Tag Archives: Stieg Larsson

Bookwitch bites #114

Well, wasn’t that a week stacked to the gills with reviews of some of the excellent books published on the 5th? Don’t spread them out. Just send them in our direction all at once. Spacing your reading is so last century.

And Sophie Hannah is the new Agatha Christie. Will be. Sort of. Sophie is the latest in the recent trend of asking living authors to step into the shoes of their late colleagues. And whereas Agatha Christie did finish Miss Marple off, I think Hercule Poirot managed to avoid having a last case. Although, he is dreadfully old, even if we don’t bring him into the 21st century. Very pleased for Sophie, who writes extremely well. I look forward to seeing what she can do with the old French, oops, sorry, Belgian detective. (Maybe she’ll be less scary. Than her usual self, I mean.)

No sooner had Daughter and I returned from our travels, overseeing The New Window, but Mrs Pendolino called in to deal with hair that had grown too long. She’s on her way to Vegas, which apparently is the place to go this year.

Once shorn, we opened our doors to Botany Girl and Rhino Boy, who called in on their way past Bookwitch Towers, having inspected some scout hut or other. They weren’t going to Vegas. The Northwest – our Northwest – is good enough for them.

I have known Botany Girl for almost as long as I have known the Resident IT Consultant. I’ve not seen so much of her, however, so it was nice of her to remember my proximity to the scout hut. Rhino Boy I’d only met the once, over ten years ago. He wasn’t sure he’d met Daughter, but she was able to tell him what he had for dinner that evening (and somehow he knew she was right. It was a Quattro Stagioni…).

Before regaling us with tales of stuff that all happened when we were all less old than we are now, Rhino Boy looked round the room and his gaze fastened on Anne Rooney’s The Story of Physics. So I let him have a little look. Seems he knows about Physics. He also wanted the inside story on Stieg Larsson. (As if I’d know anything about that.)

Botany Girl and I agreed that it is possible to have a satisfactory quality of life even without advanced Maths, and I forgot to remind her I still owe her a session of washing up.

And I suppose now it’s back to ‘normal’ for maybe a week…

The book I’m reading now

I have to share this with you. Even though you can’t share it. Yet. Even the Resident IT Consultant is having to delay reading, unable to join in. And I bet it’s killing him!

This is a very, very exciting read. You know how publishers have kept finding the next Harry Potter/J K Rowling? Or the person to step into the shoes of Stieg Larsson. And they fail, because it’s a terribly hard thing to do.

Well, I think I have encountered someone who could possibly do a Stieg Larsson (unless you have to be dead to manage it). Not the same. But the same kind of urgency in reading. Similar sort of eye for detail. More thriller than crime. But very, very moreish.

En rasande eld by Andreas Norman was published in Sweden this spring, and it has had pretty favourable reviews. It’s about the EU in Brussels, and MI6 are being very naughty indeed. Written by a diplomat, who knows what he’s talking about. The prose is nothing special, but you don’t need that. What you need is the next page. The next chapter.

I do know it is going to be translated (p8) into English. When is another matter. The title is Into a Raging Blaze. It will be worth waiting for.

Screen Shot 2013-07Andreas Norman, Into a Raging Blaze

Andreas Norman, Into a Raging Blaze

The Nightmare

Lars Kepler’s second crime novel is far better than the first. I’d say the two Ahndorils have got the hang of what they are doing. The plot is still pretty gruesome, but it makes sense. The recurring characters are no more attractive than they were, but familiarity makes up for some of that. Some of the other characters are almost likeable. Actually, I did like one or two of them. Hence I sort of prayed they would last until the end and not be slaughtered halfway.

Their fondness for bloodbaths at the drop of a hat means you can never take a single thing for granted. Maybe that’s good, but sometimes it’d be nice to know there are certain things that just won’t be allowed to happen.

The plot has taken half a step towards the social conscience of Stieg Larsson, featuring the export of weapons to the wrong countries. This makes it easier to approve of the stance taken by some of the characters.

People are murdered, and sometimes appear to take their own life, for some really obscure reason. The police with Joona Linna race to find what exactly lies behind the deaths.

The police. I suppose it’s wrong to feel you’d want your law enforcers to have a higher moral standard than these do. Incompetence is human, but some of these people are most unpleasant.

And I can only assume foreign readers believe Sweden to be full of weird men and women, with hardly a normal average person anywhere. Very compulsive reading, though.

There is an epilogue which almost made me lose faith in what had gone before it. Sometimes we want to believe that things are fine, until the next book comes up with a new horror. I hope I misunderstood it, but I don’t think I did.

K O Dahl, Thomas Enger & Yrsa Sigurðardóttir: Crime in a Cold Climate

It rained. That’s probably not what they had in mind when they named Monday evening’s Nordic crime event for the Manchester Literature Festival. Its other title was Scandinavian Crime Fiction. They do wobble rather between the words Nordic and Scandinavian, and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir isn’t Scandinavian, but she doesn’t mind. She’s quite pleased to be allowed to belong to this select group. Norwegians K O Dahl and Thomas Enger are both Nordic and Scandinavian, and they don’t like the fact that us Swedes are the biggest in Nordic crime.

It’s obvious to me. Bigger population. More crime novels. And as Yrsa very sensibly put it, 300 000 Icelanders can’t possibly fill Waterstone’s with books. Although, I feel they are doing their very best. Once, the only writer from Iceland anyone knew was Laxness.

Thomas Enger, K O Dahl and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

Yrsa is dark, or so Barry Forshaw who chaired the event said. I could see she’s dark. Having checked them out on google images to make sure I knew what they looked like, she has gone brunette from all those blonde photos. Maybe he meant her writing. Apparently Yrsa has also written children’s books. Cheerful, humourous ones at that. Good for her. And in true Icelandic spirit, where no one can be allowed to do just the one job (remember, there’s only 300 000 of them), Yrsa is also a civil engineer.

Barry Forshaw started off by asking them about their misanthropy, but they didn’t seem to get that. And then he called Stieg Larsson controversial, which also surprised the three of them. They all claimed to be very non-violent in their books, and Yrsa mentioned her difficulty in working out how to kill people off. Must be tricky.

Thomas Enger

But she has one piece of advice for those who do want to kill off their characters. The answer is the standalone novel, because those characters are disposable and need not be saved for the next book. How true. She herself has a new horror book coming next year. Presumably there isn’t a single character standing at the end.

Thomas Enger wrote four books before he had anything published. The fact that they were about a woman in New York might have had something to do with it. Once he wrote about what he knew – being a journalist – it went a lot better. He explained to us why his character is scarred, in more ways than one.

K O Dahl

K O Dahl wrote his first novel at 15, and was so put out when it wasn’t published that he was never going to write again. But twenty years on, there he was, getting published, and doing so long before the Nordic crime wave. He said that at the time there was only him and Anne Holt.

They all avoid sex. Thomas’s character is too angry for sex, and K O prefers tension between his characters. As for Yrsa, Iceland is too small for sex. (You know, she is really quite amusing…) Having been informed that Italians and other south Europeans are the only ones who can write about food, Thomas makes a point of always having food in his books.

Speaking of food, Yrsa might have said she does the shopping for Arnaldur Indridason. Or perhaps not. The live near each other, but that’s just by coincidence. Early reading for K O was his father’s pulp fiction, whereas Thomas read the Hardy Boys and his sister read Nancy Drew. Quite normal, in other words. Didn’t quite catch what Yrsa said. Something about a Yellow Shadow, I believe.

Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

Translations of books are tricky. They are only able to check the English ones, but that’s enough. Yrsa has been translated into 34 languages, and when she sees how mangled the English translation can be, she worries about what happens in the other 33.

After the Q & A, it was time for book signings, and Yrsa was kept singularly busy. I just wish she wouldn’t keep putting her reading glasses on and off like that. Made the photographer’s life difficult. The Norwegian ‘boys’ on either side of her sat like angels.

Book Power 100

I had so hoped to be on it. Or would have, if I’d known it was being done. ‘It’ being the oddly named Guardian list of the most powerful people in the book world. The top one hundred names, except they have cheated by having pairs of names for some entries, making it 100+.

Unlike other commentators I am not horrified by having J K Rowling at no. two. I see no reason why she shouldn’t be. It’s quite interesting to see how they have picked people I know quite well, and also people I’ve never heard of.

First I went on the website showing the lucky one hundred as un-named photos, and came to the conclusion I recognised about twenty of them. Furnished with names I ‘recognised’ a lot more. I have spoken to six, and met another two.

And I finally know who that chap with the wild beard is. Not Ardagh. The other one. (Have already forgotten his name…)

The thing is, I have talked to people who know many of these important ones. Or who have met them, or heard some juicy gossip about them. And somehow, when that is the case, it’s harder to take them seriously. There is one author in particular, highly thought of by many, who sank considerably in my estimation on hearing a personal account of their behaviour.

But then, they can behave as they wish. It’s their books that matter. I do find that the best books are written by decent human beings. At least in the children’s books world. And they haven’t been forgotten here.

Good to see so many women on there, and interesting that so many CEOs are female. Two Swedes, albeit one dead, which didn’t go down well with some. (Bet he’d have preferred not to be dead, too.) And it’s odd, what I know. I couldn’t have put a name to Nick Barley. But seeing his photo I could have told you he is the director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, as he is a visible kind of leader, who is always out and about in Charlotte Square.

Books 100

And it turns out that I am indeed on the list. I made it as no.100, which is a round and pleasing figure. Rather like myself.

He knew Stieg

‘Who’s that with them?’ said Daughter as we saw Kurdo Baksi and his chair Peter Guttridge hovering just outside the door before Kurdo’s event on Sunday night. ‘It looks like Alan Macniven,’ she continued. It was. So there we were, about to listen to Stieg Larsson’s friend and colleague Kurdo Baksi, when Son’s university tutor turned up as our second interpreter for the day.

That was a coincidence, and so was Daughter’s presence. I had secured a press ticket to this sold out event with the utmost difficulty. And then when we interrupted Kurdo’s ice cream licking earlier in the day he simply said he’d fix another ticket… And he did. It’s probably not the only thing he has ever fixed.

After dinner we waited for Kurdo’s photocall, and couldn’t help noticing that photographer Murdo McLeod had just left. So no Murdo for Kurdo. (Sorry. I just had to say that.)

Kurdo Baksi

Kurdo is nothing if not a showman. He claimed to have had to learn to perform and to answer questions when helping his father as a child. He is funny. The subject of his now dead friend could be seen as just sad, but Kurdo joked about most things. Things are easier to hear if you are laughing. It could also be easier to sneak things by if told as a joke. I gather he has been known to make things up, but then we probably all have at some point. And the truth looks different depending on who you are.

His book Stieg Larsson, My Friend is admirably short, and I imagine it contains much of what Kurdo told us about on Sunday night. Stieg put his own good characteristics into Mikael Blomkvist, and his bad sides into Lisbeth Salander. Someone asked if that meant Stieg had Asperger Syndrome. Personally I feel that’s very plausible, but unfortunately the question referred to AS as a learning difficulty, so Kurdo denied it and said Stieg was perfectly well. And it’s not the same thing, and clearly he wasn’t well. Something to do with the twenty coffees a day and the chain-smoking.

Umeå University recently asked for money for a chair in Stieg’s name, which Kurdo was amused by, seeing as the university had refused to accept him for a course in journalism many years ago. But ever the optimist Kurdo felt it was good, or there would have been no move to Stockholm, and no Millennium books.

During all this Peter Guttridge was left sitting there with little opportunity to join in. Kurdo started off with a lengthy monologue, and he did this in English which was anything but perfect, but still done very well. Alan Macniven was only called on in a few emergencies.

Kurdo Baksi

The trouble with men like Kurdo is that they are so damned reasonable. Peter asked about the suggestion from Eva Gabrielsson that Kurdo’s book is slanderous, and he agreed. He has at all times tried to be friends with all parties in this ugly story, and feels he can’t stop talking to the Larsson men to please Eva.

He even said he believes the new Hollywood film version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is better than the Swedish film. This is without having seen it, because he doesn’t want to miss out on an opportunity to attend the premiere in Hollywood.

You can go a long way on charm.

And he did seem to be pleased to have found a Swede in Charlotte Square. But I wish he hadn’t put me on the spot with a question on whether Anne Holt is Norwegian. She is, but her name is awfully identical to Danish Anne Holm.

When he got going on the subject of Stieg and women, he stopped abruptly, causing Peter to point out ‘you can’t just stop there!’ Well, he did.

You might be best to read the book for all the facts. It’s expensive, but will no doubt give Stieg Larsson fans a bit more to think about.

The Tattooed Girl

I don’t see why millions shouldn’t flock to read this book, edited by Dan Burstein. Newspapers all over the world are full of articles speculating about everything and anything to do with Stieg Larsson and his Millennium trilogy. Whether or not the people responsible for those articles know very much about Stieg or Sweden is best left out of this discussion. I have read good ones and I have seen some awful ones. Most of them repeat the same few facts over and over.

Dan Burstein, Arne de Keijzer and John-Henri Holmberg, The Tattooed Girld

In The Tattooed Girl Dan and his co-authors Arne de Keijzer and John-Henri Holmberg have collected many previously published articles as well as pieces written especially for the book. Between them they cover a lot, if not everything, to do with Stieg Larsson, who is unable to put anyone right about what’s true and what isn’t.

I have speculated a lot about this book while it was being written, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure how useful I thought it’d be. But I have to admit I found it good, covering most of what you’d want to know about the books and about Stieg and anything else that might have influenced the story about Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander.

Without Stieg’s old friend John-Henri this book would hardly have been worth reading. It would have been merely a catalogue of articles on Sweden and men who hate women, in some form or other. To have someone who knew Stieg for over 30 years write about his life like this makes all the difference.

I’m only slightly younger than Stieg, and I find it reassuring that we appear to have done many similar things when we were young, reading the same books, experiencing similar political issues, and so on. I trust someone who was actually there, rather than a writer who just dug up some facts about a stranger.

There are other contributors to The Tattooed Girl who perhaps have less reason to be there. I don’t feel it’s relevant to read about Lars Kepler in this book. Authors like Karin Alfredsson on the other hand have every reason to be a part of this.

Between them the many Larsson specialists paint a portrait of Sweden and the period during which Stieg wrote his books. They can’t explain everything, but they come close.

The Tattooed Girl might be an unauthorised guide, but it should take care of what fans want to know.