1222 by Anne Holt

2011 brought a new-found appreciation for Icelandic literature in the form of Bragi Olafsson’s The Pets and The Ambassador, so fast forward to December 2011 and me thinking it would be a good idea to read something seasonal. No Xmas cosy for me. Instead I read 1222 by Norwegian crime author Anne Holt. It’s the sort of novel that makes you glad you’re inside with the doors locked and not stuck in a snowstorm somewhere freezing in Norway.

The action starts immediately with a dramatic train derailment at Finse 1222. We’re in Northern Norway on a trip from Oslo to Bergen in the middle of the worst blizzard recorded in over 100 years. The story is told by passenger, Hanne Wilhelmsen, a  former police officer who left the force after being paralyzed by a bullet still lodged in the spine. Hanne probably never had the best personality, and now she’s even more prickly.  More of that later.

The stunned passengers are rescued and removed from the train and taken to a nearby centuries old hotel. There’s plenty of food, and it’s warm, so all the 268 people have to do is wait out the storm. They should feel fortunate as only one person died in the derailment. Yes there are an assortment of sundry injuries, but it could have been worse, and since a number of doctors were on board the train to attend a conference, at least there’s medical help available. That’s just as well as the passengers and train crew are completely stranded and isolated. Finse 1222 is only accessible by train.  Due to the snow storm,  the televisions in the hotel aren’t working and snowploughs cannot get to the hotel.  

Right after the rescue, it becomes obvious to Hanne that there’s something fishy going on. The train held some anonymous VIP who stayed in a separate carriage surrounded by armed guards, and this person now occupies the top floor of the hotel. Any attempt to connect with the mysterious guest ends up with threats of violence. Nice.

Within just a few short hours, an execution-style murder takes place, and while Hanne and a few other people at the hotel are in on the fact that one of the guests was shot at point-blank range, the truth is, at first, kept from the general hotel population in order to avoid panic. Think stampede.

Since Hanne is a retired police officer, and a famous one at that, she’s expected to take over the investigation by the hotel management. At first she tries to shove the responsibility over to someone else, but when the body count rises and there’s no contact with the outside world in sight, Hanne reluctantly finds herself being dragged back into the world of criminal investigation. Here’s Hanne’s thoughts on the matter:

When it comes to the actual murder, that can wait. There’s no point in starting an investigation here and now. Wait for better weather. Wait for the police. Let them do what they can and this will all be cleared up in no time.

At least that’s what she tells solicitor Geir Rugholmen and hotel manager, Berit Tverre. The few guests who know about the murder can’t understand why Hanne refuses the responsibility of the investigation, but Hanne is one step ahead of everyone else. She reasons that the murderer walks amongst the guests. An overt investigation will provoke panic and paranoia, so she clings to that reason while silently ruminating that an investigation will make the killer nervous.

In the meantime, I thought, there’s a murderer with a heavy calibre weapon wandering around amongst us. In the meantime we can only hope that the intention of the person in question was to murder ** [no spoilers], and that he or she would not dream of harming anyone else. While we are waiting for the police, I thought without saying anything, we could pray to the gods every one of us must believe in that the perpetrator was rational, focused, and did not suspect any of us of knowing who he or she was. And that he or she would have no reason to suspect that anyone might be starting to investigate the case here and now.

The situation in the hotel begins to unravel fast, and Hanne finds that she must use her old skills to whether or not she wants to….

I’ve read some reviews that compare this to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, and obviously there are some similarities between these two  “closed circle of suspect” mysteries. In fact the narrator doesn’t fail to make the connection:

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 similarities to Agatha Christie must be acknowledged, but those similarities reside in the set-up, and 1222 is refreshingly bitter thanks to its edgy narrator, Hanne, a woman who’s become anti-social almost to the point of pathology. Hanne doesn’t exactly shine in the personality department. In fact she actively tries to keep people away from her by her taciturn comments. Not that I blame her. Here she is with Geir Rugholmen:

He placed his hands on his hips and looked down his nose at me. That look from those who are standing up, the tall ones, the ones whose bodies work perfectly. Strictly speaking, I think it’s perfectly ok to have mobility problems. I want to be immobile; that’s the way I’ve chosen to live. The chair doesn’t really hamper me significantly in my everyday life. It can be weeks before between the occasions on which I leave my apartment. The problems arise when I am forced to go out. People are just desperate to help me all the time. Lifting, pushing, carrying. That’s why I chose the train. Flying is a complete nightmare, I have to say. The train is simpler. Less touching. Fewer strange hands. The train offers at least some degree of independence.

Until it crashed….

 Added to the tension at the hotel is a anti-muslim nut who manages to whip up fear and paranoia amongst the guests. 1222 is apparently number 8 in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series. The fact that I’m jumping late on board didn’t seem to matter; Hanne’s life was fully explained, so no pieces of the puzzle were missing.

Review copy from the publisher via netgalley.

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10 Comments

Filed under Fiction, Holt Anne

10 responses to “1222 by Anne Holt

  1. “Closed door” mysteries is an apt term. Another Nordic crime writer I haven’t tried yet but this sounds like a great novel to start with. And Then Were None with a bitter tone sounds promising. I just hope the anti-muslim nut wasn’t too clichéd.

    • The point about the anti-muslim character is that she feeds the panic and increases the divide between various groups. I think she was representative of the sort of manifestion of the views we see.

  2. Sounds like a good find. I like Agatha Christie and the “closed doors” mysteries in general. (the Miss Silver series is cozy and closed doors crime fiction)
    There are many available in French. One is entitled “Cela n’arrive jamais – Une enquête de Vik et Stubo.” Apparently, she has another set of recurring characters.

  3. I think if you are going to read crime novels then it doesn’t hurt to burn through Christie as she’s seminal.

  4. What a good read that seems – just the job for winter nights (or commuting on our dreadful public transport systems). I’ve never heard of netgalley but have looked it up now – could be interesting

    • Tom: Netgalley is a great idea. There are a lot of publishers with books that neither you or I would be interested in, but there are also some others who produce the sort of books we like. If you have any questions, you know where I am.

  5. I thought Olafsson was Icelandic, rather than Norwegian?

    It sounds possibly a little too formulaic for me, particularly given how much Christie I read as a kid. Effectively done though. A good thriller can be very satisfying, though I tend to find SF somehow fills that particular niche in my reading even though the genres have basically nothing in common.

    • Well that was a fuck up on my part, so I made the change. I’m blurring all those countries together.
      The book was a good for the season and the protagonist is interesting–not run of the mill. There are so many guests at the hotel and then it dawned on me that the killer HAD to be one of the handful of people who’d been named, so that narrowed down the possibilities.

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