In a snowed-in hotel in Finse, Norway, 1222m above sea level, the survivors of a train crash are sheltering from the worst blizzard in a century. And people are being murdered. 1222 by Anne Holt is a gripping locked-room mystery, and for those of us unaccustomed to blizzards and being snowed-in, it is set in an almost alien landscape. At the centre of the story is Hanne Wilhelmsen, wheelchair-bound, retired detective, on her way to Oslo to see a physician and unfortunately trapped in the hotel with the rest of the train’s passengers.
By being set in such an enclosed, stifling environment, Anne Holt has generated a hothouse for human behaviours. Perhaps the Norwegians react slightly differently to those more familiar with English-speaking locales, but you can’t escape the fact that humans are humans, and murder is murder. The shocking truth is that of course, the murderer is among the hotel guests, and not everyone wants to see him or her uncovered. The guests range from the unbelievably ordinary – such as a schoolgirl handball team returning from a competition, businessmen, and tourists – to the unaccountably strange, such as the untalkative and wary Arab couple who Hanne suspects of being more than they appear, or the outspoken representatives of church and of civil rights who butt heads instantly. As well as that, rumours abound as to the identity of the person or persons hidden in a secured extra carriage added to the train at its last stop. Who are the people inside and why are they guarded by men with guns?
Hanne herself does not escape the train accident unscathed, and medical attention is provided in the person of Dr Marcus Streng, a psychologist who happens to also be a swarf. His sense of humour at his surroundings bothers Hanne but she cannot afford to get him off-side as he seems to be one of the few people who is unaffected by the closed-in atmosphere. And then there are the murders, of course. Hanne has her suspicions but cannot afford to take risks to uncover the murderer or murderers, until the storm abates and help can be on hand from the authorities.
In all, this is a dramatic and other-worldly mystery and thriller, and fans of Agatha Christie or Stieg Larsson would not be disappointed.
Available now: Allen & Unwin RRP$32.99