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Since buying my kindle I am taking a chance on all sorts of different books that I normally wouldn't think about buying if I seen them in a book shop. 1222 by Anne Holt is one such book that I managed to buy for only £1 on the 12 days of Christmas promotion amazon were running for kindle books last yeat. I have to say that I am glad I gave it a chance as it more than surpassed the expectations I had for it.
The plot is basically that Norway is experiencing it's worst winter storm in living memory and a commuter train travelling from Olso to Bergen crashes 1222 metres above sea level high in the mountains.
The survivors are forced to take refuge in a hotel and as the storm rages about them they are trapped waiting for the storm to abait so that they can be rescued. The group of survivors start to panic when members of the train passengers start to be murdered. With nowhere to go tensions become fraught and it becomes a waiting game between being rescued and surviving the murders.
To complicate matters the train left Oslo with an extra carriage and no one knows who was on board but the top floor of the hotel has been taken over and the passengers have no idea who or what is up there.
This is another Scandinavian book that seem to be everywhere at the minute thanks to the success of Steig Larsson and even though this book doesn't really resemble any of the millennium trilogy it is still being touted as "the new Steig Larsson".
What the two books do have in common is that they both contain strong female leads but this is where the similarity ends.
In 1222 the lead character is Hanne an ex cop who after a shooting at work is now confined to a wheelchair. She has trouble communicating with people and would much rather be left to her own devices but with the murders happening she is the only person with any experience and is dragged into the situation.
I liked the character of Hanne and thought it was an interesting idea to have a disabled lead character in a book like this but unfortunately she is also a little bit of a cliche and seems to have been assembled from a few different characters in other books. She has the same problems with people as Lisbeth Salander and I even got a sense of Jane Tennison in her at times.
The rest of the characters are also rounded out quite nicely and they manage to mostly overcome their cliche beginnings. It seemed to me as though Holt was trying desperately to add every minority she could think off. For example Hanne is a lesbian with a Muslim partner and although this actually fits with the story she also includes: a religious fanatic, a troubled teenager, 2 Muslims, a token black man and even a dwarf. Although I soon forgot about these things it did cause me to roll my eyes a little in the beginning to read what minority she would come up with next so she could explore societies prejudices.
One thing she did fantastically is evoke the feel of Norway in the depths of winter and each chapter started with a description of the Beaufort scale for wind strength which really added to the atmosphere. I had no trouble visualising the storm or the hotel and this is definitely to her credit.
The mystery of the murders and who is on the top floor is nowhere near as exciting as it should have been and I have to admit I wasn't really bothered who was doing the killing or why.
The real enjoyment of me in this book was the characters and watching how they coped with being stranded.
1222 is a good book but not a great one and certainly doesn't come close to Steig Larsson no matter what the blurbs might say. I did enjoy it though and it was an easy read and one that I would recommend. If you are into modern crime thrillers that have an almost old fashioned edge to them despite how modern the characters are then 1222 is definitely a book for you.
I have seen this on promotion on Amazon a few times so if you can go and get yourself a bargain but even at full price I wouldn't have felt like I had been cheated and paid too much.
"Twenty-four hours ago, there were 269 people on board a train. Then we became 196. When two men died, we were 194. Now there were only 118 of us left. I thought about 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."
On her way to a medical appointment in Bergen, wheelchair bound former police officer Hanne Wilhelmsen is injured when the train she is travelling in is derailed during one of the worst blizzards in Norwegian history. She passed out when a piece of metal is impaled in her thigh and when she comes round finds herself with the other passengers in Finse 1222, a hotel so called because of its height above sea level. All they can do is sit out the storm and wait to be rescued once the conditions allow it but for the moment everyone is trapped inside the hotel.
Hanne's fellow passengers are a motley bunch: among them a group of youngsters on a trip, a Kurdish couple, a couple of businessmen, an outspoken right-wing television presenter, several clergymen and a delinquent teenager. Rumours start to circulate about the final carriage of the train which several of the passengers claim was sealed. Then a guest notices an armed security man guarding one of the apartments on the top floor of the hotel and speculation starts to mount that members of the Norwegian royal family were also on the train.
Not knowing how long help will take to arrive, the passengers try to make the best of things but tempers soon start to fray and when, the following morning, the body of one of the priests, apparently killed by a gunshot, is found outside the doorway of the hotel, panic starts to set in. It falls to Hanne reluctantly to try to investigate the murder and the events that follow.
Anne Holt's 1222 is a modern take on the Agatha Christie 'locked room' novel with a long cast list and a steadily rising body count. This works well with the confined setting and the uncertainty over when help might arrive adds to the tension. The diversity of the passengers also stirs things up a bit even if the choice is rather contrived. The range of characters may reflect a typical train journey but with so many it's impossible to do much in the way of character development and the result is confusing.
This is the first of Anne Holt's novels to be translated into English although she has been successfully translated into German and Swedish among other languages. Clearly the publishers thought it was time to cash in on the popularity of Scandinavian crime fiction and Holt is incredibly successful in her home country. The problem with '1222' is that Hanne is already a well developed character with what appears to be a complex back story that competes with the murder mystery element of the novel in a distracting way: it's probably not the best novel to have been first up for translation.
That aside Hanne Wilhelmsen is a cracking character; acerbic and anti-social yet wholly compelling and gloriously perceptive. A wheelchair bound, lesbian former detective could easily have come from the pen of Janet Evanovich or Sara Paretsky but Holt avoids turning Hanne into a caricature. Paralysed by a bullet in the denouement of a major corruption case, Hanne has lived virtually reclusively of late and it takes some coaxing to persuade her to look into the murder. It's interesting to see Hanne's transformation as she slowly regains the curiosity that made her such a good policewoman.
The story unravels slightly because of the lack of focus. The mystery of the top floor occupants is an unnecessary diversion while the lack of character development of everyone but Hanne fails to provide any meaty suspects. The climax is thoroughly absorbing and Hanne's Poirot-esque conclusion is really entertaining but I didn't feel like I could have picked up on any useful clues along the way: in fact, until the conclusion, the narration is one dimensional, seen only from Hanne's point of view and there's nothing to suggest whether, or not, Hanne is a reliable narrator. Nothing happens that does not directly include Hanne, or that is not reported to her but, at the same time, she holds her cards close to her chest and it's impossible for the reader to know what she's thinking when it most matters. Rather too much focus is placed on Hanne's history but this did persuade me that it would be worth back tracking as Corvus gradually makes the back catalogue available in translation.
While it's not wholly successful 1222 is not a bad read though it's one that works better for atmosphere than for the mechanics of plot. Personally I love snow bound settings and this one failed to disappoint. Recommended with reservations.