A critic could complain that Larsson overwrote, even occasionally bored his reader. It’s not necessary to tell us each item that Lisbeth Slander purchased at the grocery store or the exact route she takes each time she travels. Any American editor would bark at the writer, “just tell us she went to the grocery store.” Nevertheless, the books are page turners simply because of our fascination with the character, a girl who is a social misfit, has a photographic memory, expertise in technology, and rides a motorcycle. Who else would have put all that together?
As a teenager, Larsson witnessed a violent gang rape of a woman he knew and failed to intervene. Her screams stayed with him and guilt hung over him all his life. If the sexual predator scenes in his books seem real, that may be the reason. Lisbeth’s revenge for her rapist is stunning in its violence.
The series has been continued by Swedish writer David Lagercrantz, selected by the executor of Larsson’s estate. This fourth novel of the Millennium series is titled The Girl in the Spider’s Web, published in 2015. This was followed by The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye which came out in September. I have not read either but perhaps someone can comment upon them.
Once the Scandinavians got hot we saw bestsellers by Camilla Lackburg, Jussi Adler-Olsen, and Henning Mankell to name a few. A combination of bitter cold winter nights and long summer days, set in the beautiful scenery of Sweden or Norway, or drug-ridden Stockholm seems to produce instant classics.
Probably the second best known of the Scandinavians is Jo Nesbo who writes the Harry Hole series. Nesbo has sold 35 million in the 11-book series. They began with The Bat in 1997 and came out every one or two years until 2013. Nesbo took a four-year hiatus and brought out The Thirst this year.
Harry is an alcoholic. He’s a loner, who lost his mother in his twenty’s, never had a relationship with his father, is unmarried, and very close to his sister who has down syndrome. Throw in that he’s also a chain smoker, plagued by the death of his partner which he caused while drinking and driving, a brilliant detective and the fact that few in his department like him and you have a true hardboiled hero worry of wearing Sam Spade’s Fedora.
I have not read one in a while and recently facing a three-hour plane flight, I grabbed The Bat from the airport bookstore. It’s the only book in the series that takes Harry out of Scandinavia. Although the first Hole book, it was not published in English for several years, after Nesbo hit it big. In it Harry is sent to Australia by the Norwegian government after a young Norwegian woman is murdered. Harry’s job is to shadow the Australian police and not get in the way. Of course, that’s exactly what happens to the chagrin of the local authorities.
Harry gets involved with a pretty barmaid, originally from Sweden and the two Scandinavians click. Just when it looks like perpetually single and lonely Harry might do more than hook up, he falls off the wagon, gets totally drunk, and thoroughly grosses out his new girlfriend. Nesbo makes no effort to spare the good guys and girls in his books and this one is no exception. Many will find it a downer.
A better book is The Snowman from 2007, which was also made into a British movie. Harry is investigating a series of murders of women in Oslo. The women always seem to vanish after a snowfall and a snowman is always found near the scene. The book flashes back to Harry’s past and again involves Harry in a romantic situation, this time a fellow police officer. Again, a romance collapses and a fairly sympathetic character comes to grief.
The perpetual winter darkness in a Scandinavian mystery, either literally or figurately in the hearts of the characters makes great airplane and beach reads. I can’t promise a happy ending but perhaps that’s part of their appeal in these uncertain times.