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1222 by Anne Holt: Book Review

Retired police inspector Hanne Wilhelmsen is on her way back to Oslo from an appointment with a physician when the train she’s riding on is derailed. Fortunately there is only one casualty, but a fierce snowstorm forces the nearly two hundred passengers to take shelter in the Finse railroad hotel adjoining the tracks.

Confined to a wheelchair after an arrest that went wrong, Hanne is anxious to return home and not anxious to get involved with any of the other passengers or hotel staff.  But when one of the passengers, the Reverend Cato Hammer, is found murdered the morning after the group’s arrival, Hanne is involved whether she wants to be or not.

As might be expected on a train, there are all types of passengers:  a group of Norwegian churchmen, a cult-like author, doctors who were attending a conference, families with young children, a Muslim couple who keep their distance from the other passengers, a teenage boy traveling alone, a goth-type young woman he follows around, and a physician who suffers from dwarfism.

The chapters in the novel are each prefaced by a number on the Beaufort Scale, ranging from 0-12, indicating the strength of the snowstorm raging outside.  The scale in the novel goes from calm to hurricane, as the storm and the emotions of the people trapped inside the hotel get increasingly violent.

Although the passengers are protected from the elements and have more than sufficient food and drink, time begins to weigh heavily on them, and by the end of the second day Reverend Hammer is not the only murder victim.  So almost against her will Hanne is drawn into the mystery.

The title, 1222, refers to the location of the Finse railroad station, 1222 meters above sea level.  Although Norway certainly has its share of snowstorms, this is one for the record books, and no cars or planes or helicopters are able to transport the passengers home.

The idea of a group of people away from their homes and unable to return for weather-related reasons certainly is not new to mysteries. Just think And Then There Were None.   But 1222 is given a new twist by the voice of its narrator Hanne.

Hanne Wilhelmsen is a prickly heroine. She has a female partner and they have a young daughter, both of whom Hanne loves very much.  But she obviously is uncomfortable spending time with so many strangers, and she notes frequently how she prefers to be left alone and doesn’t want the help that people offer.  She’d rather be uncomfortable and even in pain than have to ask for assistance.  As she says, “The most important thing about the wheelchair is that it creates distance.”

Anne Holt has been writing the Hanne Wilhelmsen series since the 1990s, but her earlier books are very hard to come by in the United States. Hopefully, the success of 1222 will cause her publisher to reissue the earlier novels in this series.

Although I couldn’t find a dedicated author’s page, Anne Holt has a wonderful interview in The Guardian.

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