1222 has a great premise: a train crashes in the Norwegian mountains, survivors trekking through a blizzard to the nearest shelter, an isolated hotel which is slowly becoming immersed in the worst weather to hit Norway in decades. The temperature drops: a murderer is on the loose. As high concept thriller ideas go, this has Hollywood gold written all over it. But it’s a well trodden path; and this one is formulaic, unsympathetic and hard to engage with.
An ex-detective, Hanne Wilhelmsen is on the train, visiting a doctor for medical tests, after a bullet has left her disabled and unable to walk. Her skills as a detective are hinted at, though these, sadly, are never actually demonstrated.
It quickly becomes apparent that this is an open homage to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. I wasn’t a fan of that book , see my review here, and 50 pages in, it was obvious how Anne Holt’s book was going to unfold.
Holt fails to ramp up the tension, bizarrely spending significant portions of the book with the main characters eating, Hanne being vague and moody and the narrative constantly interrupted by the ramblings of a dwarf doctor. There is little detection, beyond Hanne writing a few names on a piece of paper, screwing it up and frowning. This quickly wears thin.
Red herrings are a necessity in crime thrillers, but in this novel you can see them coming a long way down the track. The snow and the weather are described in exciting language, but the characterisation is limited and you really don’t care what happens to this assortment of lightly-sketched characters.
This novel is one of many by Anne Holt that follows Hanne Wilehelmsen’s police detective, though this is the first one translated for UK. This perhaps explains the lack of back story, the underdeveloped lead character, the lack of explanation for her behaviour. Perhaps this is something the publishers should have thought about; it’s all very well giving someone a novel to read, but with so much assumed knowledge, perhaps they should have translated these in the right order.
Rarely is there tension or dread in the novel, so in that sense, it references Agatha Christie well. I’d have liked to see the detective in peril, but it never happens. Aside from running out of good food, and waiting two days to be ‘rescued’ from their comfortable hotel, there is little to worry about.
The murders feel like minor incidents. You are simply informed that someone is dead (gosh, another one), with little build up or suspense and the reveal is disappointingly reminiscent of Murder She Wrote.
No suspense, no great characters to root for and an uninspired series of murders– pretty tragic for a crime thriller.