BOOK: 1222 by Anne Holt (2011)

One of my favorite sub-categories of the mystery genre is the “isolation” mystery, in which a group of people, small (dinner party) or large (private school), are trapped together somewhere when a murder takes place.  These are novels that typically involve puzzle-solving and sleuthing with limited resources, see, where either a professional (Poirot) or an amateur (Jessica Fletcher) has to solve the crime using good old-fashioned detecting instead of, say, DNA tests, fingerprints, and SWAT teams.

That’s why I was excited when I came across this Norwegian thriller, and why I greatly enjoyed it despite the fact its protagonist is extremely hard to like (sympathetically so, but also irrevocably so).

It opens with a train of about 200 passengers on their way across Norway to Oslo.  There’s a huge blizzard raging outside, and right as they pass into The Snowy NowhereTM, their train derails and crashes.  Luckily, only the conductor is killed.  Unluckily: BLIZZARD.   Only, luckily: nearby hotel!  But then, unluckily: MURDER!

Rescued quickly by the incredibly kind owners of the one and only hotel in the nearby small town of Finse (elev. 1222, hence the title), the crash survivors are initially grateful to be alive, warm, and fed.  But when it becomes clear they’ll be trapped there for days by the storm, tensions rise, fueled dramatically by the presence of a Muslim couple who act suspiciously, a group of armed guards protecting a mysterious guest on the top floor of the hotel, and a super right-wing TV personality who never shuts the hell up.

When a clergyman is found dead in his room the next morning, the hotel owner gathers a few people together — people she’s marked as the emerging leaders of the group (a doctor, e.g.) — to tell them what happened and ask them what to do.  Hanne Wilhelmson overhears the conversation and despite her reluctance and misanthropy, she gets involved, quickly taking over the leadership role herself.  Why?  Because she’s a retired police detective (paralyzed from the waist down after a shooting on the job), so, of everyone on the scene, she’s the one with the mad skillz needed to save the day.  Hanne urges the group to keep the murder a secret until she can figure out what happened, but when more bodies appear, it soon becomes clear something vicious is going on, and any one of them could be next.

Wilhelmson is the unlikable protagonist of this novel I was alluding to earlier — she’s stuck-up, bitter, nasty, and obnoxiously pessimistic.  Granted, she has plenty of reasons to be, not the least of which is the fact she’s so effective at solving the murder at the hotel primarily because people talk openly right in front of her, assuming anybody in a wheelchair is a drooling moron.  So, while it’s easy to understand why she is the way she is, it’s still somewhat draining a personality to spend huge swaths of time with, I confess.

That said, this is an extremely entertaining thriller, and while I didn’t find the resolution of the mystery terribly surprisingly or compelling, the story itself was riveting from page one.  This is the eighth book in the Wilhelmson series by Anne Holt, and the first to be published in English, with more to follow soon.  I’ll definitely be picking up the next one, and will see if Hanne can charm me with time.


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3 Responses to “BOOK: 1222 by Anne Holt (2011)”

  1. briantoohey Says:

    That should be the title when they relaunch the first book… Charm Me With Time.

  2. Liz Says:

    Hanne sounds as if she has some definite “Sherlockian” character traits. I wonder why so many people (myself included) find these “quirky” characteristics so attractive, and even humorous, in men (ie. “House,” JLM’s “Sherlock”), but don’t like them in women. I’m probably over-simplifying, but I still wonder….

    • megwood Says:

      I get what you’re saying, but I think the difference for me between Hanne and, say, House, is that while both characters are brusque and nasty (but with hidden hearts of gold, because both characters also share that), House was also witty and sarcastic in a very amusing sort of way. I mean, amusing from a distance (I’ve actually had a doctor like House before myself and I can assure you there is NO CHARM to that personality when you’re the real-life patient on the receiving end of it!). Hanne isn’t witty or funny — she’s just cranky and bitter (though also big-hearted — she ends up bonding with a teenage boy in the novel, and clearly cares for him deeply). I do know what you mean about the double-standard with that kind of personality, though. So true!! But not quite the case here, I don’t think.

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