Image  I have to admit I haven’t read a “locked rooom” mystery in some time–Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None comes to mind, and Murder on the Orient Express, but I was intrigued by the dust jacket description of Anne Holt’s 1222, one of five novels nominated for the Edgar Awards:

“A train on its way to the northern reaches of Norway derails during a massive blizzard, 1,222 meters above sea level.  The passengers abandon the train for a nearby hotel, centuries old and practically empty, except for the staff.  With plenty of food and shelter from the storm, the passengers think they are safe, until one of them is found dead the next morning.”

Sounds interesting.  Before I open a book to the first chapter, I always read the dust jacket, the author’s “thank you” page, and any other tidbit I can glean before diving into the story.  I found out that Anne Holt is a well-known writer in Norway, a former minister of justice there and has worked as a journalist and news anchor prior to establishing a law practice.  Clearly the woman has chops. I also discovered that 1222 is not the first book in the series featuring Hanne Wilhelmsen, a former detective felled by a shooting which has left her in a wheelchair.  (Side note:  I’m a bit confused about why the American publisher chose to publish this later book first, but that’s another blog.)   So I began the story anticipating a great read.

Hanne Wilhelmsen turns out to be just about the only memorable character in the story. The exception is Magnus Streng, MD, an apt moniker for the doctor who is a little person.  He is large in heart, bonhomie and appetite.  Hanne is taciturn almost to a fault, but is an interesting woman whose backstory kept me reading even though the actual story dragged for 313 interminable pages.  I kept thinking I wanted to read the book about Hanne getting shot and paralyzed, and then having to leave her job as a detective.  Sure hope they publish that one here in the States.

But back to 1222.  The 296 people who are on the train pile into the hotel, have a lot of arguments about who’s in charge and then retire for the night.  During the night, someone is killed.  The next night another person is killed.  I couldn’t begin to tell you either of their names because they were zzzzzzzz.  There’s a great deal of speculation, sumptuous eating, arguing and nothing else.  The basic problem I have with the novel is this:  NOTHING HAPPENS. Even Hanne, who is an interesting character, barely moves around in her wheelchair (she sleeps in it the first night, then on a couch on the main floor after that).  I kept thinking I’d like to see how she would ask for help negotiating around the hotel and in other ways, because she is adamantly independent–to a fault.  Oh, there is one more problem: the solution to the murders is a total cheat.  Hanne has access to information that we as readers don’t have.  That telling detail feels thrown in at the last minute (or maybe in the last re-write) when Holt couldn’t write her way out of the corner she found herself in.  I finished the book only because I have committed to reviewing the Edgar nominees in the Best Novel and Best First Novel categories.  Otherwise, I would’ve put it down long before it was over.  For a locked room mystery, Agatha Christie is the way to go.

On a scale of 1 to 10:

1222:  2

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