Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Girl Who Kicked Ass

Not me. I’m talking about Lisbeth Salander.

Read the Millennium Trilogy last week. Excellent, thrilling, intelligent crime fiction that had me turning the pages feverishly. Actually, the feverishly part is rather literal too – I was down with fever, cough and cold all of last week, so all I did was lie in bed and read. I’m actually glad I read it when I was unwell and in bed, because otherwise I’d have just left all my work unattended till I had finished off the series.

The Millennium Trilogy is a three book crime fiction series set in Sweden. The protagonists are Lisbeth Salander, a highly intelligent but anti-social a 25 year old and Mikael Blomkovist, an intrepid reporter with the magazine Millennium. The books were written by Stieg Larsson and published initially in Swedish, where they became quite a rage, and were translated into English by Reg Keeland.

Sweden isn’t a common setting for books in English, so this series provides a fascinating insight into Swedish society. Larsson focuses especially on how the media, the police and certain government authorities in Sweden work. There are also occasional references to Swedish politics, which I found particularly interesting.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Mikael is on a forced career break and is hired by a wealthy ex-businessman to uncover the truth behind a murder which took place in the family 30 years ago. He is initially sceptical about his ability to solve the mystery but gradually realises that there is much more than meets the eye. He then discovers that Lisbeth has some skills that could be especially useful to the assignment, and hires her to help him on the case. What they uncover goes beyond just one murder in the family, and leads to a whole lot of horrific crimes.

This book starts off in a ‘locked island mystery format’ but the scope of the mystery gets bigger as the book progresses. So as one goes reading, a number of other elements start coming in, but Larsson handles these smoothly, and it never gets unwieldy. Though there are a number of threads which are introduced but not followed up (these are for the later books), this book reads very well even as a stand – alone piece.

At different points of the book, the story is told from the perspective of different actors. Larsson uses this not so much as a narrative device as a way of letting us know the thoughts of the protagonists – and this works well for the book because at many points we are left pondering over the motives behind the actions of the people in the book (this is especially true in the case of Lisbeth).

The Girl Who Played with Fire
The team at Millennium is working with a couple who are doing an expose on the criminal elements in the sex trade industry in Sweden. Lisbeth comes back to Sweden after a long holiday and is getting her life together in order. The next thing we know, the couple is murdered, and Lisbeth is charged with their murder, and has a nationwide manhunt going on for her.

The rest of the book is about how Lisbeth avoids the police, and tracks down the people responsible for getting her into this mess, and extracts her revenge. Simultaneously, Mikael works towards finding out who the true murderers are, while also trying to clear Lisbeth’s name. In the course of this investigation, he finds out about Lisbeth’s shocking past, and has to figure out how her past is connected with these murders.

This is a crime mystery on a vast canvas, and has the reader wondering right from the start about the who, what, why and how. As in the first book, this starts with two murders, but expands to a whole lot of murders, criminal activity and drug dealing, and a major cover up by the Swedish secret police and maybe even the government. What makes this book work is how all these elements are connected to one another, and how they all come together brilliantly by the dénouement. There is also a lot of physical action in this book, and it sometimes reads and feels like a movie.

The one major issue I had with this book is that there is a lot of unnecessary stuff that could have been edited out. There is already a lot happening within the main plot itself, so it was a little annoying when Larsson introduces little side tracks (for example, the strange couple Lisbeth meets on her holiday, the Blomkovist – Vanger angle, or all the details about Erika). The main plot itself is rather convoluted, and all these other tracks become tedious and unnecessary and rather distract one from getting fully involved.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
This takes off from where ‘The Girl Who Played with Fire’ ended. This book was by far my favourite in the series. By this time, it’s more of a howdunit than a whodunit. In ‘The Girl Who Played With Fire’, the whodunit gets solved – we find out the entire back story about Lisbeth’s past, the murders, the police cover ups, who did it and why. This book is about whether the truth will come out and bring down the bad guys or whether the truth will stay hidden and thus bring down the good guys. This is popular crime fiction so we already know the answer to that one, but the book deals with how the good guys get together and try to get the truth out while the very powerful bad guys try to stop the good guys.

This was a great read – you know the good guys will eventually triumph in the end – but you’re so desperate to figure out how they are going to do it that you just can’t bring yourself to put down the book. Secret police, secret units within the secret police, politics, murders, suicides, hacking, spies, counter spies, espionage – this book makes for very exciting reading, and has you rooting for the good guys right till the end in a very ‘That’s the way to do it! Serves those bastards right’ sort of a way. I think this was the most dramatic of the three books.

Lisbeth Salander makes for a fascinating protagonist. I think it was a rather daring choice to make someone who is so inscrutable and difficult to like as your main protagonist. And through most of the first book, one has no idea why Lisbeth is so difficult, making it even more difficult for the reader to root for her. Apart from her, almost all of the female characters in the book are very strong characters – Erika Berger, Miriam Wu, Sonja Modig, the Vanger women, and the other relatively minor characters.

There is a lot of physical action in the books, and sometimes it feels like it was made with a future movie in mind. Surprisingly, I didn’t mind that at all – in fact, I think I quite liked it, and am looking forward to the movie (I am assuming they will be making one – they can’t pass up a script like this!). I had major problems with the fact that when the lead characters are in some sort of trouble, they find extremely simplistic solutions to get out of it. Also, by the end of the series, there were a couple of loose threads left hanging (Camilla for example), that didn’t leave me completely satisfied.

However, these don’t really take away much from the overall awesomeness of the series, so I will end this very long post by saying ‘GO READ IT RIGHT NOW!’.


Preeti said...

Finally, some books which I am BOUND to like, going by the story! Will most definitely buy!

Ramya said...

@Preeti: Yeah, it is a very good read. I'm sure you'll enjoy it

Rp said...

The novels were already adapted as movies:
I checked out the first one, it was pretty decent. Do watch them :)

Chinkurli said...

I never read thrillers, and I like my thrillers to not be too heavy...would I still like 'em?

Ramya said...

@Rp: Yeah, I knew they were made in Swedish, was assuming they would make them in English too. Really looking forward to watching the Swedish movies though - have to figure out where to download them with subtitles.

@Chinkurli: Hmm...well, these books are definitely thrillers, and not light reading either. As much as I hate to say this, don't think you're going to enjoy this one. Sigh.

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