Stieg Larsson and that girl with her dragon tattoo

by Peter

Lisbeth SalanderLisbeth Salander

It is a strange story, the one about Stieg Larsson. The tale of the leftist Swedish journalist who spent evenings and nights at home, after work, with his fictional girl friend; a strange, thin, tattooed , somewhat cold-looking feral hacker lady. A lady named Lisbeth Salander. Smart, remembered everything she had ever read. Who could make a computer do almost anything but make coffee. A lady not afraid of snaring peoples PC’s and laptops, breaking into them and monitoring their every keystroke. What a friend! What a resource for an investigative reporter. But also somewhat lacking in communicative competence, somewhat rude and almost totally devoid of social graces. And with a dark, very dark, extremely well-hidden past – to some extend not even known and understood even by herself. Maybe modeled on someone he knew …who knows.

Mikael BlomkvistMikael Blomkvist

And then, in sitting in front of his PC, in the darkness of the cold Swedish night, he matched her up with a guy resembling himself. Another journalist,from another journal – named Millennium instead of Expo (which was where he worked). Mikael Blomkvist was the name he gave him. A man seemingly very similar to himself. Smart, great communicator, socially pretty smooth, full of compassion,extremely concerned with justice (in a moral, not legal sense), with some leftist political tendencies, albeit being a financial journalist rather than a political one. And willing to take risks, to publish stories about the rich and powerful, to take on the establishment on his own, with scarcely any resources to fight. Also, somewhat disgraced and freshly sentenced to jail. Stieg Larsson even let Blomkvist fall in love with his lady of the long working evenings, Lisbeth. But Lisbeth, being Lisbeth – fiercely independent, remote, and ticking on a totally different timer – would not totally obey her master and inventor, Mr. Larsson. She refused to love Mikael Blomkvist back. Or, at least, to show it.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg LarssonWhat an odd couple they are! How could they ever get along? Well, they somehow did – Stieg Larsson made them get along. And Stieg Larsson typed and typed, created and revised. For years he labored, and wrote three finished books constituting a tightly knit whole, drafted a fourth and outlined volumes five and six. Ten books, that was his plan, like the grand masters of Swedish crime fiction, Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, and as Hakan Nesser in his series about Van Veeteren after them.

Today we know the three first books, the trilogy, as the Millennium trilogy: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest (not yet released in English). We also know that the fourth book will not be published.

The Millennium trilogy was written within a long Swedish tradition of radical literature – Ivar Lo-Johansson, and Vilhelm Moberg, to name but a couple – and, also, critical series of crime fiction books and thrillers by radical authors such as Sjövall & Wahlöö and Jan Guillou.

And when the first three books were finished, and finally met his high standards, Stieg Larsson sent them to a publisher to have them published. Shortly after, and before they were published, he tragically died, without seeing his work in print.

And what a work it was! A strikingly original trilogy, containing vivi-sections of Sweden’s dirty not-so-little secrets, several doses of liberated Swedish sex, a tale of conspiracy, classical crime mysteries and large-scale thriller plots, all layered smartly one on top of the other, like a Chinese box. Three books, tens of stories and side stories, extremely intriguing and fascinating characters, with some sexual abuse, love and attraction, hacking, violence, and chilling danger thrown into the mix. With the ever present feeling of urgency, the need for more information and action leading to resolution.

In Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Germany the books have sold unlike anything else, in millions upon millions. And they are selling great in England and the US, but not nearly up to the levels one would expect. English and US publishers are bad at selling foreign fiction. And, for some odd reason, they can only publish one book a year by a foreign author. For the James Patterson’s of this world, the presses can be made to churn out up to five books in the same time. And, in addition to smaller marketing budgets for foreign authors, in this case we are dealing with a deceased author. So there are no TV-shows, no book reading events, or author signings. Thus, bloggers around the globe that have read, reviewed and loved the books have come to play a prominent part in their marketing.

An enormous number of blog posts have been published. Many offer bare-bones reviews, but many also give in-depth analyses, tell stories about the books, or take part in the lively and still ongoing discussions of them and their author in the blogosphere. Some bring news about the books or other related events, such as the filming of the books taking place in Sweden. They are all important. I do not know of any other books that have received even half the attention Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy has received in the blogosphere.

And – what is more – the books deserve it. And need it, now and for a while more. Perhaps this is the best crime fiction trilogy in decades? It most certainly is my favorite for that title!

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