Looking for existential angst? Well, look no further. The protagonist of Arnaldur Indridason's Icelandic mystery series, Inspector Erlendur, is existentially bogged down with baggage galore. He lives alone in a self-described 'hole' that is littered with take-out boxes, books, and a room filled with nostalgic items from his dead parents' farm house. He looks everywhere for the vestiges of his dead brother whose death he feels responsible for when he was ten years old. He sees the depths of ruin in the people he investigates and quite frequently they mirror his own demons. Unable to face Christmas alone, he is staying at a big hotel that has no heat in his room.
This book has several narrative lines. The main mystery is about a hotel Santa who is found murdered in his basement room with his pants down and a condom on, stabbed many times. As Erlendur investigates, no one admits knowing this man who has lived rent free in the hotel for over 20 years. He was once a child prodigy, singing soprano so well that his father hoped he'd make it into the Vienna Boy's Choir. Unfortunately, his voice changed prematurely and he became a laughing-stock at his supposedly break-out concert.
Another story line takes us to a hospital where a young boy, badly physically abused, refuses to tell who the perpetrator was. Erlandur's colleague believes it is the boy's father despite the boy wanting to be returned to his father's custody.
Erlandur has been divorced for over 20 years. At the time of his divorce, he had two children who he never saw afterwards until recently. Eva Lind, his daughter, is a recovering drug addict and prostitute who is having trouble 'holding on' now. She was near death recently, having given birth to a still-born daughter near term and ending up in a coma. The infant died because Eva Lind's drugs toxified her system and Eva Lind can't forgive herself. She has looked up her father and is trying to develop a relationship with him.
Erlandur is living in self-hatred with survivor's guilt because of an incident that occurred in his childhood. When he was ten, he, his father and his younger brother went camping and were caught in a blizzard. Erlandur had been holding on to his brother's hand but unintentionally let it go. His brother's body was never found and Erlandur is tormented about why he lived while his brother died. The event sent his father into a lifelong depression and has weighed Erlandur down ever since. He rarely talks about this incident but thinks about it regularly, even returning to eastern Iceland where his brother died, and searches for his body.
The mystery of the Santa is very interesting but what makes this book stand out is the quality of the writing and the humanity of the characters. I have already started another book in this series and can hardly put it down.