Arts Listings

Nordic Mysteries: The Millenium Trilogy

By Ralph Stone
Thursday April 15, 2010 - 11:25:00 AM

I recently saw "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," based on Swedish mystery writer Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy. The other two books are "The Girl Who Played with Fire" and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest." The movie and the book introduce Lisbeth Salander, played by Swedish actress Noomi Rapace. She is a unique figure in fiction. She is Goth-like in appearance, autistic and bisexual with a distrust of authority, an amazing ability with a computer, a photographic memory and astonishing physical courage, and while not physically attractive, is sexually appealing to both men and women. And yes, she has a large tattoo of a dragon on her back. She is a rare example of a feminist heroine who doesn't hate men, just men who hate women. Throughout the Trilogy, Larsson weaves in her background of childhood abuse and violence. My minor quibble with Ms. Rapace is that she is too pretty. But otherwise, Ms. Rapace and Michael Nyqvist, who plays Mikael Blomkvist, the other main character, are well cast.  


The book has two main story lines: a missing person mystery and a complicated corporate corruption case. The movie dwells primarily on the missing person story line while giving short shrift to the latter story line. This is understandable given the 2-1/2 hour length of the movie. It would have made a terrific TV series to cover both story lines completely. 


The second and third books of the Trilogy were shot back-to-back for television and will be released separately as movies. Rumor has it that Hollywood will remake the movies, possibly starring George Clooney as Blomkvist and "Twilight" star Kristen Stewart as Salander.  


What is compelling about the Trilogy is the complex characters, the fast-paced story telling with interesting plots and sub-plots. The books are long and very political. With a background as an investigative reporter, Larsson brings a knowledge of the inner workings of the Swedish police, its intelligence service, and private security companies. Larsson has been called a revolutionary socialist. 


Larsson delivered the three books to his publisher, envisioning a series of books. Supposedly, he had started on a fourth book and wrote outlines for six more. Will someone finish the fourth book? Unfortunately, just as they were editing and translating the books, he died of an apparent heart attack in November 2004. he never knew that his Trilogy would become a worldwide publishing phenomenon. The first two books are best sellers in the United States. The third book will be published here next month. I couldn't wait to read the third book so I ordered it from Amazon UK. So far the books have sold more than 27 million copies in 42 countries with sales of almost $43 million, not including income from the television and movie versions.  


Unfortunately, Eva Gabrielsson, his partner of 32 years, is not benefitting from the success. Because they were not married and he died without a will, Larsson's estate was divided between Erland and Joakim Larsson, his father and brother. Ms. Gabrielsson receives no income from the sales of Larsson's books. She refused $2.27 million to settle her claim. Rather, she is seeking one percent of the proceeds. There is some question as to what role, if any, Ms. Gabrielsson played in the writing of the books. Did she write them, help write them, or edit them? She is not saying. We will have to wait for the publication of her tell-all book. 


If you are a mystery buff, I highly recommend reading the Trilogy. They are terrific reads. Nordic crime fiction has become enormously successful the last several years. They are characterized by plain, direct writing, devoid of metaphor. They expose the underside of the cradle-to-grave Scandinavian welfare system. Besides Larsson, I have enjoyed Henning Mankell (Sweden) and Jo Nesbo (Norway) and, of course, Per Wahloo and Maj Sjowall, a Swedish couple, whose ten-volume Martin Beck series (1965-1975) were a great influence on rising Scandinavian mystery writers.  


And many of the Nordic mysteries have been made into movies and television series. I've watched dramatizations on MHz Worldwide Presents (KCSM Channel 43) of "Varg Veum" based on the series of crime novels by Norwegian mystery writer Gunnar Staalesen and Mankell's books. In 2008 BBC adapted a few of Mankell's books starring Kenneth Branagh as Kurt Wallander. 


See the movie and read the Millennium Trilogy. You won't be disappointed.