1222 is the eighth book in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series by Anne Holt, but the first translated into English. And it’s the first book in my read-it-and-rate-it marathon for the MWA Edgars, Best Novel nominees.
The voice of the writer is definitely something I evaluate early on and has a huge impact on how I ultimately rate the book. Holt gets off to a good start:
“As it was only the train driver who died, you couldn’t call it a disaster. There were 269 people on board when the train, due to a meteorological phenomenon that I have not yet understood completely, came off the rails and missed the tunnel through Finsenhut. A dead train driver comprises only 0.37 percent of this number of people. Given the circumstances, in other words, we were incredibly lucky.”
As you can see, the novel opens with a train crash. Hanne Wilhelmsen, confined to a wheelchair thanks to a gunshot wound several years ago, is traveling by train for medical care which could potentially restore her ability to walk. It’s cold, very cold, and the train derails, sending its several hundred passengers to seek shelter at a nearby, mostly empty hotel. They’re sequestered by the weather; hence, when one of the group is murdered, the murderer must be among them. It’s like Gilligan’s Island on steroids, except somebody killed Mr. Howell, and there are more characters to keep track of.
There are shifting relationships, many red herrings, several plot twists, and some nice characterization as solitary Hanne engages her intellect and, perhaps unwillingly, her empathy. She gains a confidant – a prickly teenager with a yen for a somewhat older woman – as she struggles to unravel the intricacies of the crime(s).
Here’s what I liked:
- The old-fashioned locked room mystery
- The atmospheric atmosphere
- The boy, Adrian, and his growing friendship with Hanne
- Hanne’s antipathy to Kari Thule
- The doctor
Not in love with:
- That the doctor’s a dwarf
- That the motivation for the murder is made available to the reader through coincidence, thereby only narrowly avoiding a resolution that cheats
- The Hercule Poirot-like showdown with all the suspects gathered together under the benevolently watchful gaze of the police
- The “wink is as good as a nod” expectation that the reader will figure out who the mysterious, bearded man with the glowing eyes, beautiful lips and healthy teeth who was being guarded in a remote section of the hotel. Oh, I scoured the internet for reviews that would tell me what OTHER readers thought this was supposed to be.
Although I’ve not yet read the other nominees, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that 1222 is not likely to be my top-ranked. Frankly, I’m a little surprised that it is nominated. Next up: The Devotion of Suspect X. Another translation, this time from the Japanese author Keigo Higoshano.