After a couple months of very intense fantasy reading, I picked up a couple mysteries for a change of pace. A friend recommended Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series and I’ve had 1222 by Anne Holt on my to-read list for a while. In some ways, you’d probably be hard-pressed to find two mysteries that are any more different. One takes place in Wyoming in a small town on the edge of an Indian reservation. The other is in a remote mountain ski resort in Norway. In Cold Dish, Walt Longmire is a 50ish, widowed, Vietnam veteran who is the elected sheriff of Absaroka County. In 1222, Hanne Wilhelmson is a 50ish, lesbian, ex-cop whose been paralyzed by a gunshot wound and solves her mystery from a wheelchair. And yet…
Both mysteries have a preponderance of snow. In the Walt Longmire novel, the title refers to revenge as a dish best served….you get it. There’s a horrible snow storm in the climax which Walt survives with the help of some mystical Indian companions. In 1222, a train wreck lands all the passengers at a remote mountain hotel, elevation 1,222 feet, in the middle of a hurricane/snow storm. I didn’t know hurricanes could take the form of kick ass snowstorms, but apparently in Norway, yes, they can.
What’s interesting is how the mystery genre kind of transcends the cultural differences you might assume between Norway and Wyoming. Both of these are character-driven mystery series. You are as interested in Walt Longmire and Hanne Wilhlemson as you are in figuring out who dunnit. In fact, I’d say you’re probably more interested in these two main characters than you are in figuring out who dunnit. I can live with that in a mystery.
In a nice twist, the woman–Hanne Wilhlemson–is the misanthropic, awkward, hard to get along with person. Walt Longmire is quite the social butterfly. Both of them are wounded in various ways. Walt is dealing with the ghosts of a rape case against a young Indian woman and his own role in the release of the guilty parties. Hanne, as she herself confesses, has spent the last 9 years since her injury in a kind of stasis, waiting for…something. Perhaps to get caught up in a And Then There Were None-type mystery while she’s snowed in a hotel with a murderer.
I’ve been eager to read 1222 because a review likened it to Agatha Christie style murder mysteries. There are nice allusions to Christie in the novel. Of course the references to Ten Little Indians. And a little aside about Wilhelmson’s “gray cells.” There’s also a dramatic revealing of the murderer at the end, Hercule Poirot-style, where Wilhelmson ferrets out the killer in a room full of the other train passengers. But the novel is also first person, which Christie’s novels were not, and I wonder if any of the other novels are at all Christie-like. It appears that this is just the first to be translated into English and the first book in the series, Blind Goddess, will be coming in June 2012.
Despite how excited I was about 1222, I have to confess that I liked Cold Dish slightly better. It was aided, I think, by a more interesting cast of supporting characters, especially the humorous and ironic Indians. Cold Dish was also helped by being located in a small town, even if it’s a small town in Wyoming. I wonder if 1222 is being hyped in the wake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo phenomenon. It’s Norwegian rather than Swedish, but how much does that matter to an American audience? As with the Stieg Larsson books, there are moments in 1222 when I think to myself, “Is this bad writing, or is this just how Norwegian people interact?”
On the other hand, I wasn’t expecting much from a mystery series set in Wyoming with a male main character. There are my own prejudices peeking out. But as my friend says, apparently both Craig Johnson and his fictional avatar, Walt Longmire, seem to genuinely like and respect women. And men. Walt Longmire and the people around him are infinitely human, which means flawed, but quite interesting. Longmire is in many ways just what you’d expect from a white 50 something sheriff in Wyoming, but in a whole lot of ways, he is not. And in all ways, he is quite believable and likable. He reminds me of Russ Van Alstyne from Juliet-Spencer Fleming’s mystery series. I like him. I’m interested in what happens to him next.
I would recommend both of these mysteries, though reading them together is optional.