Thursday, 18 August 2011

Review - 1222

As of Friday I will be the proud renter of the WORLD'S SMALLEST KITCHEN. There is a flat that goes with it, which is also exciting but not as worthy of note as the WORLD'S SMALLEST KITCHEN. I shall be making tiny insect meals and eating off children's plates, like the slow-eating-tiny-bite-taking child from that Mrs Piggle-Wiggle story. Perhaps I shall invest in some miniature cupcake moulds.

Anyway. I read another book! 1222 by Anne Holt was the perfect antidote to the painfully meaningful, sloshily dull Marriage Plot - it quite cheerfully meant nothing at all, and enjoyed itself while doing so. Perfect. If I ever get onto the Booker prize committee I shall repeatedly nominate crime novels until everyone else's head explodes from thwarted snobbery.

1222 (before you ask, that's the altitude, not the date - we don't have another medieval mystery on our hands) reads like a smartly updated, delightfully sour Miss Marple mystery, if Miss Marple was a wheelchair-bound Norwegian lesbian with a Muslim girlfriend. And if that last description seems wearily right-on, don't worry. Anne Holt is a sharply ironic writer (and probably quite a fun person to be around), and not only that, but she manages to make Hanne (our heroine) seem like a believable person instead of just the perfect storm of positive-discrimination ticky boxes that she ought to be.

My favourite Anne Holt fact (actually my only Anne Holt fact, but it's a good one) is that she used to be Norwegian Justice Minister. Of course, her publishers are most interested in the fact that she's Norwegian, because this allows them to plaster her front covers with things like THIS IS EXACTLY LIKE JO NESBO AND THEREFORE STIEG LARSSON! and SAME REGION? BASICALLY THE SAME AUTHOR! A snow storm plays a fairly central role in 1222, so I suppose it is literally Norwegian, but if I had to compare styles I'd say that this reminds me much more of Fred Vargas (side note: read Fred Vargas. She's genius). Norwegian crime, to me, is full of dour, fatalistic people who bleed a lot, and this is funny and delightfully off-beat. It also pays a lot of tribute to Agatha Christie: it's pretty much a country-house mystery (with added cabin-fever thrills since all the characters are trapped inside their hotel by a blizzard), with a slow drip of puzzly clues and people being bumped off in the night.

The central mystery - who's killing off the survivors of a train crash while they're trapped in a mountain hotel by the snow storm of the century - is a lovely balance of Hans Christian Andersen grim (oh, the bit with the dog. You will squirm) and tongue-in-cheek fun. I'm not sure Anne Holt lays her clue trail quite right - the ending wasn't quite the oh! of course! moment that makes a really successful crime novel for me, and there's a rather odd sub-mystery, too, which is both distracting and annoyingly Relevant To Today's Culture. However, 1222 is still a great read, a fun novel and a hell of a lot better than most of its Scandinavian competition. I think I've become an Anne Holt fan.

3.5 stars.

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