Thursday, December 29, 2011
1222 by Anne Holt
Author: Anne Holt
Translator: Marlaine Delargy
Publisher: Scribner, 2011
Hardcover, 336 pages
Genre: Police Procedural, #8 Hanne Wilhelmsen mystery
Source: Paperback Swap
First Line: As it was only the train driver who died, you couldn't call it a disaster.
But Hanne Wilhelmsen would disagree with that assessment. The train she is traveling on derails in the mountains 1222 meters above sea level during a massive blizzard. Fortunately there is a nearby hotel. It's an old building and nearly empty except for the staff, but at least the passengers have someplace warm and dry to wait for rescue. No one knows exactly when that rescue will take place because no one is going anywhere while the blizzard is still raging.
With plenty of food and sheltered from the storm, the passengers believe they are safe and once the shock of the derailment wears off, they are almost in a holiday mood. When morning dawns, one of the passengers is found dead, and that feeling of safety vanishes like mist. Retired police inspector Hanne Wilhelmsen, being the only person in the hotel remotely connected to law enforcement, is asked to investigate. She'd rather not, and she makes that plain. Paralyzed by a bullet lodged in her spine, Hanne has made it a habit to keep herself to herself. She wants no help, but she does want to be left alone. Unfortunately for her, her curiosity and natural talent for observation weren't paralyzed along with her legs.
Hanne begins to take an interest in the other passengers and their secrets. When another body turns up, she knows that time is running out. She has to act fast before panic sets in amongst the other passengers. Her investigation is complicated by a mysterious passenger who had been traveling in a private rail car at the end of the train and was evacuated first to the top floor of the hotel. No one knows the identity of this mystery guest or why there is a need for armed guards, but this is certainly making everyone nervous-- and nervous people can do unpredictable, dangerous things.
Hanne is trapped. Trapped by her wheelchair. Trapped by the blizzard. And trapped in an old hotel with a killer. Will time run out before she's able to put all the pieces of the puzzle together?
There's something about a "locked room" mystery involving a blizzard that I simply cannot resist, and although I never did completely warm up to the prickly Hanne, I did enjoy watching her observe everyone and piece clues together. The blizzard outdoors was a strong-willed character that had me looking for a heavy sweater and a warm pair of socks, and Holt populated the inside of the hotel with an interesting mix of people that were in turns exasperating and endearing.
One of the best things about locked room mysteries is the fact that they have very little to do with forensics and everything to do with observation and stimulating the little grey cells. Hanne mentions one thing she observed several times, but for some reason (perhaps because I was still looking for those socks) my little grey cells misfired and never deduced why that one thing was so important. I do like when that happens.
I also like the fact that, although this is the eighth mystery featuring Hanne Wilhelmsen, it didn't matter. This was my first experience of watching her in action, and I was never confused. Enough of her backstory is given so that Hanne is well and truly introduced to us all-- and that my interest was piqued enough to look for other books in the series.
If you're in the mood for a mystery in which observation rules over science, read Anne Holt's 1222.