Grab some aquavit, lutefisk, and lefsa and join us for this trip to the north.
We discuss Nordic Noir, Stieg Larsson, and introduce “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.”
We also consider vikings, The Nordic Model, and combatting the extreme right.
The Girl with the Dragon TattooPoint Blank Review:
Our main topic for dicussion is Steig Larsson The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
The original title of this book in Sweden was Men Who Hate Women, which is apt, and more direct than the one we got here in the States.
This was Larsson’s first novel, and the first of the Millennium Trilogy, which was released post-humously in 2005.
Larrson died of a heart attack months after submitting trilogy to his publisher.
These tomes are a testament to his life’s work and her budding literary career.
It sucks, because these books are good. We’ll talk about Larsson later on.
This book is a psychological thriller, set in Sweden, Stockholm and smaller northern villages, written in 3rd person omniscient in that Larsson takes us into the minds of a number of minor characters when he wants to, but never for very long. As readers, we generally stay close to the main characters.
Like Mikael Blomkvist. who at the begining runs a magazine named Millennium, which is modeled off a magazine Larrson edited called Expo.
In his duties as publisher, Blomkvist calls attention to corrupt practices by folks in finance. He’s a muckraker, essentially.
So, the stories starts with Blomkvist getting insider info about a billionaire industrialist Hans-Erik Wennerström. He writes up an expose, but the info turns out to be not-quite-true and he gets sued for libel and loses
The novel begins with his downfall and the novel is in part about the work he does to restore his name.
Soon after the verdict he receives a job offer from a different wealthy industrialist named Henrik Vanger, who is the retired CEO of the Vanger Corporation. Blomkvist is hired under the cover of writing Henrik’s biography, but his real job is to research what happened to Henrik’s granddaughter, Harriet, who went missing without a trace in 1966 on the Vanger’s private island. No egress or ingress. But no Harriett. What happened to her? In essence this part of the novel is a locked door mystery.
If Blomkvist solves the case, Henrik promises to provide him dirt on Wennerström.
We get to know a lot about Blomkvist, Henrik, Henrik’s grandson Martin, and the Vanger family. The island is small and the town intimate and we get to know much of it.
There is a plot-driven rollercoaster of clue, red herring, and dead ends, as you would expect, as we get closer to the heart of the case..
If you could say there are two protagonists, then the second one is Lizbeth Salander.
In a separate but equal plot thread, we meet Salander, a counter-cultural 20-something introvert with a dark past who was ruled legally incompotent as a young person and is therefore a ward of the state. Punk rocker, tattooed, pierced, third wave feminist, hacker, she serves as a useful foil to the middle-aged and often Milquetoast Blomkvist. We get to know her world, her struggles, and the violence she has faced — and continues to face — by predatory men whose job it is to look after her.
Salander, early on, is hired to do a background check for Vanger on Blomkvist, and later in the story she is hired by Blomkvist himself to help him do things with the case that only a computer savvy hacker can do.
Their dynamic is interesting, and, after the first 50 pages, this book was a fast-read. Not many books do I race through, but I raced through this one.
It’s not poetic. But the plot is really driven.
And as the case heats up, there is violence, sex, torture, on-again off-again cigarette smoking, and the surprises you might expect from a mystery novel.
I really enjoyed the mood of this book. I can’t say if it exemplifies traditional nordic noir or defies it. Kurt might be able to. What starts as a locked door mystery widens to something greater: an indictment of capitalism (or corruption in high places, arguably) and an indictment of the violence men perpetrate against women.
Larsson was a socialist and social activist, and some of that is clear in this work. other NN writers in Sweden come from the left, underscoring the notion that at least some nordic noir is fueled by frustration and disempowerment and written by folks who have an understanding of Marx and class. This book not so much studies examines working class crime, like so many American crime tales, but rather exposes crime amongst the capital class.
A mix of Agatha Christie, American detective fiction, and the Nordic Noir that came before – The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a definite hit for me — an even 4 stars.
5 Round Burst:
“Rhode Island Red” by Charlotte Carter – All right, so my first read for five-round burst is Charlotte Carter’s Rhode Island Red. This is the first of the Nanette Hayes mysteries, and it was put out by Warner Books in 1997. I found out about Charlotte Carter from The Blacklist, which is a book column written by Michael A. Gonzales that examines out-of-print books written by (mostly) African-American authors. Now in this book we meet Nanette Hayes — a down-on-her-luck prodigy — a hip African-American woman with a Masters in French getting by in 1990s New York by playing the saxophone for change. Things gets complicated when she helps out a musician named Sig. She invites him to crash at her place, and the next morning she finds Sig’s dead body in her living room and his saxophone stuffed with 60,000 dollars. Turns out he was an undercover cop. Who killed Sig? Where did the money come from? And what is this Rhode Island Red that everybody’s after? Enter Nanette Hayes, amateur sleuth. We follow her through the steamy streets of New York as she seeks to solve the mystery. We meet cops, hoodlums, mafiasos, and Nanette’s ex-boyfriend Walter. The story is fast-paced, action-packed, and funny. Think Chester Himes with a Digable Planets soundtrack Now, Nanette Hayes is a bit of a Mary Sue, but I liked the story and plan to read the second one Coq au Vin, when I can. Not quite a deadly blow to the head by a solid gold saxophone, but certainly a hit. Check it out.
“Miami Purity” by Vicki Hendricks – The second book I’m reviewing this episode is Miami Purity, which was written by Vicki Hendricks and published by Busted Flushin 1995. Hendricks got her MFA from Florida International University in 1992. This is taut neo-noir loosely modeled on James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice. The main character is Sherry — a down on her luck working class gal who makes poor decisions and finds her self in trouble on a regular basis. She has worked the strip clubs and bars of south Florida scraping together a living., and she recently got off for the death of her husband. The start of the story finds her scoring a job at a dry cleaning establishment called Miami Purity. The place is run by Brenda and her son Payne. Centered around Sherry’s affair with Payne, this story blends hardboiled noir with hyper-eroticism. There is sex, violence, incest, manipulation, sex, betrayal and sex. There is a whole lot of sex in this book. The cool thing is the sex is from the perspective of Sherry and mostly woman positive, but this is a gritty book about lowlifes making terrible decisions. I liked it. It inspired Megan Abbott and helped usher in a wave of great women noir writers at the turn of the century. Let’s call it a near-fatal conk on the head followed by a tumble in a large hot dryer.
“Noir” by Christopher Moore
“Jar City” by Arnaldur Indridason
“Roseanna” by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo