By William Bonfiglio
Swedish author Stieg Larssons’ best-selling series “The Millennium Trilogy” features protagonists Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander, two names that do not easily lend themselves to an American audience. Despite the cultural barrier, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Girl Who Played with Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest” have sold millions of copies in 40 countries around the world. The books were top sellers on Amazon.com in both paperback and e-book editions. In addition to three Swedish film adaptations, a Hollywood movie featuring big names like Daniel Craig is also in development.
If it wasn’t his characters’ unpronounceable names that won over U.S. audiences, it must have been Larsson’s superior storytelling. The books revolve around the interactions of an unlikely pair: Blomkvist is a liberal-leaning yet well-balanced protagonist who fights corruption using means that only a skilled and ethical journalist could employ. Then there is Salander, whose name hints at her slippery character. She and Blomkvist do not adhere to the same code of ethics. A skilled researcher/hacker and troubled social degenerate, Salander exacts her own version of justice: a Hammurabian adaption in which she views punishment as an “eye for an eye.”
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is not indicative of the subject matter of the story. Random House Publishing, the company that brought “The Millennium Trilogy” to America, would have done the book justice to publish it under Larsson’s favored title: “Men Who Hate Women,” which is a far better indicator of the subject matter than the published title.
The construction of the first book’s story is also misleading. Unlike many bestselling authors, Larsson feels no need to deviate from mechanical formulas, employing the popular whodunnit plot of a locked room, many suspects and one solution. After some listless dragging, despite an enticing prologue, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” picks up near the hundred-page mark. Although it shows little innovation or originality, the writing style itself is enough to keep audiences captivated. Larsson’s superior talent in crafting suspense and darker humor, coupled with a familiar but not outdated setup, is a recipe for a perfect summer read.
The second book, “The Girl Who Played with Fire,” represents a complete departure from this formula. In assuming the readers are familiar with the characters and their relationships, Larsson deviates with reckless abandon, allowing the plot to span from the improbable to the absurd. Just as his style made dated formulas seem fresh in “Dragon Tattoo,” it takes the over-the-top story of “Fire” and makes it plausible, and that in itself is a massive achievement. “The Girl Who Played with Fire” is a book best read at home, clenched between taut fingers, devoured by flashlight at 2:30 a.m.
Any author that can create the same fanaticism in adults that teens have for “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” cannot be written off. He’s not “just that good.” He’s better. Do not be surprised if Larsson tops the list of the most successful authors of this decade, among the ranks of J.K. Rowling and Khaled Hosseini.