18 February 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Who Played with Fire and Kicked the Dragon's Nest

Last week we praised the writer John Biggins. This week Steig Larsson. I am so fickle, and in fact, so uninformed.

Steig Larsson’s three thrillers have been world-wide best sellers, and his first novel, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” also is a movie soon to be released in this country. In 2008 (it is reported) the author was the second best-selling author in the world. How did we miss this?

It took a slight nudge from a friend of mine who works in a bookstore for me to pick up the first of Larsson’s books and give it a look. I now have joined those who clamor for this intriguing author.

Six years ago Steig Larsson died unexpectedly at age 50 of a heart attack. He had just delivered three manuscripts to his Swedish publisher. Like one of his lead characters, Larsson was a crusading left-wing journalist. He was “a leading expert on antidemocratic right-wing extremist and Nazi organizations,” all of which is reflected in his novels as well as the subject of his journalistic work.

When a Swedish labor-union leader was murdered in his home by neo-Nazis in 1999, the police discovered photos of Larsson in the murderer's apartment.

For reasons of personal safety Larsson and long-time girl friend Eva Gabrielsson never married despite a decades-long relationship. To do so would have required public disclosure of their home address.

There is no evidence that Larsson’s death was anything but natural. Yet he wrote thrillers about dark forces hiding in plain sight. His readers naturally have to wonder...

“Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” gets off to a leisurely start that some have said is due to lax editing. No explosions, no assassinations, just a gradual build that introduces the main characters and themes of the novel. You soon discover that it’s not only residents of Mendocino who drink way too much coffee and live in an isolated village. The Swedes have their coffee pots and their secrets, too.

It’s amazing to me that such a book, that reads in many places like sitting through the slow parts of Ingmar Bergman movies, could become such a popular sensation. It’s a compliment to readers everywhere, and should give hope to more literate writers, very much including John Biggins, who was praised here last week.

Despite Larsson’s icy Nordic-ness, by the middle of the book I was enthralled, entranced, enraptured, captured, intrigued, glued. I read this book last thing at night and first thing in the morning. Even in a small mass market edition it runs well over 600 pages.

There are rumors that Larsson may have left a fourth manuscript, and at least the outlines of further books, and that he planned a series of ten novels. He has become so posthumously successful that I would not be surprised to hear another writer will be commissioned to carry on the series, as was done, for example, to Robert Ludlum after his death.

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” currently is selling well in the US; “The Girl Who Played with Fire” will be available in March, and in June “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.”

To discuss plot points would risk spoiling the book for future readers. But I should note that there are very strong females in this tale. It was originally titled “Men Who Hate Women” and that is a big hint on the theme of this engaging thriller.

Writers of a more literary bent with books of a less commercial nature will ponder Larsson’s posthumous success with wonderment. Money and fame seem to be handed out by the mysterious hand of fate, not a panel of Olympian judges.


Stieg Larsson is on line here and here.

An excellent recent BBC piece on the author...

All three of Stieg Larsson’s books are available in various editions. If you’d like to read them in their least expensive format ($7.99 mass market editions) the first is available now; the next two will be published in March, and June, 2010, respectively.

(Available now)
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard) ISBN 9780307473479.

(Due March, 2010)
“The Girl Who Played with Fire” (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard) ISBN 9780307476159.

(Due June, 2010)
“The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest” (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard) ISBN 9780307739964.

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