Sunday, August 19, 2012

1222, by Anne Holt

By Anne Holt

I haven't been avoiding Scandinavian crime fiction, mind you. It's just that until now I hadn't run across anything that looked like I'd want to read it. But when I found out that Anne Holt's 1222 uses one of my favorite old school plot devices - taking a bunch of characters, stranding them in dire straits somewhere and mixing in a bunch of nefarious deeds - I was hooked.

And I have to say that I was hooked pretty much all the way to the end of the book. I haven't been reading as much mystery fiction lately and the few books I have tried haven't exactly grabbed me. So it was a refreshing change to run across a book that qualifies as an actual page-turner, if you'll pardon the cliché.

Holt certainly doesn't waste any time in getting into it. As the book opens, the train wreck that drives the plot has already taken place, stranding a couple hundred passengers in the mountains (at an elevation of 1,222 meters) in one of the worst blizzards Norway has ever seen. The engineer is dead but injuries are rather light otherwise and before long everyone is holed up in a nearby hotel, with no hope of getting out for a few days, at the very least.

Needless to say, a few of those nefarious deeds ensue and it's up to former police detective Hanne Wilhelmsen and the small inner circle that's gathered around her to figure out what's going on. There's probably not much here that will dazzle hardcore whodunit fans, but the plot was solid enough, the resolution satisfying and the author plays fair with the reader throughout. Although there are hundreds of potential suspects Holt makes it pretty clear that there aren't really that many and in the end it's not all that difficult to deduce who the baddie is.

None of which detracts from the story, which I'd rank as one of the better ones I've read for a while. About the only thing I didn't like, quite frankly, was the main character. This is apparently the eighth in a series featuring Wilhelmsen and in this installment she's a rather unlikable character, though she seems to mellow just a bit as things play out. Wilhelmsen was shot and paralyzed in the line of duty some years earlier and hasn't really come to grips with living the rest of her life in a wheelchair. Which is understandable and surely not every protagonist needs to be as chipper and well-adjusted as Joe and Frank Hardy but it was all a bit much for me.

Which also didn't detract from the story enough to keep me from giving it a very high recommendation.

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