Back in November, I spent a day driving to various places for work, and so was listening to Radio 4 and there was an interview with Anne Holt who I had never heard of.
She is Norwegian, and they were talking about the sudden popularity of Scandinavian crime books, the fact that she seems pretty scathing about Norwegians in her books and her latest book that had just been translsated and was about to be released in the UK – 1222.
Anne Holt herself used to work for the Oslo Police Department and was in fact Norway’s Minister for Justice back in the 90s.
This is the most recent in her series of books featuring detective Hanne Wilhelmson, of which I believe there have been 8 books since 1993. She stressed that this story easily stood alone as a story, and I loved the sound of it, so thought i’d give it a go – I added it to my wishlist, and was delighted to get an Amazon reminder of it, informing me that it was available on Kindle for the princely sum of £1. Result!
1222 refers to how many metres above sea level the highest station on the oslo to Bergen train route is. The story starts slap bang (no pun intended) in the train crashing just outside the station during a snowstorm.
Only the driver dies in the crash and all of the passengers are rescued and moved to a nearby hotel. There are just under 200 of them, including Hanne Wilhelmson. The snowstorm becomes worse, effectively cutting off any chance of rescue, the train being moved, and any communication with the rest of the world. And then, of course, there is the case of the mysterious ‘extra carriage’ on the train of which speculation is rife!
The passengers and hotel staff settle in for what looks like it could be a long stay, and all of their personalities etc start to come out. And then, in the morning, one of the most prolific passengers – a prolific football-loving priest – is found frozen dead outside in the snow and ice. But it wasn’t the cold that killed him, it was a bullet through the head. there is a murderer in their midst.
In the interview, Holt said that she wanted to write a story that had elements of the old Agatha Christie whodunnits where the detectives were in an isolated situation and had to use their own detecting skills without any help from technology, databases or a team.
Well, that’s certainly how it worked – it was pretty claustrophobic…the only thing that didn’t really work for me was the fact that there were supposedly a couple of hundred people there. The story obviously centred in on just a handful (there were probably about 15 main characters), and so there were tens of people supposedly ‘around’ that were completely uninvolved in the story but still in the isolated situation.
Because of the dramatic start, and the very descriptive narrative, the unfamiliar landscape and situation and the hints at what was to come, I felt extremely drawn in from the book right from the first few pages – and it didn’t let up! i really enjoyed it.
I must admit, there was a complete light bulb moment for me when I felt that I had worked out ‘whodunnit’, but at least you’re kept guessing and don’t have suspicions confirmed until right at the end. There was just one twist in the tale in the last couple of pages that was a bit superfluous, daft and made me groan – it could have done without that, and it added nothing to the story.
Apart from that – brilliant. Tense, different and well written. I’d give another Anne Holt book a go!