Tag Archives: Stieg Larsson

Stieg’s cause

A great many things can be done in the wake of the horrific Christianist terror attack in Norway. While it’s far from the most important thing, I’d like to see the discussion of Stieg Larsson’s phenomenally popular “Millennium”  novels — The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest — shift away from Larsson’s personal life and toward the journalism he made his life’s work. Anders Behring Breivik is exactly the kind of right-wing psychopath Larsson worked to expose and discredit, and while we’re waiting to see what becomes of the unfinished manuscripts Larsson left behind, I’d like to see some enterprising publisher put together a collection of his best exposes, with editorial notes to help readers outside Scandinavia keep track of the context.

As this Guardian piece points out, murderous right-wing whackos are a staple of Scandinavian crime fiction, and maybe a journey through the works of Henning Mankel, Jo Nesbo, and Jonas Wergeland will offer some insights into our own homegrown, FoxNews-fed breed of creep.

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The Girl Who Went Downhill and Took Her Sweet Old Time (As Well As Three Books) Doing It

More out of duty than enjoyment, I finished up The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, the final layer in the Stieg Larsson triple-decker that started with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. My interest had pretty much drained away midway through the middle of the sandwich, The Girl Who Played With Fire, but I kept chewing out of mild curiosity over how much more preposterous the plot could get.

A lot more, as it turned out. I’m predisposed to like any story with a crusading journalist as the hero, especially if the journo is also absolute catnip to any woman he encounters. A heroine who’s a computer hacker with a spiky Asperger personality is also pretty intriguing,  which was enough to suspend my disbelief for the first book. But when the heroine can infiltrate any laptop in the western hemisphere, whip opponents three times her size, and confound a nationwide dragnet for weeks and months while tracking down a father who’s a Soviet defector and international sex trafficker, all while playing grandmaster-level chess and toying with Fermat’s last theorem in idle moments, there’s no tree in Sweden tall enough to keep my disbelief suspended. The giant blond ogre with the James Bond lineage (cross Jaws from The Spy Who Loved Me with Renard from The World Is Not Enough) only added to the goofiness.

The prose in all three books grinds and clanks even more than is usual in this genre, though I don’t know if the blame goes to the late author or his translator. Only one line stands out — “fraud that was so extensive it was no longer merely criminal — it was business,” pretty good stuff — in a mass of writing that is either too expository or too rushed. Each books brings in a small army of new characters, most of them insufficiently differentiated, and by the end of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest I felt less like a reader than a traveler stranded in an insanely busy train station.

What’s ultimately most interesting about Larsson’s novels is that they, like Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, are the most phenomenally successful books in recent memory, and yet they fly in the face of just about everything editors say they want in a manuscript. Editors complain about “too many characters,” and cry “show, don’t tell” when faced with a block of exposition. But Brown and Larsson pile on characters and exposition with great abandon, and their telling frequently outpaces their showing. But the only thing fiction editors want more than a new Dan Brown is a successor to Stieg Larsson.

Since I still have relatives in Norway, I’m giving serious thought to getting an Oslo mailing address and signing my manuscripts as Stefan Hansen. Either that or get myself a talk radio gig and start raving about Obama’s birth certificate. These are tough times, and a writer’s gotta do what a writer’s gotta do.

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Bill who?

So I finally read Steig Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Yeah, call me Mr. Cutting Edge. I have no time to read — I’m too busy running a bookstore. Go figure.

So how was it? Pretty good stuff, thanks mainly to its two very interesting lead characters. Just as Peter Hoeg gives us a look at the underside of life in Denmark, Larsson’s journalist-eye view of Swedish society is bracing and sometimes startling. The accumulation of plot twists becomes preposterous towards the end, but that’s nothing unusual in this genre. I look forward to reading the next two books when I take some time off in August. I’ve also scored a copy of the DVD for the bookstore collection, and I’ll want to see that soon as well.

What I didn’t expect from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was the number of times it would ring my nostalgia bells. Like a lot of people, I grew up with Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking stories, but I also sought out her other books: Ronia the Robber’s Daughter, the Bullerby kids, and above all the dark-toned children’s fantasy The Brothers Lionheart, which for my money puts the entire Narnia series completely in the shade. Astrid Lindgren (pictured above) was a prolific writer, and her other works deserve to be as well known as the Pippi books.

I’m hoping the success of Steig Larsson’s trilogy brings on a revival of Lindgren’s very enjoyable series about the boy detective Kalle Blomkvist. Larsson’s protagonist is an investigative journalist named Mikael Blomkvist, who is frequently teased with the name Kalle by his enemies. That added an unexpected note to my enjoyment of the story.

Lindgren wrote three Kalle Blomkvist novels in the late Forties and early Fifties. They were translated into English, but Kalle never quite caught hold the way Pippi did, and the books are long out of print. They aren’t hard to find, though, and prices are usually pretty reasonable.

The only problem is that somebody thought Kalle Blomkvist’s name was too hard to pronounce for American readers, and so the boy detective was given the unfortunate moniker Bill Bergson, which lies on the page like a serving of old lutefisk.

But I’ll settle for a revival under the Bergson name, so long as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo inspires renewed appreciation for the creator of the girl with the outrageous pigtails.

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