ECLECTIC RANT: The Dragon Tattoo Girl Still Going Strong

By Ralph E. Stone
Friday March 02, 2012 - 01:16:00 PM

If you haven't read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest -- The Millennium Trilogy -- by the late Swedish mystery writer Stieg Larsson, you are among the very few who haven't. All three books spent much time on best seller lists. The Hornets' Nest is still on the National Best-Seller list and has been for 78 weeks. The Dragon Tattoo and Played With Fire are on the National Paperback Best-Seller list. By December 2010, over 65 million copies of The Trilogy had been sold worldwide. 

In addition to the three Trilogy books, I also enjoyed the movie versions of each of these mysteries. The Swedish versions starred Michael Nyqvist as Mikael Blomkvist and Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander. The American version of The Dragon Tattoo starred Daniel Craig as Blomkvist and Rooney Mara as Salander. For this role, Rooney Mara received an Oscar nomination for best actress. Sony plans movie versions of the other two books with the Played With Fire due for release late next year. Both the Swedish versions of the three books and the American version of The Dragon Tattoo are excellent. Although, Noomi Rapace more closely captured my imagined Lisbeth Salander. This is not to slight Mara's excellent portrayal. 

Larsson fans from around the world travel to Stockholm to follow the footsteps of Blomkvist and Salander. I understand The Stockholm City Museum even offers walking tours of Sodermalm, where much of The Trilogy takes place. Starting last month, the Museum includes stories from the shooting of the film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. My wife and I visited Stockholm in 2010 and wandered SoFo, but didn't take the Museum tour.  

The books introduce Lisbeth Salander, 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. 

What is compelling about The Trilogy are 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. 

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 an offer of $3.3 million and a seat on a board in the company that manages The Millennium Trilogy books to settle her claim. Instead, she wants to determine which agents are used and approve how the works are used and any changes made in them. In her memoir published last year, There Are Things I Want You to Know About Stieg Larsson and Me, Gabrielsson chronicles their life together and puts Larsson's often chaotic life into context. 

If you are a mystery buff and even if you are not, I highly recommend reading The MillenniumTrilogy. They are terrific reads. Scandinavian 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), Helene Tursten (Sweden), Hakan Nesser (Sweden), Åke Edwardson (Sweden), k.o. dahl (Norway), Jo Nesbø (Norway), Karin Fossum (Norway), Christian Jungersen (Denmark) 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 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; a second series was shown in 2010. 

See the movies, read The Millennium Trilogy and other Scandinavian mystery writers. You won't be disappointed. 

This is an update of my April 15, 2010 article, Nordic Mysteries: The Millennium Trilogy.