I read 1222 over Christmas when the wind was howling around the Derbyshire hills and I was ensconced in a warm house. It was an ideal winter read as it relates the story of train 601 from Oslo to Bergen that is derailed by a severe snowstorm. Trapped 1222 metres above sea-level, the train’s 269 passengers are forced to abandon their carriages and take refuge in a nearby hotel. The travellers are intrigued by an unseen passenger who is given special treatment and secreted in a separate wing of the hotel, patrolled by armed guards. The next morning, a body is found and the group turn to retired police inspector Hanne Wilhelmsen to help solve the crime. But Hanne, after a shooting at work, is confined to a wheelchair and with a snowstorm increasing in strength and a killer at large, a feeling of helplessness and panic spreads amongst the passengers.
I enjoyed this book mainly for the descriptions of the landscape and snowstorm. Each chapter is headed by a small description of each level of the Beaufort Scale. For example Chapter 1 begins “Beaufort Scale 0. Calm. Wind Speed 0-1 mph. Snowflakes fall vertically, often with a side-to-side motion”. And so on. I liked this little stylistic device which reflected the increasing intensity of the storm and killings in the book. Unfortunately I didn’t think the plot quite lived up to the atmosphere. I think the problem was partly the riddle mysterious stranger being guarded. This could have been quite an interesting plot line, but when it was partly revealed towards the end, I thought the explanation quite lame. I thought the investigation by Hanne quite well plotted but didn’t really identify with the detective and am not rushing to read any more books featuring Hanne.
I found The Final Murder a much more enjoyable read. The plot was good – a killer is targeting famous people in Oslo and leaving behind various disturbing symbols. The book opens with the murder of a talk-show host who is found with her tongue removed from her body and left on her desk, cleaved in two. It’s an interesting “serial killer” plot, and the passages interspersed in the book taking the killer’s point of view were well done and satisfactorily oblique.
I also liked the main detective, Superintendent Adam Stubo, already a grandfather with a new baby of his own. I suspect the fact that I hadn’t read Anne Holt’s earlier book Punishment might have been a slight disadvantage as I think his partner Johanne Vik had already featured in this book. I found it a bit hard to believe that a top policeman happened to have a partner who had just had a baby, who was also a former FBI profiler and now a psychologist. It’s all perfectly possible it’s just without any introduction it seemed a bit far-fetched. But I liked the plotting very much and thought it an excellent read. The ending was a bit frustrating for reasons I can’t say without spoiling the plot but I suppose, as a lawyer and former Minister of Justice, Anne Holt is aware that not all crimes can be resolved neatly.