10 March 2012

Review: 1222 by Anne Holt

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 843 KB
  • Publisher: Corvus (December 25, 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services
  • Language: English (translated by Marlaine Delargy)
  • ASIN: B004G5YVSM
  • Source: I bought it
Synopsis (Amazon)

1222 metres above sea level, train 601 from Oslo to Bergen careens off iced rails as the worst snowstorm in Norwegian history gathers force around it. Marooned in the high mountains with night falling and the temperature plummeting, its 269 passengers are forced to abandon their snowbound train and decamp to a centuries-old mountain hotel. They ought to be safe from the storm here, but as dawn breaks one of them will be found dead, murdered.

With the storm showing no sign of abating, retired police inspector Hanne Wilhelmsen is asked to investigate. But Hanne has no wish to get involved. She has learned the hard way that truth comes at a price and sometimes that price just isn’t worth paying. Her pursuit of truth and justice has cost her the love of her life, her career in the Oslo Police Department and her mobility: she is paralysed from the waist down by a bullet lodged in her spine.

Trapped in a wheelchair, trapped by the killer within, trapped by the deadly storm outside, Hanne’s growing unease is shared by everyone in the hotel. Should she investigate, or should she just wait for help to arrive? And all the time rumours swirl about a secret cargo carried by train 601. Why was the last carriage sealed? Why is the top floor of the hotel locked down? Who or what is being concealed? And, of course, what if the killer strikes again?

My take

This is the first book by Anne Holt that I have read, and it certainly won't be the last.
Perhaps one of the reasons that I enjoyed it so much is that it is in part a homage to Agatha Christie. Here are 269 train passengers with nowhere to go (169 of them in the hotel 1222), imprisoned by a snow storm, and with little hope of immediate rescue. So when the murder takes place, we have a classic "locked room" mystery.

The central sleuth is wheel-chair bound,  retired police inspector Hanne Wilhelmsen. After the first murder, that of a church minister, Hanne doesn't initiate an investigation as one might expect, but teams up with a doctor, a solicitor, and the hotel manager. Hanne expects their isolation on the highest mountain pass in Norway will be short-lived, but the storm grows in intensity and rescue is actually days away.
    ‘That’s what you said when you were in here earlier,’ he insisted. ‘You said this investigation would be incredibly simple. Or something along those lines. Is that what you think?’ 
    I nodded. ‘We have a very limited number of suspects, all of whom are trapped up here. A limited geographical area to examine, to put it mildly. I think the murder will be cleared up in a day or two. Once the police have taken over, of course. I mean, they have to make a start first.’
There are some obvious parallels between this story and many of the "isolated location" novels of Agatha Christie. Hanne herself draws one:
    Twenty-four hours ago, there were 269 people on board a train. Then we became 196. When two men died, we were 194. Now there were only 118 of us left. I thought about Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. I immediately tried to dismiss the thought. And Then There Were None is a story that doesn’t exactly have a happy ending.
The number of people resident in the hotel reduces and they become even more isolated as a connecting passage with another wing of the hotel collapses. And then there is another murder.

Apart from the murder mystery, the story has a second element: who were the people in the last carriage of the train? Why have they taken up residence in the top floor of the hotel? Why do they have an armed guard?

There are a number of details about Hanne's personal life and past history to be pieced together from the novel, and this does seem to take away from the main threads, although they are probably necessary.

Holt does have one disconcerting narrative ploy, that you can see in action here:
    I didn’t know how right I was. Just a few weeks later, his business colleagues would be seized and placed under arrest in a major police operation in the Natal province of Brazil. They could look forward to a lengthy trial and an even longer prison sentence, all under conditions that made the prison at Ullersmo look like a five-star hotel.
In more than one place Hanne looks ahead and tells us how something ends up.

However, that aside, this is a good read. Anne Holt a good Norwegian author for you to look for.

My rating: 4.8

What a pity this is the only title in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series that has been translated into English so far. According to Fantastic Fiction, two more will appear this year:
1. The Blind Goddess (2012)
2. 1222 (2010)
3. Blessed Are Those Who Thirst (2012)
There are 4 titles in Holt's other series, Vik & Stubo, already available in English.

Check another review
1222 has been shortlisted for the 2012 Edgar Award for Best Novel

About the author

Anne Holt spent two years working for the Oslo Police Department before founding her own law firm and serving as Norway's Minister for Justice in 1996/97. Her first book was published in 1993 and she has subsequently developed two series: the Hanne Wilhelmsen series and the Vik/Stubo series. Both series will be published by Corvus.


bibliolathas said...

Oh, I'm so pleased there are more in this series coming out in translation.

Maxine said...

Excellent review, Kerrie. I very much like the author's other series (which you refer to) - Hanne appears in two or maybe three of those books, as she's a friend of Johanne Vik, the protagonist, if you want to encounter her again before the next "Hanne" book.

I think it is a great pity that the Hanne series hasn't been translated in order, as there is a lot of complexity to Hanne's past both personally and professionally it seems from 1222. I'm glad to see from Karen Meek that #1 will be the next one to be translated. Corvus, the publisher, are really good about making their books cheap on Kindle for limited periods, too ;-)

kathy d. said...

This is a good review. It took me awhile to get into this story and to warm up to Hanne, who doesn't make it easy, crusty personality indeed.

However, once I got involved, I was hooked, and would like to read more books in this series.

Hanne is an unusual and eccentric character, with a complicated backstory and personality. That makes it all the more interesting a read, no run-of-the-mill story of character here.

On another note, my eyes, those of a woman of a certain age, are taking a beating with these new blogger word jumbles. I may have to use a magnifying glass.

Kerrie said...

Kathy, as a concession to your aging eyes, I've decided to turn moderation on, and not use word verification. I'll see how much spam I get :-)

kathy d. said...

Thank you, Kerrie. That's very kind of you.

I wish every blog would do this. I'll be using a magnifying glass on the Web, I just know it.

If blogger is going to do a word verification, the administrators should do it in big letters, so we of a certain age can read it.

Dorte H said...

I am glad you liked it, but I agree that it was a mistake to translate this one out of order. And IF they choose to translate the old volumes now, it will be a strange experience to get the full backstory afterwards.


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