Anne Holt sets new novel 1222 in isolated hotel - interview
The bestselling Norwegian crime writer on her latest book
An isolated hotel is the setting for the new novel by bestselling Norwegian crime writer Anne Holt. Doug Johnstone hears of a place where DNA can’t touch
Sometimes it feels as if developments in forensic science have taken all the fun out of crime fiction. Not so with Anne Holt’s new novel 1222. Although it’s the Norwegian bestselling author’s first book to be translated into English, 1222 is her 15th novel, and the eighth to feature the irascible police inspector Hanne Wilhelmsen. Quite different to what Holt has written before, this works as a homage to the classic ‘locked room’ sub-genre made popular by the likes of Agatha Christie, with the survivors of a train crash isolated in a remote Norwegian hotel and cut off from the world by a violent winter storm.
‘It was definitely meant as a tribute to Agatha Christie,’ says Holt. ‘When you write contemporary crime fiction, you have to deal with the fact that the police actually have a lot of technical stuff to help them. I wanted to see if it was possible to use that old-fashioned way of solving a case, without having any help from DNA or anything. To do that I had to isolate the population.’
The setting of the novel is extraordinary. After the train crash, the 269 survivors hole up in the nearby Hotel Finse 1222 (it’s 1222 metres above sea level). As first one dead body then more appear, it becomes clear that someone among them is a murderer, in a cleverly arranged plot that sucks the reader in. ‘That’s an actual hotel,’ says Holt. ‘It’s the only place in Norway you can only reach by train, there are no roads. I was caught there in a terrible storm years ago, the train didn’t come and we were totally isolated for 48 hours. Nobody got murdered, but I remember thinking what if someone did?’
Holt laughs at this last sentence, but it’s a revealing statement about the mental processes of a woman who is clearly a workaholic, having spent time as a journalist, a lawyer and a politician before stumbling into writing. ‘I didn’t always dream of being an author. I saw a contest to write a short crime novel and for the fun of it I wrote one, but I didn’t make the deadline. Instead I sent the manuscript to another publishing house and they liked it.’
Holt is being modest. These days she has sold over five million books and is a bestseller in many of the 25 countries where she’s published. Most of her fiction has featured the fantastic Hanne Wilhelmsen, who in 1222, is in a very dark place. Paralysed from the waist down from a gunshot wound and retired from the force, she’s initially very reluctant to get involved with events in the hotel, but gradually gets drawn in. ‘She’s really messed up and very isolated, so I needed to force her into being a detective again,’ says Holt.
Despite being the eighth in a series, 1222 works well as a stand-alone novel and doesn’t seem overly burdened by backstory, as some detective series can be. ‘I always try to write them as independent books, and I don’t think you have to know too much about her before you read this one,’ says Holt. ‘But hopefully people will be intrigued and want to read the series from the start.’
1222 is out now published by Corvus.