Thomas Dunne/Minotaur/St. Martin's Publishing, 2011
originally published as Den hand som skälver
translated by Ebba Segerberg
The Hand That Trembles is really three stories woven into one. The first strand is the story of Sven-Arne Persson, a county commissioner who in the midst of a deep depression, takes a break in the middle of a meeting, and that's the last anyone sees of him. Some years later he is declared dead, but in reality, Sven-Arne has been in India, where he lives a very simple life tending plants in a botanical garden. Once a year he returns to the same restaurant in Bangalore, takes the same seat and ponders whether or not he'd made a good decision. For the last twelve years it's been a ritual that proceeds without incident; this year, however, he is horrified when he sees someone he knew from his life in Sweden. And that someone recognizes him. The second storyline begins with the discovery of a severed foot wearing a sandal. It has washed up on a beach, and as Ann Lindell works with the Osthammar police to try to figure out who the foot belongs to, she arrives in the small community of Bultudden, where the past has left its mark on the present. Finally, back in Uppsala, while recovering from surgery to remove a brain tumor, Berglund goes to work revisiting a cold case -- the murder of Nils Dufva, who was beaten to death back in 1993.
The three plotlines are well thought out, well delivered and although the novel starts out slow, readers should not give up. The groundwork that Eriksson lays in the first part of the novel is necessary to understanding how the past interacts with the present; it also puts the reader into the mindsets of several key characters, many of whom carry secrets from the past. Underneath the crimes and the police work there is an ongoing examination of loneliness and isolation, as well as a constant reminder that the past does have a direct effect on the present. The subplots in The Hand That Tremble are well constructed, easy to follow and all tend to come together in a believable fashion, although it does take some time for the reader to put two and two together. I think that most readers will be a bit frustrated with the length of time that it actually takes to get to a point where something actually happens. That was my own reaction at first, to be very honest. But I came away from this book thinking that taking this attitude does a disservice to the author.
In some cases, it's not always about the action. Eriksson's novels, for example, are much more character driven than those of most Scandinavian writers; he's very much into developing the people who populate the story -- getting their pasts involved with their individual or collective presents -- in a very realistic way. Although sometimes I don't always agree with the amount of development he throws into his main character, Ann Lindell (seriously...why do I as a reader care if she shaves off all of her body hair?), character is Eriksson's forte. He's also very good at getting underneath the politics, the social problems and their impact not only the country as a whole, but on communities and individuals as well. In this sense, he's falls more into the writing camp of Sjöwall and Wahlöö. But I think most readers are after the action: after the popular, more action-packed novels of Nesbø, Mankell, Stieg Larsson and others, the less hectic, more character-driven stories are often written off as not being as good, or worse -- as boring. That's not the case here, but because of the fast-paced, more gritty content of what many readers of the above-mentioned authors have become accustomed to enjoying, some people will not appreciate this book as fully as it should be appreciated. That is a definite shame. There is a real variation of writing styles among authors of Scandinavian crime fiction, and that is something to keep in mind while reading.
Other than hoping that Lindell finds someone soon because her love life issues are getting old and grating on my nerves, I actually enjoyed this novel, and I'd definitely recommend it.
crime fiction from Sweden