort out the few clues. One investigator with theories about the case even admits, 'This is all so new to us. Immigrants, racial issues ... We know so little about it.'

Beyond the investigation and the mystery, though, the really fascinating aspect of Indridason's novel is his portrayal of Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson. Long divorced, Erlendur's relationship with his children 'had gone from bad to worse.' His romance - if that is the right word - with Valgerdur, a biotechnician, remains complicated and tentative. Fond of drinking Chartreuse (which mystifies Valgerdur), partial to driving his very old Ford Falcon, and content to spend many solitary evenings in his simple apartment, Erlendur's thoughts often go back 'to his books about torment and death in merciless winter storms. Those were stories he could understand; they kept alight the embers of old feelings in his breast, of regret and grief and loss.' Those stories, of course, remind him of when his eight year old brother disappeared and perished. Thus, now and then returning to the crime scene and hoping to discover more clues, the haunted Reykjavik detective reluctantly allows his mind to roam 'over the mountains and moors to {his younger brother} who had once slipped from his grasp and now followed him through life like a sad shadow.' If others could read Erlendur's mind, they would understand why he cannot stand unsolved cases. Others might be able to convince themselves they had done their best, but Erlendur will go on, relentlessly digging deeper, refusing to give up.

Finally, going beyond what I hope is an irresistible preview for readers, let me offer this recommendation: If you were to read only one detective novel this year, the most highly recommended Arctic Chill deserves to become that singular selection. You will not be disappointed.

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