by Christine Autrand Mitchell
Christine provides a writer’s view of this popular and interesting series & it’s author.
I am a literary fiction fan, both as a reader and as a writer, but I needed a break. Something in the universe led me to Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. I am so grateful for it. As a teenager I read through the Agatha Christie books but pretty much abandoned mystery/thrillers since then, other than film. I won’t discuss the film adaptations of this trilogy here, as they are wholly separate creatures.
In the Millenium series we find a conglomerate of stories that dare to challenge the reader with complex and richly portrayed characters, an incredibly fascinating yet convoluted plot with copious subplots, a historical march through some ugly chapters of the twentieth century, the truthful side of the business world, murder, family saga, international crimes and lots of references to Pippi Longstocking, among other story lines I do not wish to give away. It is the joy found in these books, of its depths and diversity of character and plots.
The stories keep the reader hooked because the narrator takes us steadily through the differing view points of its characters – both major and minor – so there is always something new to learn, a different angle to analyze and either agree with or staunchly object to. Larsson was quite good at revealing the world’s virtuous and wicked, the beautiful and the hideous. Larsson was incredibly vivid through all of these aspects.
So, that brings me to the author. Stieg Larsson died of a heart attack in 2004 at the age of fifty. His first book was only months away from being released in Sweden, but all three had been bought. Yes, this is a series from a Swedish author. It’s important to know that he was an expert and lecturer on right-wing extremism, also writing books on the subject. He was also a founder of the Expo-foundation, designed to expose neo-Nazi activity in Sweden. His expertise in this field is evident in the books.
Needless to say, I swallowed the first two books whole and couldn’t get back to the bookstore quickly enough to get the third book – still in hardback. I am now going through serious withdrawals without them and seeking more books which do not undermine their readers, but that’s another article.
Now, the titles in Swedish seem more apropos and I have to wonder why they were not left intact when translated – a marketing ploy to add mystique to the books, I suppose, though truly unnecessary.
Let’s begin with a quick summary of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Mikael Blomqvist, found guilty of libel in a story published in his Millenium magazine, is hired by Henrik Vanger, the patriarch of a powerful business family, to locate the murderer of his great-niece. Vanger suspects family perpetrated it forty years before and Mikael soon unearths a much greater mystery. He is aided by Lisbeth Salander, a young, anti-social, pierced and tattooed hacker.
There are several characters that span the entire trilogy, but I find Lisbeth Salander one of the most powerful heroines in modern literature. She’s tiny and tattooed, and Larsson often tells us she only weighs 90 pounds. She carries a weighty burden from her childhood which colors everything she does. She is therefore mistrusting, often hostile, entirely misunderstood most of the time, but you have to cheer for her. Why? Because she’s also intelligent, pragmatic, sedulous, sarcastic, industrious, and more human than she would ever dare to admit. Larsson has written an amazing character.
It is also fascinating to delve into the many members of the Vanger family. There are lots of skeletons in many closets, though some are actually good and kind. The setting of Hedeby and the island on which much of the story takes place is a microcosm and truly engaging. The final twist is marvelous.
The plot to the second book, The Girl Who Played With Fire, jumps off the first story and takes a bit of a turn. Three murders linked to sex trafficking are linked to Lisbeth Salander, who disappears. Mikael Blomkvist will not believe the police and launches his own investigation since two of the murders are linked to his magazine, Millenium. He soon uncovers a much larger story.
In this book we learn more about Mikael Blomkvist. He’s not a flawless hero, which we’ve already discovered in the first book. He easily sleeps with women he finds attractive, and he’s liked by the opposite sex, probably because he is so very honest and doesn’t hide things about himself—about his journalistic work, yes. He’s been having an affair with a married woman for twenty years, and that is completely in the open. He is also implacable when it comes to discovering a hidden truth. He will do what it takes to uncover injustice. He realizes his shortcomings, as well, which endears him to the reader.
I have to say that the many members of the police and justice departments introduced in this book are so real, and the whole process is so different from the U.S., that it keeps you tightly gripped to each page. I truly enjoyed these additional characters and insights. There is more black and white here than gray.
The third book is The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest. This book is more or less the story of Lisbeth’s revenge. The story from book two continues here, but greatly expands, at which Larsson was so adept. Mikael is at it again—doing what he does best: exposing secrets which in this case will affect the entire Swedish government.
In this book Larsson kicks butt with the multi-layered plot. It’s deeply psychological, deeply disturbing at times, intrigue woven so skillfully until the last few pages that it keeps you shouting at your book during the many intense moments, and often laughing aloud. A host of new characters are introduced as well as the inner workings of cloak and dagger backrooms, which often raised my blood pressure.
This book also uncovers more of Ericka Berger in a new environment, the woman with whom Mikael has been having his twenty-year affair, which exposes her humanity in great detail. She’s been at an arm’s length until now and he does a great job of making us understand her and her success.
If you haven’t guessed already, the Millenium series fascinates me both as an avid reader and as a writer. Larsson was able to create such a plethora of real characters in extraordinary but credible circumstances, with amazing plot twists and a phenomenal ride. Yes, there are some obvious threads, but there are more truly wonderful ones that keep you asking: how are we going to get out of this one, huh?
I highly recommend this series and hope you will enjoy them as much as I have. The author is as interesting as his stories, and you can explore more at http://www.stieglarsson.com. The books have sold more than 27 million copies in more than 40 countries—no small feat. If the Swedish legal system holds up, we may get at least one more of his books, nearly completed before his death. Enjoy Millenium.
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