Originally published: 2005
Followed by: The Girl Who Played with Fire, 2006; The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, 2007
There’s been an awful amount of fuss about Stieg Larsson and his Millennium Trilogy. In some instances it’s all about the fact that he died unexpectedly (from a heart attack) in 2004, some say under suspicious circumstances, soon after delivering the manuscripts for the three crime thrillers to his publisher. But mostly it is because his thrillers are deeply noir and gob-smackingly, hair-raisingly, stomach-clenchingly good. Go buy all three books – they are worth the expense and every word of hype ever written about them is actually justified.
The dogged, anti-establishment, sexy journalist Mikael Blomkvist, and the perverse and highly admirable, kick-ass security expert/hack (with the dragon tattoo), Lisbeth Salander, are the most enjoyable characters I’ve encountered in a long time. Multiple complex plots mean you have to concentrate while you read but the ending is a definite, satisfying “Ah-hah!!” moment. What a pity that Larsson’s dead. Three books of this caliber are just not enough.
Update – The Girl in the Spider’s Web
In August 2015, the Swedish publisher Norstedts published a fourth Millennium book, written by Swedish author David Lagercrantz, called The Girl in the Spider’s Web. The original title in Swedish is Det som inte dödar oss (meaning “that which does not kill us”), and again features the characters of Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist created by Larsson. Larsson’s long-time partner had said this was a bad idea, and she was right. I bought the book, and tried my best to read it, but even stuck without an entertainment system on a transcontinental flight I could not for the life of me get further than about 100 pages into it. Not only is it not a patch on Larsson’s style, and the particular way in which he uses the Swedish landscape and social system as a character and plot device, but it is just plainly not very good writing – long declamatory, explanatory statements; awkward dialogue; stereotypical characters, etc. I thought the character of Frans Balder, a computer scientist, and his autistic son, August, had promise. But I couldn’t get past the statements seemingly designed to reorientate readers as to the landscape of the original Millennium books. I suspect Lagercrantz was trying too hard to be Larsson, and be different from Larsson at the same time. (The change from the original title to match the format of the previous books is a case in point.) It was just so stilted I gave the book to someone else to read in the hope that they would be able to make me change my mind. So far, that has not happened. Like the follow-ups to Ian Fleming’s James Bond books by John Gardner (which had more modern, complicated plots but lacked the bitter, hardline essence of Bond), something ineffable, but essential, had gotten lost in the “translation” or recreation of the series. That’s just my opinion, purist that I am. Others disagree: the book topped the U.S. best seller list in August 2015.