Review

The Hand That Trembles

by Kjell Eriksson

THE HAND THAT TREMBLES is the fourth of Kjell Eriksson’s wonderful Ann Lindell novels to be published in the United States. Eriksson is a literary superstar in his native Sweden and Scandinavia, and his renown is spreading --- slowly, surely and deservedly so --- across the remainder of Europe as well. He combines intriguing mysteries with taut psychological exploration to create dark and compelling storylines that, at the end of the day, are more often than not the result of actions taken in the heat of passion.

"[Eriksson] combines intriguing mysteries with taut psychological exploration to create dark and compelling storylines that, at the end of the day, are more often than not the result of actions taken in the heat of passion."
 
Ann Lindell, a Swedish police detective, is herself as quietly unhappy and disturbed as those she is charged with detecting and apprehending. While not always a sympathetic character, one can at least empathize with her during the course of her investigations, particularly where her personal life brushes, however tangentially, against her professional one.
 
The story concerns three mysteries, two of which ultimately intertwine. The first involves a respected county commissioner named Sven-Arne Persson, who quietly walks out of a meeting in Uppsala, Sweden, shortly before it ends and disappears, leaving his wife and a baffled electorate behind him. Some 12 years later, a neighbor of Persson’s who is visiting Bangalore, India, sees Persson in a restaurant. This unexpected sighting causes a chain reaction that resonates backward and forward in time.
 
Lindell is assigned to a case that she takes up with the greatest reluctance. A severed foot has been discovered in a rural area of Sweden. It appears to belong to a female, but there is no body to be had. The area is sparsely populated, but not isolated, and the inhabitants are by turns enigmatic and bizarre. The case is all the more puzzling because no women in the area have been reported missing. Lindell pursues the matter, even as the locale reopens a fresh personal wound for her that she knows is not fully healed. Lindell is a dogged investigator, so much so that she cannot let the matter go, even when it’s apparently resolved.
 
Meanwhile, Lindell feels herself to be somewhat distanced from some members of her investigative team for various reasons --- good, bad and indifferent --- and to be unfulfilled personally. Some of these feelings appear to arise from her relationship with Berglund, her superior officer, who is recuperating from health problems. While their relationship remains somewhat formal, one senses that more is coming between them, a set of circumstances that will undoubtedly complicate things for both of them in the future. In the here and now, however, Berglund, for lack of anything else to do, revisits a cold case involving the unsolved brutal murder of an unpopular political figure. The case goes from being seemingly unresolvable to overflowing with likely suspects who are falling over each other to confess. The result is chaotic for all involved, but the matter is ultimately resolved, if not neatly, then satisfactorily for (almost) all concerned.
 
THE HAND THAT TREMBLES is a fine psychological study on several levels. While the plot lines examine the frequently bizarre motives that people have for doing what they do,  Eriksson’s narrative never gets too bogged down in an in-depth evaluation of what has brought each of the characters in the book to the state they are in. This is particularly true of Persson, who left a position of some prestige to live quietly, humbly and anonymously in India. One reason for his actions is ultimately made clear, yet the question of why he acted to the extent that he did is never quite explained. Nor need it be. Similarly, Lindell’s dissatisfaction with her personal life is coming to the fore. It seems that being a single mother with a career is not enough, and her unhappiness is evident even to strangers. 
 
Thanks to the translation efforts of Ebba Segerberg, Eriksson’s work is being published in the United States on at least a semi-regular basis  (THE HAND THAT TREMBLES released in Sweden in 2007), a most welcome state of affairs that will hopefully reveal sooner than later how Lindell resolves her personal discontent and, more importantly, further expose American readers to one of the most intriguing mystery series currently being published in any language.
 

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on November 3, 2011

The Hand That Trembles
by Kjell Eriksson

  • Publication Date: June 5, 2012
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250006902
  • ISBN-13: 9781250006905