Like 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.
The 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.
The Hanne Wilhelmsen series
- Blind gudinne (Blind Goddess) – 1993
- Salige er de som tørster (Blessed Are Those Who Thirst) – 1994
- Demonens død (Death of the Demon) – 1995
- Løvens gap (The Lion’s Mouth) – 1997
- Død joker (Dead Joker) – 1999
- Uten ekko (Without Echo) – 2000
- Sannheten bortenfor (The Truth Beyond) – 2003
- 1222 – 2007