1222 by Anne Holt

HOLT_1222Like most readers (one presumes) I usually try to read a series in the right order, but … After hearing so many good things about Anne Holt’s work I happily picked this one up, unaware that although it was the first to be translated, it was actually the eighth and perhaps final volume in the series featuring Oslo cop Hanne Wilhelmsen. It does give away the big twist at the end of the previous book, and the identity of the murderer, but since you can’t even get it in English yet, so be it! We start with a bang as a commuter train smashes into the side of a tunnel …

I offer the following review for Friday’s Forgotten Books meme run by Patti Abbott at her fab Pattinase blog.

“My name is Hanne Wilhelmsen,” I said, pre-empting him. “And many people would probably say that I cab be a little difficult.”

The first thing to say about 1222 (the title refers to the location and its elevation in metres above sea level) is that it confounded some of my preconceptions about what the series might be like. I had assumed that with its Scandi Noir imprimatur and contemporary setting this would be hard-edged and on the noir side, with a focus on civic corruption and high level conspiracies (well, we do get one of those at least, albeit in a minor key). Instead what we have here is an ultra traditional whodunit with all the suspects trapped in one location by a snowstorm. However, inflationary pressures mean that there are 196 suspects! After the crash, all the passengers of the commuter train (including our narrator hero) have all been taken to a nearby hotel as the snowstorm is reaching truly epic proportions with the coldest February on record. The driver was the only fatality of the crash, but that night celebrity priest Cato Hammer, one of a religious commission travelling on the train, is shot at close range and his body dumped in the snow.

Anne-Holt_1222The reclusive and not a little crotchety Wilhelmsen doesn’t want to get involved, especially as she is no longer in the police force after being shot in the back and paralysed from the waist down (in 2002’s Sannheten bortenfor). But people keep gravitating towards her once her professional background becomes known. Then another member of the commission is murdered – and then there is the matter of the security team guarding an unnamed prisoner. Some say it’s royalty, other that it might be someone much more sinister … and in the meantime, the weather gets worse and worse and the ‘guests’ start to panic once they know there is a killer among them.

“I immediately thought of 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”

I did enjoy this book, especially when I realised how conventional a mystery it was going to be. Yes, like most modern thrillers it is too long and it has far too many instances of that tautological phrase – ‘they shrugged their shoulders’ – that drives me to distraction because, well, I mean, what else are you going to shrug?  But I liked how unusually grumpy Wilhelmse could be and her occasional instances of defrosting, especially with the hotel manager and a local solicitor, who end up being her greatest allies, especially against an anti-Muslim media celebrity who is among the suspects. Wilhelmsen dearly wishes that the right-wing troublemaker could turn out to be the villain (or better still, the next victim), but instead the murderer is better hidden, though it’s not something mere mortals could really figure out in advance. The revelation about who the person under armed guard is is frankly ludicrous, but there is something strangely charming about the characters’ disbelief that terrorists.

So, a rather overlong hommage to Agatha Christie and the snowbound mystery with an OK plot that doesn’t entirely play fair but which is redeemed by a very unusual and compelling central character – half marks from me then, but I will start back to the actual beginning of the series for my next Holt.

Thanks very much to Margot Kinberg and Sarah Ward for introducing me to Holt’s work – much appreciated. And here below is Holt discussing her books (in English).

The Hanne Wilhelmsen series

  1. Blind gudinne (Blind Goddess) – 1993
  2. Salige er de som tørster (Blessed Are Those Who Thirst) – 1994
  3. Demonens død (Death of the Demon) – 1995
  4. Løvens gap  (The Lion’s Mouth) – 1997
  5. Død joker (Dead Joker) – 1999
  6. Uten ekko (Without Echo) – 2000
  7. Sannheten bortenfor (The Truth Beyond) – 2003
  8. 1222 – 2007

***** (2.5 fedora tips out of 5)

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47 Responses to 1222 by Anne Holt

  1. Sergio – Thanks very much for the kind mention and link. I’m glad you found some things to like about 1222. As you say, it’s surprisingly traditional in its approach in a lot of ways. You make an interesting point about its length. I’ve noticed that many modern releases are a lot longer than GA/classic novels, and I’m wondering if that’s always the best choice. Certainly one wants character development and so on. But many books also have what people would call too much ‘padding.’ I suppose each individual has a different idea of what counts as ‘padding’ and what counts as ‘interesting detail).

    • I really enhoyed it Margot – thanks again for the recommendation. I did find it a bit repetitive and though it would have been twice as good at two-thirds of the length basically 🙂

  2. Sarah says:

    Great review, Sergio. 2.5 out of 5? Very harsh! I liked the cold atmosphere of this book. It does remind me if some Christie, you’re right. I think the earlier Wilhelmsen are better although some are more successful than others.

  3. Santosh Iyer says:

    Since you give only 2.5 fedora tips, it is clear that on the whole you rate it as just Average !
    However, my interest has been kindled and I have decided to read the book.

    • Thanks Santosh – yes, that is what I thought, but I will definitely read earlier books in the seires. Just waiting for Sarah to well me which one to go for 🙂

  4. Santosh Iyer says:

    I forgot to tick “Notify me of new comments”. Hence I am doing so now.

  5. realthog says:

    I liked 1222 a very great deal (aside from the silly bit about the mystery guest); I’ve since read Blind Goddess (which I enjoyed less) and am halfway through Death of the Demon (which I’m enjoying quite a lot). You’re quite right that 1222 is an odd one out; like yourself, I thought of Agatha Christie first and foremost while reading it.

    far too many instances of that tautological phrase – ‘they shrugged their shoulders’ – that drives me to distraction because, well, I mean, what else are you going to shrug?

    If you follow the Thog’s Masterclass feature in Dave Langford’s zine Ansible you’ll find people (at least as described in fiction) are capable of shrugging all sorts of things: eyes, eyebrows, ears, testicles.

    And that’s before you get onto mentally shrugging.

    Okay, I was lying about the testicles. So far.

  6. realthog says:

    Oops: sub.

    I know, I know: imitating Santosh.

  7. Colin says:

    Never heard of this, Sergio. But, with my suspicion about modern mysteries, that’s maybe not so surprising. I really like the sound of the setup – snowbound location always get me. Still, the problem of the padded novel (almost sounds like a title itself) remains and I do have to take issue with excessively long books.

    • Definitely worht a look chum. In terms fo length, this one isn’t too bad, I hope I didn’t over emphasise that aspect unduly – it’s about 300 pages of largish type …

      • Colin says:

        Ah, that’s not too bad. I still like those books that rattle along and come in at around 250 pages, but this one isn’t far off.

        • It’s a question of pacing, rather than length – like most snowbound mysteries, thjis one gets a bit bogged down but is a fun, light read – which is not at all what I was expecting!

          • Colin says:

            Good to know. i tend to avoid Nordic stuff as I get the impression a lot of it is grim and dour.

          • Well, yeah, I would agree with that as a preconception but .. I started off with the usual stuff like the Millennium trilogy, which was brutal and nasty but basically just racy pulp brought up to date; the WALLANDER books I have read have tended to get longer and longer, but are undeniably leaders in the field; I thought Idridasun’s JAR CITY from Iceland was really terrific and topical but have watched more of the TV shows, like THE KILLING and THE BRIDGE; what I have not gone for yet are the Jo Nesbo books, which even my Mum loves (well, until the last one, which she hated) and the impression i get is that you tend to get inevitable gloom and lots of political chicanery and conspiracy but there seems to be so much to choose from that I do want to delve back in – but yeah, let’s keep the books under 400 pages if possible, please!

          • Colin says:

            Actually, I’m really ignorant of the whole Nordic genre and do tend to have lots of preconceptions. I think, for me, part of the problem stems from the fact the stories take place in a part of the world I’m not especially interested in and don’t find all that attractive – maybe that reflects a shallowness on my part, but there you go.

          • I’m just re-reading one of the great books by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö featuring Martin Beck, which pretty much put Scandinavian crime writing on the map (one was adapted into THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN starring Walter Matthau and Bruce Dern) – I’ll post the review in about 10 days by they are terrific reads, especially if you like, as I do, Ed McBain as they were greatly influenced by him (they had been translating his books into Swedish in fact). If you want to give the genre a bit of a try, start there!

          • Colin says:

            Thanks for the tip, and I look forward to that piece on LP.

          • I think you just had about 25% of it 🙂

  8. Sarah says:

    Come to CrimeFest this year, Sergio. Maj Sjowell is being interviewed by Lee Child who is a big Martin Beck fan.

  9. I’m tempted by CrimeFest, too! However, I’m not tempted by Anne Holt. Like you, I try to read an author’s work in chronological order.

    • It is maddening as it does seem that this far from, rare – I really enjoyed Jar City and later discovered that despite being the first in English it was in fact the third in the series by Arnaldur Indriðason!

  10. I read this one on special offer a few years ago Sergio, and quite liked it. I have since read Blind Goddess, which I liked less. I will probably stick it out for one more….Death of a Demon obviously divides readers!

  11. tracybham says:

    I have three of her books, #1 and #3 from this series, and one from another series. I usually won’t read out of order, although sometimes I make exceptions. So I will do Blind Goddess first probably. Someday. I am so far behind on reading Scandinavian mysteries.

  12. Sergio, I quite enjoyed the line ” ‘they shrugged their shoulders’ – that drives me to distraction because, well, I mean, what else are you going to shrug?” But, I guess, you can’t fault the author since this is a translated work. That said, I haven’t read Anne Holt though I have read other reviews of this and her other books. Thanks for the video link.

    • Thanks Prashant – yes, maybe it all reads more plausibly in Norwegian 🙂 Wouldn’t it be great to be able to find out, though?

      • Santosh Iyer says:

        I checked the original book and found that the term used there is “ryckte” which means twitched or jerked and can apply to any part of the body. Hence it is necessary to include the word for shoulders in the original language.
        Thus the sentence “Geir ryckte på axlarna” in the original book has been wrongly translated as “Geir shrugged his shoulders” whereas the correct translation is simply “Geir shrugged” !

        • Now that is very handsome detective work Santosh – thanks very much for that!

          • Santosh Iyer says:

            I noticed a similar sentence in the French book La Corde d’Argent by Paul Halter :
            “Il haussa les épaules”
            “Haussa” means “raised” and can apply to any part of the body. Hence it is necessary to include the word “épaules” (which means shoulders).
            However, the English translation is simply “He shrugged”
            (If John Pugmire ever translates this book, I am sure he will translate the sentence correctly !)

          • Thanks Santosh – makes total sense of course. I do need to read a bit more Halter actually …

          • Santosh Iyer says:

            I just found an Italian example (chapter 5 of the book La Camera Del Pazzo by Paul Halter which you possess):
            “Francis scosse le spalle.”
            The English translation is simply “Francis shrugged.”

          • Well done on finding that! Mind you, that could shook rather than shrugged but I am sure you are right.

  13. Yvette says:

    Speaking, as Margot does, about ‘padding’ – I’m currently in the middle of a second P.D. James book and BOY, TALK ABOUT PADDING!!? I think James is probably one of the most overrated writers ever. But that’s neither here nor there, we’re talking Anne Holt. Though I’m not a big reader of ‘nordic noir’ I like traditional detective stories with a detective who has some sort of defect (thankfully not a drunk as in so many other stories which turn me off almost immediately), combined with a bunch of suspects in an isolated spot and a snowstorm and dead bodies turning up. So I might like this one. Thanks for bringing it to my attention, Sergio.

    • I’ll be very curious to know what you make of it – I think it does work as a modern uodate on the Golden Age formula, though the last bit at the end seems ot have made most reviewers sign in disbelief …

  14. realthog says:

    I have problems with PD James’s padding too — that and the self-conscious patches of Good Writing. (And Susan Hill, in her own detective series, seems to be trying to be as much like James as is humanly possible.)

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