THE international explosion of the Millennium trilogy -- which begins with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo -- remains baffling even to those who know and love the books. In fact, even Sonny Mehta, the Knopf head who brought the books to the States, considers their popularity a happy enigma.
HERE is my piece in today's LA Times about the books and their world takeover. (The story is timed to tomorrow's release of the third and presumably final of the Swedish films made from the books. David Fincher's first Girl is still to come; after seeing The Social Network I am impressed with Rooney Mara.)
A lot of the success, most agree, comes down to heroine Lisbeth Salander.
Salander – the survivor of an abusive childhood who resembles a Goth Pippi Longstocking – is a withdrawn, sometimes violent, sexually kinky computer hacker with a dark charisma. In the novels she collaborates, often warily, with Mikael Blomkvist, a left-wing investigative journalist who in many ways resembled Larsson himself. Noir authority Otto Penzler calls her “the most interesting character I’ve read since Hannibal Lecter.”
I should make clear that while I see these books as in some ways unlikely success stories, they're terrific. They're not without flaw, but when the plot engages they're like Henning Mankell's atmospheric Wallander books on speed. It's gratifying to see long, at times difficult books -- in translation, no less -- generate this kind of intense and widespread following.
It will be even more satisfying to see readers move on to Nordic crime writers like Mankell, Karin Fossum, Jo Nesbo, and so on.
Readers curious about these books and their characters -- and politics -- should check out this this smart and analytical essay by crime-fiction critic/blogger Sarah Weinman.