1222 is the story of a train that crashes en route from Oslo to Bergen at an elevation on 1222 meters in the village of Finse. The survivors are evacuated to a hotel named, descriptively enough, Finse 1222, and they are holed up there for a few days, during which time two men are murdered. One hundred and ninety-six people live in relative comfort in the main hotel building as the story begins. This story is very much in the vein of a locked room Agatha Christie mystery, as the author has acknowledged, but this is a Norwegian version. For readers who are a bit leery of the gruesomeness of some Scandinavian crime novels, this book is a relief: the murders happen off-stage.
The investigator is Hanne Willhelmsen, a retired detective who suffered a paralyzing spinal cord injury when she was shot by the corrupt police chief she was investigating. She has been off the force for four years, and in those four years she has become more and more of a loner who spends time only with her partner, their young daughter, and the live-in housekeeper. Her three days in the hotel are not only her return to investigating homicides, but also her return to interacting with other humans. She’s prickly but interesting, and she’s definitely not a cliché.
What Holt does well is capture the group mood during their unforeseen stay in a remote mountain hotel during an extreme blizzard. Willhelmsen and an impromptu team of investigators—a doctor, a lawyer, and the hotel manager—bond as they investigate the two murders, at first trying to keep the murders a secret by claiming that the first victim “suffered a brain aneurysm,” instead of a bullet wound to the head. It’s a claustrophobic story of course, with the worsening storm outside. Besides the inquiry into the homicides, there is a parallel story about the mysterious final train compartment. Its occupants were evacuated first, and they occupy a wing that is guarded by armed men.
I admit that I don’t read many locked room mysteries—or at least I haven’t lately—but 1222 stands out with its characters. Holt provides enough back story for not only the victims and perpetrators, but also with Hanne Willhelmsen, of course, and Magnus Streng, the doctor who suffers from dwarfism who becomes as close of a friend as Hanne will allow herself. This book is the eighth in the Hanne Willhelmsen series, and I am looking forward to previous novels in the series being translated into English.
Publication date: December 27, 2011
Source: Publisher via NetGalley