I first discovered Norwegian crime thriller writer Anne Holt in our hometown’s newly opened book store. It was in the only shopping complex of the town. On one greater half of the building there was this chain super market sprawled in 4 floors, it first introduced to us the idea of having cups, cloths, cosmetics, cucumber to bread, bed, broccoli, briefs under one roof. Till then saw these only in Hollywood movies. So no doubt we felt very proud, important, and successful. On the other half of that building were individual shops and restaurants and a chain multiplex (the proud smirk lingered long after the end titles).
To ward off boredom, I went first to the super market, then lazily roamed the other half with the intention of catching a movie at 5.30. One day I suddenly came across this new bookshop. With all the happiness in the world I entered. On the rack found two books that I never heard of, the first was “Buried Prey” and the 2nd one was “1222”. Through “Buried Prey” John Sandford introduced himself to me, and obviously he was honoured to meet such an avid, dedicated perusalist who he knew at first meeting going to read the entire Prey series within few months. And “1222” opened a Scandinavian country to me. Before that my peek into Scandinavia was through “Girl with a Dragon Tattoo”.
The very name “1222” drew me to it and just after reading the blurb, I felt like shouting, “where was this book, this author all this time”! It was like you were just roaming in the forest and accidentally found El Dorado! I knew then and there I am seriously going to love everything Anne Holt has ever written. To use a hackneyed expression, it was love at first sight.
The detective of Anne Holt is Hanne Wilhelmsen. The story opens with Hanne travelling by train from Oslo to Bergen to consult a doctor for her quadriplegia. How she became quadriplegic? Read “Beyond the Truth”. In this story Hanne is already in wheelchair. The train with its 269 passengers collide with the snow wall in front of a tunnel at the foot of The mountain Finsenut near the beatific lake Finseven and the utter confusion and chaos follow. Nearby town people come to the rescue. The extreme weather goes with the whole lot into a nearby hotel sans the driver, the only fatality of the accident. At least that is what seems initially but soon other deaths/murders follow suit. Now imagine the scene, a hotel where 269 passengers are staying, every exit is blocked by accumulated snow and outside world is totally cut off by a horrific brutal blizzard country hasn’t seen for years.
In that closed place deaths start to occur amidst the array of ridiculously diverse people coming from all the echelons of society. Now here is our Hanne, egged with her own personal problems both emotional and physical, using the capabilities of her original, ultimate comfortable identity of a brilliant detective.
While going through the book everyone will find similarities with Agatha Christie’s “Mousetrap”. Even Anne Holt herself mention it in “1222”. The thing is every crime writer will eventually give an Agatha Christie allusion in their books, sometimes overt and sometimes subtle, it is really hard not to! But I find the similarities with the “Murder on the Orient Express” too. That sudden halt due to snow reminds me of Poirot’s journey from Istanbul to London by Orient Express, when at night the train was stopped near Vinkovci in Slavonia due to a snowdrift. So “1222” is like a tribute to Agatha Christie. And every crime writer find solace in doing so.
I read, re-read “1222”, because it was the first Holt I found. And I love Hanne Wilhelmsen. I am following her life for a considerable time and she intrigues me. She doesn’t fit any norm of the society, no it is not because she is a lesbian (for the blockheads it is explained), it is just that she is on surface level rude, arrogant, sometimes even it seems she is so just for the sake of it. But no, she uses it to shield herself. But she is surrounded by people who always see past her armour, and know she is a great human being. They love her. She is surrounded by intelligent compassionate people. It is not always the case with everybody. Here Holt has given a glimpse of her personal life. Hanne has a partner Nefis and a daughter Ida and a house keeper Mary. Now if you want to know how she met Nefis, how she acquired Mary, why Hanne has this sadness that creates a fog around her, who is Hakon, Billy T, how Hanne end up in wheelchair, hit the bookstore, or hit your computer, whatever! Just read.