Tag Archives: Stieg Larsson

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.

What (some) men (might) think of women

I’ve been in two minds about whether this blog post should come before tomorrow’s, or after it. It’s also been on my mind for some time, and whereas there was never any doubt about writing it, I have to tread carefully.

While I’m only going to say what’s already in the public domain, that’s not to say people won’t be annoyed. I was intrigued to find that Stieg Larsson’s brother Joakim has set up a website to tell his side of the story. Having long been rather anti-Joakim, I was impressed by what he had to say. He sounds so very reasonable.

But then, of course, that’s how you sway opinion in whatever direction you want it to go. At roundabout the same time Stieg’s friend Annika Bryn was saying how she sometimes talked on the phone with Joakim. Another positive fact. So, I didn’t know what to think. But the fact remains that I heard with my own ears what Larssons senior and junior said in that television programme from a few years ago. You can’t unsay stuff like that, even through the most level headed website.

And then there was the book by Dan Burstein in which Annika was going to write about her friendship with Stieg. Joakim was positive to this. He told her so himself. He was looking forward to reading it. I don’t have all the ins and outs of this, but late in the proceedings Mr Burstein wanted Annika to include her emails from Stieg.

She asked Joakim’s permission. (Now I, personally, wouldn’t have asked, on the grounds that I’d feel those emails were ‘mine’.) When the reply finally came it was a resounding ‘no’.

Again, I don’t know or understand the details, but for some reason it was decided that Annika would no longer contribute to the book about Stieg. Maybe they were only ever after those few emails, and not her version of the friendship.

My own mercenary reaction when hearing this news was to check she at least got paid for all her work. She was paid. And then she gave all the money to charity.

Sara Paretsky’s view of whether or not Annika should contribute in the first place, was that we need more females writing about Stieg. I agree. I doubt that after this I will be sent a copy of the Burstein book to review, but I’d like to see how the balance of the sexes looks.

I gather that Dan Burstein found my earlier blog post, so no doubt he will find this one as well. I may have got facts wrong, but what you can’t alter is that there will be one fewer female contributing.

And I wonder what selfless Joakim will do with the emails he owns the rights to?

Incentive to read

You might end up with square eyes from watching too much television, or whatever it was they tried to say to scare us off the box. Although in my distant – very distant –  childhood there was sufficiently little on television to make the eyes all that square, to be honest.

But I’ve only recently realised that there is one very strong incentive to learn to read in countries where English is not the main language, and which are small enough that hardly any dubbing of films or television takes place. And that is the dreaded box.

Not starting school until seven (six now) made for some uncomfortable years when there was far too much need for reading skills, but not having them. Just about the only things that do get dubbed are programmes and films for the very young, and presumably only because their audiences can’t read. Not because foreign languages are an abomination.

Hence Disney is dubbed and it took me years to accept the American voice of Baloo when I’d only ever heard Beppe Wolgers.

Unfortunately you can’t really force little British or American children to early reading in the same way, as most of their entertainment comes in English. But it’d be worth considering if there is anything at all which is so desirable and cool that children would strive to learn a new skill in order to consume more.

For speakers of small languages there is also the influence of music, and these days all of the internet. If you want to, you will work hard at overcoming problems with reading and with that foreign language, too.

It took me years as an immigrant to grasp that the natives didn’t like subtitles. To me they’d always been second nature. If needed, they were there.

Johanna Sällström and Krister Henriksson

So the new Nordic noir crime wave on television is proving useful for more than entertainment and making some people very rich. While watching the Swedish Wallander Daughter kept getting annoyed at herself for not being able to ignore the subtitles, and that’s always been the case. You see them and read despite not needing them. Although I have very nearly got to the stage where I can avoid the lower part of the screen.

Lisbeth Salander

With me being the impatient sort, we have the full set of Stieg Larsson DVDs, and having to switch on the hard-of-hearing Swedish subtitles for the Resident IT Consultant to aid him in this foreign jungle. (He does have an O-level in Swedish, but that doesn’t get you far.) That means the rest of us have more subtitles to try and ignore.

Casualties 1

I also happen to own a DVD, some peculiar Polish version of an (obscure-ish) American film, which comes with subtitles in four Nordic languages. And when I say that I mean that you can’t switch them off. You can choose which language you want to be annoyed by, but it has to be there. All I can say to the translator is that that was no vinegar the woman sprayed over the baddie’s face. We eat vinegar. This was far worse, considering what his face looked like afterwards.


Back to Daughter and her subtitles. They work for her, too, seeing as how she can only watch the Danish crime series Rejseholdet by reading the Swedish subtitles. How she does it I don’t know, but you wouldn’t watch over thirty episodes if you didn’t get (most of) it.

Sarah Lund's jumper - black

And now it’s the equally Danish Forbrydelsen which has the whole country, or so it seems, by the seat of their pants every Saturday. Soon people will watch foreign programmes without noticing they are doing it.

But at least we don’t have dubbing forced on us the way the Germans do. There is no way I’d watch NCIS with those silly dubbed voices. With regard to Baloo you know that Disney cared and made sure the voice chosen was a good one.