A Hanne Wilhelmsen Novel
Marlaine Delargy, Translator
(Scribner)Hanne Wilhelmsen and 200 other passengers are stuck in an ancient hotel in a raging hurricane snow-storm blizzard and because she's an ex-detective --- wouldn't you know it? --- a few bodies pop up (after they've popped off). Time, place, and loyalty to her craft require that Hanne put her experience and acumen to work to find out who did what to whom, and why.
It's an odd bunch there in the hotel at Finse 1222. A doctor caring for the injured is a dwarf named Magnus Streng. A very wealthy businessman named Steiner Aass --- we're not so sure that his name translates all that well --- jumps (or is pushed) out of a window. A native of Finse who helps around the hotel, Geir Rugholmen, is a lawyer by trade and chews tobacco.
After they've suffered twenty-four hours stuck in the middle of the storm in the middle of nowhere, a Twiggy-style actress, Fari Thue, starts jumping up on the table in the lobby and calling on the others to revolt against all authority whatsoever. Hanne chooses a young juvenile delinquent to help her solve the various murders. His name is Adrian and he writes beautifully and says "fuck" regularly. He sulks too.
Hanne is in a wheelchair (she got shot in the line of duty when she was with the Oslo police) and she's a bit dotty herself. She lives in an apartment with an Arab named Nefis who is a lesbian and who somehow has gotten pregnant and now they have a two-year-old daughter to care for.
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They're stuck in Finse 1222 because their train ran off the track. They're all cold --- there's a Norwegian mid-winter hurricane outside --- and Hanne complains about the cold so much that I wanted to lay down the book and ship off my old heavy-duty sailor's jacket to her just to shut her up. It does get chilly: doors keep blowing open, windows keep falling in, off, or down in the storm.
Hanne gives cryptic answers when people ask her what she thinks about the storm, or the case, or whodunnit ... and spends a fair amount of time just staring at outer space, or at them, or asking them to leave her alone after she has milked them of any information that might be helpful for her impromptu detective work.
Despite her chilly ways, she seems to attract inordinate attention, and when the storm abates and the helicopters arrive with the investigative police she launches into a detective-novel denouement speech about who pushed Aass out the window and who shot the preacher and who stabbed his friend in the chest with an icicle, no less.
Her demeanor throughout and her long-winded explanation wins the applause of all except, perhaps, one slightly disgruntled literary critic off to the west somewhere who is trying to be generous to Hanne and our emotionally impaired friends off there in northern Scandinavia, stuck with long-winded mystery writers in severe need of editorial supervision.
Having the star of the show always bitching about the cold and wanting to get away from it all (don't we all?) might make you think that Hanne is a big bore and she might well be and I suspect a big bore is not exactly some one you want to have as the star of your show. Give us a few Chandler self-denigrating wisecracks, please.
Further, I suspect that Ms. Holt, the author, may not have done her homework on the care and feeding of paraplegics. Yes, I know: they are supposed to be bitter and Hanne shows the usual crip bitterness in the way she deals with those that stare at her and deeply resents having people offering to carry her up and down the stairs which some of her wheel chair brothers and sisters can sympathize with: "I feel like a child in a pram whenever other people take control of my chair. The very last thing I want is to feel like a child. It was bad enough being one. In other words, the idea of someone carrying me up to another floor was unbearable." Amen.
But how interesting it would have been to have an author who offers us a central character who lives in a wheel chair and who isn't all that bitter, who manages to get by with some humor, to see that there's still a bit of a kick in life even when you meet up with people staring at you and you find yourself staring not at them but at their crotches rather than their faces but you figure out soon enough that that's the name of the game.
More to the point is the physical reality of one like Hanne who has a severed vertebra. Early on when the train went off the tracks, Ms. Holt decided to jam a ski pole through Hanne's thigh. There was a lot of blood and after it fell out the good dwarf doctor had to fix it up with bandages. After that, the trauma was pretty much ignored which ain't the way the body works --- at least not for us paraplegics. A wound like that can be life-threatening, for, after four years, Hanne's atrophy is extensive, and the loss of muscle tone and the reduced circulation in her body below the waist is such that her leg is not going to heal itself quickly or easily, especially without extensive emergency medical care. In fact, her wound is sure to turn septic in a very short time if she doesn't get to the emergency room of a major hospital.
I know, I know, this is fiction --- but reality is reality, and some of us readers who have had similar experiences get picky about these things. If in future books Ms. Holt plans to deliver any more injuries to Hanne, let her bone up on the facts of life (and death) for those who have lost the nerve endings and muscle tone in much of their bodies.
We do have to give Ms. Holt a small consolation prize for coming up with a zinger of an ending to 1222. All throughout, there have been weird strangers sneaking in and out of rooms of the hotel that are out of the way and out of sight. The characters even had a special de luxe car hooked onto the slow train to Bergen. Who the hell are they? And do they have anything to do with the plot?Well, not much ... but it is fun getting to meet with them at the end, at least from a distance, as one of them is being ushered into a mysterious black helicopter that appears at the tail end of the story. Henne is sneaking a peek at him from up the hill with her binoculars: "His face filled my field of vision for just long enough to convince me that I couldn't believe what I was seeing."
The man's beard was long and dark, with stripes of gray in an upturned V running downwards from his mouth. The eyes that were staring into my binoculars without being aware of it were dark, with long lashes and a gentle, sorrowful expression.
Great plot surprise and Holt almost brings it off. Too bad that this particular prisoner has departed this vale of tears so recently as to vitiate the impact of his unexpected visit to 1222.--- L. W. Milam