1222 by Anne Holt

anne holt 1222

I was very hesitant about posting this review but in the same way I decided I would post bad reviews about products if they were disappointing, I was pretty certain I should do the same for books.

I’ll get the edition thoughts out of the way straight away: it’s a small paperback, one of those that don’t feel nice in your hands and whose pages seem too bulky and big for the covers. The print is on the small side but legible.

So, onto the review, brace yourselves, cause I did not like this book. First, let’s start with the premise: The worst storm in Norwegian history is underway. There is a train with 269 passengers going to Bergen, with a mysterious last carriage surrounded by rumours and curiosity. The train derails and the passengers are whisked to safety at Finse, a centuries-old hotel in the mountain. After the first night, one of the passengers is found murdered and a retired police inspector is asked to investigate.

It seems like this book would have it all: an interesting setting, a nice mystery, Agatha Christie-esque mystique and a cranky but loveable inspector to save the day. That assumption is wrong. Incredibly wrong. 

I’ll start with a confession: I had a bias against Anne Holt. I picked one of her books in a second-hand shop and hated it but decided I owed it to myself to give her a second chance. After all, here is an award-winning, best seller author and little old me hates it? So when I found this paperback stacked in the pile of “new” books in my second hand store I got it straight away. And now I understand why someone got rid of it.

Holt has one immense talent and that is for creating incredibly annoying characters. Not antiheros. Not rugged-but-interesting. Just plain old nasty and unpleasant, the kind of person you wouldn’t want around you in real life because they suck the energy from any room they’re in.

A reader is a wonderful thing: they tend to be fickle but they do retain the ability to remember the basic facts of a character’s life. There is no need to inject the same three facts over and over again. By the time this book ends, you will know, with the certainty and the passion of a thousand suns that Hanne is in a wheelchair, she hates people and she wants to be left alone but not completely ignored.

She is self-centered, out of touch and, in creating her, Hold misses the mark completely. Instead of casting what I can only assume is a hard look at Norwegian society and its shortcomings she only manages to be insensitive and tone deaf. Here you have an author that tries far too much, far too hard. She wants to be edgy and safe, at the same time. The only excuse for creating a despicable character is if it makes for good literature, high or low brow, smart or stupid, but entertaining and interesting. Hanne fails at all of these: here you have a woman who prides herself in being above everything yet she behaves like a teenager. Her demeanour is not nihilism, it’s a poorly executed character dreamed up by an angsty teenager in his mum’s basement before getting bored and moving on to something else. As such, she barely has any depth.

As for the plot, yes, its premise is interesting but its execution is incredibly poor. There is very little character development or even exposure. There is no intrigue. I challenge you to care about any of these characters by the time the book ends. I didn’t even care who killed Cato Hammer or the unnecessary Roar Hanson. Holt abuses plot devices in a way only an inexperienced author unsure of her talents can, which isn’t the vibe I got from her CV at all. This is why it surprises me that the writing is so incredibly lazy, almost amateur. By all accounts, she in an incredibly accomplished writer that should hit all my buttons.

The only attempt at character development I could find was trying to make Hanne blander in the last third of the book, increasing her “me against the world” attitude, wherein the “world” includes the readers that are supposed to be interested in her and her pathos.

To be honest, this book was a tremendous waste of time. I only ploughed through so I could vent about it. Now that I have I can go on to forget about it and bask in the bliss that will be my next reading pleasure (Camilla Läckberg, my old friend, here I come)

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