Our Far-Flung Correspondents – The Hand that Trembles by Kjell Eriksson Reviewed by Ananth Krishnan

This review of Kjell Eriksson’s The Hand that Trembles is a guest contribution from Ananth Krishnan, an avid reader and frequent reviewer who lives in India. 

There is no doubt that I have been smitten by the Scandinavian crime bug. If Mankell and Maj Sjöwall / Per Wahloo have sown the seeds, then further care was bestowed by the likes of Jo Nesbo, Camilla Lackberg & Steig Larsson with Kjell Eriksson marking the official existence of the contagion – nevertheless, it is a viral infection that I am enjoying infinitely ! Though all the name dropping above is but a drop in the ocean I think these names are enough proof of the impact these authors have had in the world of crime fiction (not to mention the big fat hole in my wallet, however I must mention here my thanks to Allison & Busby for providing me a review copy of this particular book)

Eriksson’s The Hand that Trembles marks my latest foray into this wonderful world. The book deals with three sub plots, so to say – Sven-Arne’s Persson’s vanishing without a trace from public life after being a successful politician for several years, a dismembered foot washed up on the beach leading Ann Lindell to investigate further and an age old but unsolved crime of the beating to death of Nils Dufva being looked into by Berglund (Ann’s boss). Given that this is crime fiction, there are no points for guessing that these would all be linked somehow but where Eriksson shines is the approach he employs to develop the plot – the characters are all carefully etched and the settings amidst which their interplay happens suggests loads of intricate research.

Eriksson excels in his prose many a time employing excellent metaphors that show an amazing depth in the character – this especially comes to the fore when his characters indulge in their introspective ruminations. Of special mention is the character Ante Persson (Sven-Arne Persson’s uncle), a staunch communist – his trauma is palpable and his portrayal is so vivid that one cannot help but show empathy towards this old man. It is also with this character that Eriksson manages to tie in a militant past that embodies much of Sweden’s actual history (in terms of communism and Nazi politics during the 1930s). The novel ebbs and flows across time and places never leaving the boundaries of the three sub plots yet still managing to inject enough twists and spins to keep the reader interested. As with most other Nordic writers Eriksson too manages a wonderful depiction of community life and how tight knit its inhabitants and their lives are – Bultudden is where the discerped foot appears and it is with its residents that Ann Lindell is pitted against in order to untangle the mystery.

I don’t think I need to specifically mention that I enjoyed this book but I do have to mention some little gripes. I could not help but have a disjointed feeling as I was turning the pages – I don’t know if it was because this was my first read of the series (it is actually eight-old in Swedish and four-old in English) lending to unfamiliarity with the recurring characters or the random order translation of the series itself into English – irrespective, it was something I could not shake off. Not to mean that I found it boring but I found some sections random and incoherent in relation to the flow of events. Ann Lindell comes across as a very promising and talented detective but this particular book does not have enough to paint a picture in my head, I really wished Eriksson would have spent some more time for those not-in-order readers like me. Another thing that I just have to say – I am an Indian and I could not help but judge how Bangalore was portrayed (Bangalore is featured in this book as Sven-Arne Persson’s hideout after his disappearance).  I wonder if Eriksson has actually been to Bangalore but I find the imagery including the nuances fairly accurate but I would have liked it if some judgmental portions were toned down just a touch.

Even so, these issues are just me bellyaching for this was a book that I found to be a very satisfying read. It was a journey that was filled with all the ingredients that a successful crime fiction novel should contain – strong characters with honest portraits of their daily realism, an unassailable plot that is a reward to see resolved and some fitting research work not to mention the tinge of India thrown in to top things off – a winning recipe all around!!!

Thank you, Ananth, for sharing your review with readers of this blog!

6 thoughts on “Our Far-Flung Correspondents – The Hand that Trembles by Kjell Eriksson Reviewed by Ananth Krishnan

  1. nice review. I don’t think this book was well edited (or translated? But the translator is highly regarded) as I found the prose clunky and could easily have been improved by better editing, both the use of language and some of those “boring” sections. I am interested in your views of the Indian part as I thought that sounded a bit “off” somehow but I have not been there so I don’t know. Asian and African countries are presented in rather particular (left-wing liberal, oversimplified?) ways in other Scandi crime fiction I’ve read eg The Indian Bride by Karin Fossum and The Man From Beijing by Henning Mankell. Somehow, they don’t “do” abroad!
    Having written all that I did enjoy this book, though I agree it is such a pity they have been translated in a silly order. I have read the previous three translated but even those are mid-way through the series so you don’t get the necessary back-story of Anne.

  2. Thanks Maxine. I heard that Kjell was in India last year in Goa literary fest, so I for one can imagine that his portrayal being first hand (though I did not know this at the time of writing the review). That was why I thought it was quite genuine in the book. Having said that, I still do agree with you about the general representation in other books (I would think not just limited to Scandi crime!) – left-wing liberal and oversimplification are probably 2 spot on features and I dont want to add more to this lest I open a can of worms and make roads for a stormy debate in this rather tranquil Scandinavian setting 🙂
    Thanks to you for letting me guest-post.

  3. As a fan of Kjell Eriksson’s, I was a bit disappointed in this book. I enjoyed much of it and I do like Ann Lindell’s character quite a bit. The books always perk up when she’s in the room. I agree that the book needed more energy, especially certain parts. More editing would have helped and perhaps some tightening of specific sections. The translation? I don’t know about that, but “clunky” does describe parts of it and perhaps a bit of it was rambling.
    I’m not sure what was “liberal” about it. Eriksson does have a point of view which does come through in his books and to me, gladly so.
    I look forward to reading more of his books though.

  4. Kathy,
    Thanks for your comments, this is my first book in the Lindell series – I guess that is the primary reason for feeling a little ‘off’. I also did appreciate the fact that Eriksson has an opinion which comes off quite succinctly but as an individual subjected to the stark reality day in and day out, I was just wishing for a little subtlety – that is all 🙂

  5. Subtlety? I’ve read four books by Eriksson and I don’t remember subtlety as a trait of his writing. I very much liked The Demon of Dakar and The Princess of Burundi.

  6. This was my first outing and now that you have told me I understand how Eriksson operates. It was just a very minor thing for me and absolutely did not stop me from enjoying the book.

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