The best of January’s reading.

January, a miserable month for us living in the northern hemisphere, was redeemed by some excellent crime fiction reading. I read 10 books for crimepieces and perhaps because there was a stong Scandinavian presence, the common theme seemed to be murders set to the backdrop of freezing winters. However, the highlight of my month was set in a much warmer climate, the Australian Desert. Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland combined sparky writing with a great sense of place and one of the best female detectives around.

The books I read in January were:

1. Death and the Spanish Lady by Carolyn Morwood. (completed as part of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge).

2. The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart

3. The Winter of the Lions by Jan Costin Wagner

4. Believing the Lie by Elizabeth George

5. Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland

6. V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton (also reviewed for crimesquad.com)

7. The Mask of Glass by Holly Roth

8. The Final Murder by Anne Holt

9. 1222 by Anne Holt

10. Midwinter Sacrifice by Mons Kallentoft

Kerrie over at Mysteries in Paradise is hosting a meme summarizing the crime fiction recommendations for January 2012.

Reviews: Anne Holt – 1222 & The Final Murder

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.