Maria is devastated by her mother’s death. Leonora had been dying for two years, slowly being consumed by cancer. Maria is married to Baldvin, a doctor, but it is the relationship with her mother that has determined her life. Since her father’s death when Maria was ten, Leonora has protected her daughter from all danger and over-protected so that Maria was afraid to move beyond the boundaries established by Leonora. Not deeply involved in this life, she is obsessed by the next one.
Inspector Erlendur is given the task of meeting with Baldvin after he has been notified of his wife’s death. The doctor maintains there was nothing in his wife’s behavior or attitude that suggested that she was contemplating suicide. He acknowledges that Maria was still consumed by her mother’s death but he thought she was improving. But Erlendur is approached by Maria’s best friend, Karen, the woman who found the body at the summer cottage. She gives Erlendur a tape that was made during a seance and she tells the inspector that Maria believed in dreams and that Leonora was going to send her a sign if there was, indeed, life in the next world.
The old man was back to see Erlendur, a visit he has made, first with his wife, for nearly thirty years. His son, David, had disappeared without a trace but the old man is convinced beyond question that he did not commit suicide. Erlendur has kept the case open for the sake of the father; now the old man tells Erlendur that this will be his last visit. He is dying and is living in a nursing home and he is resigned to dying without ever knowing what happened to his son.
There are two other missing persons cases that have a hold on Erlendur. A woman and another young man disappeated at the same time as David. The woman, Gudrun, was a student who disappeared while her parents were traveling in China and Japan. Reliable phone contact wasn’t a given and calls over such a long distance had to be booked in advance. They didn’t realize their daughter was missing until they returned to Europe, two months after Gudrun had last been seen. They blamed themselves for being out of touch but they, too, insisted that she would never have committed suicide.
Erlendur is convinced that the third missing person was the victim of weather and bad choices. The young man had left to take a short walk to the next village but he was considerably underdressed for the weather. He was considerably intoxicated and a blizzart blew in suddenly, confusing him, and he likely took the wrong direction and went into the sea. There had been a significant effort to find him, but Erlendur accepted that the water had claimed this one.
Erlendur has no reasonsable excuse for continuing to investigate Maria’s suicide. He has no reasonable expectation of being able to solve the missing persons cases after nearly thirty years, but Erlendur is compelled to keep searching just as he his compelled to continue searching for his brother, lost in a blizzard when Erlendur was ten and his brother only eight. He has always felt guilty that he survived and his brother did not.
Erlendur is surrounded by ghosts. Maria, her father, Magnus, her mother, Leonora, David, Gudrun, the man lost in the blizzard and his brother, Bergur. But there are living ghosts that haunt him, too. His son and daughter have made contact with him. Eva Lind wants desperately to have Erlendur and his ex-wife, Halldora, meet to have a reconciliation that she thinks will change her life for the better, bring everyone together as the family they never were.
But it is the living that torment Erlendur’s psyche. What drove Maria to believe that life beyond the grave was her immediate destiny? Why did she commit suicide? The causes of a suicide are not a police investigator’s responsibility. Why can he not let Maria’s death go?
HYPOTHERMIA causes the heart to stop pumping warm blood through a cold body. Sometimes it is the heart that is cold even though the body still lives. There is more than one way to be killed by the cold.
Arnaldur Indridason is a master of psychological manipulation. It is characters that move the story, not events. Events are stage-managed by those whose purpose is nefarious. His characters are perfectly ordinary, and often, perfectly evil.