Lind & Co, 2015.
Reviewed by Darcy Hurford in SBR 2015:2
Review Section: Fiction - Adult
Before making her début as a crime novelist, Tove Alsterdal had already spent most of her professional life as a writer. As well as being a journalist, scriptwriter and dramatist, she edits the books of Liza Marklund, a big name in Swedish crime fiction. So the reader can be sure Alsterdal knows what she’s doing.
Since 2009, when her first novel, Kvinnorna på stranden (Women on the Beach), appeared, Alsterdal has been carving out a niche as a writer of page- turners with a political, international flavour. Kvinnorna på stranden dealt with the topic of people smuggling. It was followed by I tystnaden begravd (Tomb of Silence) in 2012, which involved the story of Swedes who emigrated to the Soviet Union in the 1930s. Låt mig ta din hand also incorporates historical events. This time, the military junta that ruled Argentina in the late 1970s and early 1980s forms the background to part of the story.
Låt mig ta din hand has met with considerable acclaim in Sweden. Svenska Deckarakademin (the Swedish Crime Writing Academy) awarded it the prize for best Swedish crime novel on publication in 2014. It is also among the nominees for this year’s Glasnyckeln (Glass Key) prize for best Nordic crime novel, awarded in September.While it’s a crime novel, and a gripping one at that, its fascination lies in the fact that it is also much more. When Helene – an architect and mother of two with an impeccable middle-class life in Stockholm’s Vasastan – learns that her estranged sister Charlie has killed herself by jumping from a balcony, she initially accepts the police classification of the death as suicide. Helene has had little contact with her birth family for years. Their father is an alcoholic, their mother disappeared in Argentina when they were very young, and Charlie was not exactly an easy person to get on with. Suicide seems the simplest explanation.
Gradually though, Helene finds herself believing otherwise – and particularly when she realises that Charlie had just returned from Argentina. The search for Charlie’s killer leads the strait-laced Helene increasingly far from the life she has built for herself. Through return visits to the suburb where she grew up, experiments in internet dating and finally a visit to South America, she gradually uncovers the story behind her sister’s death. Parallel with Helene’s story is that of her mother, Ing-Marie. Vividly, but without lapsing into sensationalism, Alsterdal describes the horrific events that took place during the military regime, when countless people were ‘disappeared’. It is one of the strengths of the novel that it manages to be gripping yet keep the violence off-stage.
Although this long novel takes some time to get going, once the narrative is under way it is hard to stop reading.There are a couple of implausible coincidences and a scene towards the end in which the presence of a particular character defies credibility, but the story is told so well that it is entirely possible to suspend disbelief. Anyone looking for the usual tropes of the genre – gory corpses, killers taunting the police, midnight chases – will be disappointed. The real horror of the story is psychological, emerging in the uncomfortable moments – there are more than one – when a piece of information is revealed and the reader realises exactly who has betrayed whom. Betrayal is a recurring event in Låt mig ta din hand, and not even Helene is immune from it.