Travelling on the Oslo to Bergen train during a winter blizzard, retired Policewoman Hanne Wilhelmsen is startled awake as the train comes off the rails. But the problems are only just beginning.
On my first winter train trip from Oslo to Bergen, I experienced a memorable whiteout high up on the mountain plateau. Memorable because it was stunningly beautiful, but also because it made me feel genuinely threatened. I couldn't help thinking what it would be like to get stuck in such a storm when out skiing (something which I came close to up in the mountains near Grong!)
As we passed through the intriguing station at Finse, a tiny place where no roads go, my curiosity got the better of me and I turned to Google. There I discovered that not only was Finse the location for Hoth, the ice planet in Star Wars, it's also the setting for a locked-room mystery novel by well-known Norwegian author Anne Holt.
The novel is the eighth in Holt's series featuring Norwegian Police Inspector Hanne Wilhelmsen, but was the first to be translated into English. When I first read 1222, I felt it was a difficult introduction to Wilhelmsen's character. It comes at the end of her career when she is confined to a wheelchair after a shootout. There's lots of nods to her back-story especially this incident and her domestic life, but with just enough explanation to keep the newbie reader on board.
So, a locked-room mystery set on a train? Not quite.
In the opening scene of the book, Wilhelmsen is jolted awake as the train comes off the rails during a freak snowstorm. Wilhelmsen and her fellow passengers are rescued and taken in to the nearby Finse 1222 hotel, but as the storm continues the hotel is soon cut off from the outside world. We learn about the other passengers through Wilhemsen's point of view, which is limited to the lower floors due to her disability.
She tries to keep herself to herself, but after a nighttime murder and rumours of a top-secret passenger being kept under armed guard in the hotel, she is soon drawn right into the centre of the mystery whether she likes it or not.
By the end of the book you'll feel as if you know the hotel intimately (it must have given the hotel a tourism boost!) and there's plenty of nice touches such as the rivalry between Vålerenga and Brann supporters that gives the story a believable tone (that, and having experienced a snowstorm while passing through Finse on the train!)
A lot happens within the walls of the hotel, yet the pace is slow, perhaps too slow for some. It's a thinking person's book, especially suitable for fans of Agatha Christie. If that's your bag, you'll really enjoy 1222.
Probably best you don't read it on the train, though…
Photo: Jon-Eric Melsæter