Only occasionally do I post reviews on this site. It’s not that I’m lazy (well, just a bit) but I simply don’t think it worth my while or that of anyone reading this blog, in posting a review about a less than brilliant book. If you see a review for a book here, it’s one of the few from the many more that I thought worth flagging for attention.
So, here’s a review of a brilliant book which basically says: read it.
If you thought Sweden was full of blue-eyed, blond folk with nary a care in the world but for high taxes that pay for a great welfare state, who have lots of saunas and vodka, live at the foot of mountains and are surrounded by big trees and glittering lakes and generally pass their lives in a bliss of utopia then you should read this book.
If you think Swedish – or for that matter, Scandinavian – crime books all feature relentlessly bleak, relentlessly drunk detectives then you should read this book.
Crime books don’t have to be parochial and they don’t have to be brutally savage either. They can describe social issues such as the harm done to women each and every day without the misogyny that seems to be the default mode of most thriller writers. The very best of thriller writers will only suggest the very worst and your imagination will do the rest. It is knowing how to tweak the reader with casual sentences that marks out the great writers from the merely good and that was something I was aware of as I began reading this book on the last of my holiday: I didn’t really see much of the fantastic Scottish scenery after the first page or engage in much conversation because this book held my attention from the start. Stieg Larsson is so good in fact that he’s just won an International Crime Author award beating some very good, very well-known authors from the States (as you’ll discover when you watch the ITV3 Crime Awards…)
Consider that my job is to find the best writing, the best books, the very best stories that are out there and having chosen them, buy them for the book club – BCA’s BooksDirect. I get sent new books all the time by publishers. I don’t just get sent books but pages of synopses and descriptions of books until I can’t even remember their names. Isn’t it just typical that the one book I don’t get to see in advance, the one book that I have to buy for myself (a rare occurence) becomes the one book I rave about?
I can’t even begin to put my finger on what really hooked me but somewhere between the smooth, seamless prose of the translation and the great characters and the memorably vile, bickering family at the centre of this mystery is at core a study of how the most apparently benign happenings can lead to the great shadows that hang over our lives. On the cover is the by-line: Forty years ago Harriet Vanger vanished. It’s time to find out why – whatever the cost.
When you consider that the author, Stieg Larsson, who died in 2004 was a journalist who campaigned against neo-Fascist groups in Sweden, you begin to see where the story is leading. When his alter-ego, the character Mikael Blomkvist, falls foul of an industrialist, you see even greater shadows looming but then you really begin to scratch your head at the classic ‘locked room’ mystery that propels the story: how did a troubled 16 year old girl vanish from an island during the hours when the only route onto or off the island was blocked and when only a few people, mostly extended family members, were potential witnesses to the disappearance?
Aiding Mikael is the mysterious Lisbeth Salander, a complete enigma of a tortured youth who without trying makes trouble for herself, a genius computer hacker with troubling emotions that are beyond her control for at her core is a rage that makes her one of the most dynamic and better still – believable – heroines I’ve read in a long time.
It is Lisbeth who makes the story work and it is right that the first in the trilogy is named for her. While Lynda La Plante’s character, DCI Jane Tennison (played by Helen Mirren), broke new ground for being the first female lead in a TV crime drama, it may well be that the 4′ 11″ anorexic-looking, tattooed Lisbeth redefines what it is to display heroic courage in the thrillers of the future.
Link to Amazon.