Monday, March 3, 2014

1222 (Hanne Wilhelmsen, #8)1222 by Anne Holt
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

"Life is beautiful. Until vodka freezes", a friend of mine, Witek, used to say. Most of the action in Anne Holt's thriller "1222" happens when the temperature outside is below freezing point of 80-proof vodka.

A train from Oslo to Bergen (Norway) crashes. All passengers, some 200 of them, luckily survive and find shelter in a nearby hotel. However, because of a monster winter storm combined with a hurricane of unprecedented magnitude, the hotel is totally snowed in and any rescue efforts from the outside world are doomed to fail. One of the passengers is found shot to death. And that's just the beginning of the ordeal. Hanne Wilhelmsen, a wheelchair-bound ex-police detective, helped by several other passengers and hotel staff is trying to solve the case. The scenario much resembles 1970's disaster movies, with a typical menagerie of disaster film characters. Unfortunately, to me, the quality of the book is on par with quality of these movies.

Readers who like books that are heavily plot-driven might rate "1222" quite highly. The plot does move fast, the tension keeps rising, and there are numerous surprises. The cliché phrase 'page turner' describes this book well. Alas, the novel is not written well. Many of the main characters, like Adrian, Magnus, Kari Thue, are caricatures rather than real people. To use the author's own phrase, they are 'paper dolls'. When I read well-written books I often get the feeling that I personally know the characters. None of this happens here. What's worse, I totally do not care about any of the characters, and least of all about Hanna.

Many aspects of Ms. Holt's prose are annoying. For instance, she uses a lame writing device: just about when a character is to divulge a major secret, there is some interruption, and then it is too late. The twelve chapters of the novel are prefaced by meteorological characterizations of each step in Beaufort scale; they read much better than Ms. Holt's descriptions. The author uses six sentences to describe how Magnus wipes his mouth of jam and cream (pages 243-244 of hardcover edition). Yet on pages 145-146 she provides non-trivial observations on the nature of religion. Accidental lapse into decent writing?

It may be a good thriller for many readers, just not for me.

One and a half stars.

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