Holt, Anne. 1222.

NY: Scribner, 2011.

This Norwegian author is reputedly a big deal in Scandinavian crime fiction, especially with her highly successful “Hanne Wilhelmsen” series, but this is apparently the first to be translated into English — and it’s the eighth one in the series. Which doesn’t make a lot of marketing sense, since it means we can know very little about the main character’s background — which turns out to be a very significant factor in the story.Hanne was a top criminal investigator a few years back when she was shot on duty and the bullet severed her spinal cord, leaving her completely paralyzed below the waist. She admits it was partly her own fault; she got excited and didn’t follow protocol by waiting for back-up. But, of course, she was forced to retire and now spends her days more or less quietly in a wheelchair, looked after (as far as she will permit it) by her Turkish lesbian partner (the author is also lesbian, as well as an ex-cop, TV journalist, lawyer, and government minister) and spoiling their toddler daughter. (Except that she can’t be too retired, obviously, or there wouldn’t be any stories about her.) As this episode begins, it’s winter and she’s on her way by train to see a specialist in the north of the country about some of her associated medical problems when the train jumps the icy rails at a tunnel entrance and piles up just past the station at a resort town. Only the engineer gets killed in the wreck, though nearly everyone else sustains at least minor injuries. It’s an isolated place that cannot be reached by road — but there’s a nice old hotel nearby and everyone decamps there just ahead of a howling blizzard that quickly develops into a snow-hurricane, the worst Norway has seen in a century. They’re all going to be there for a few days, whether they like it or not. At least there were a number of doctors available who were on their way to a professional conference.

Hanne likes to observe people but she doesn’t much like to associate with them, and the crowded hotel is a trial for her – especially because of a well-known religious media figure who bustles around organizing prayer meetings. But then the man is found out in the blowing snow, dead of a bullet to the head, and everyone else begins to panic. Hanne would prefer to just put everything on hold until after the storm, when the police can be brought in to take care of things properly (since no one can go anywhere anyway), but then events get away from her with a second murder and she’s forced to take a hand. Meanwhile, a mysterious party of armed police (or government security men, or something — no one is quite sure) have taken over a private apartment on the hotel’s top floor. Who are they guarding up there?

Holt does a reasonably good job with both the plot and her characters, especially the locals who run the hotel, and there’s a nicely wry, sardonic flavor to much of the dialogue, both among the captive train passengers and inside Hanne’s head. The pace is pretty slow and intellectual, which may annoy readers expecting a more action-oriented book. And the translation is occasionally awkward, but that’s a problem American monolinguists have to put up with for nearly any European author. But still, it would be nice to have been able to read the series from the beginning. (Ah. It appears that the first book, Blind Goddess, finally has been released in English, too.)

Published in: on 9 November 2012 at 8:04 am  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Thank you for this post on my fellow countrywoman! 🙂
    I love the books from Anne Holt, I have read all of them and I certainly get your point about about starting at the beginning. It beats me why they haven’t done so.
    Greetings from the far North

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