When the seventh Hanne Wilhelmsen novel left us on a cliff, hanging on for dear life, we could only hope there would be another in the series. The Anne Holt has fulfilled our hopes with 1222, a marvelous mystery that is quite a departure for Hanne and those of us who admire this taciturn, reclusive, and emotionally distant detective.
Hanne has recovered as far as she is able from her wounds inflicted at the end of Beyond the Truth. She is in a wheelchair, losing use of her legs thanks to a bullet in her lower back that severed her spinal cord. No longer a police officer, she works from home as a consultant. Her partner and she have a three year old child and other than lingering pain and difficulty breathing from her spinal injury, she is content and has adapted to her new life. She’s on a train to Bergen to see a specialist about her difficulty breathing when the train is derailed entering a tunnel, just a short distance from a winter resort hotel and railway station 1222 meters above sea level. She’s injured, as are the other 269 people who are evacuated to the hotel and the several cabins that surround it as a hurricane force blizzard descends on them, isolating them from the rest of Norway.
There’s plenty of mystery to pique our interest. First there is the heavily guarded extra coach that was at the end of the train. Some think a member of the royal family might have been on the train, or perhaps a celebrity. Hanne thinks the answer may be more sinister. Then there are the combustible interpersonal dynamics, with a white nationalist propagandist sowing suspicion about the Middle Eastern couple Hanne believes are Kurds–Kurds with weapons.
Then there is the annoying Cato Hammer who wants them all to get along, ostentatiously genial and benign. Obviously, he was the first victim, found the next morning nearly buried in snow, a bullet through his brain. The hotel owner, a mountain man who was a lawyer for his day job, and a littler person who is a doctor join with Hanne to make most of the decisions, including the decision to cover up the murder until the police can arrive, concerned that investigation might induce more murders.
Well, that didn’t work, A colleague of the murdered religious leader tries to tell Hanne who he suspects of the murder, and of course, he is soon murdered before that happens. Now it’s out of the bag and the struggle is to keep the people who are stranded from panicking and resorting to misguided violence and vigilantism while trying to solve the murder without any of the usual assets of investigation.
In addition, the weather itself is an opponent, not just isolating them from the police and officialdom but from people in the other buildings. The constant buffeting of the snow, smashing through windows and even the doors, the freezing and murderous cold, the screaming wind, all contribute to a sense of menace and danger.
Hanne has to rely on “the little grey cells” and solve the case using psychology. Yes! At its core, 1222 is an homage to Agatha Christie. They are cut off, dying one by one as in And Then There Were None. Hanne herself refers to using her little grey cells. In true Christie fashion, the mystery is solved by psychology, clever observation, and a deep understanding and sympathy for human nature.
I enjoyed this book quite a bit. It is more interior than others in the series. Hanne does not have access to autopsy and crime scene reports. There is no analysis, no questioning of all the witnesses, no canvassing, no series of interviews to learn alibis or test them. There is only observation and conversation and thinking, using those little grey cells to make connections from a word here or there. The observation of small incongruities is vital and they add up to a fair solution, even though 90% of the world would not make those connections. It’s another successful edition in a strong series.