Saturday, November 28, 2009

The New Girl by guest blogger Steven Head

In the current edition of Vanity Fair there is a short article about the late Swedish mystery writer, Stieg Larsson. There was mention of the possible reasons for his death at age 50, comparison to other Swedish mystery writers, and tidbits from his books in print. I took the bait, the hook was set, and before I knew it was caught in Larsson's net.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first of the "Girl" trilogy. I picked up the paperback on Saturday and ended up spending large chunks of the weekend with this page turner. Larsson does a wonderful job of using a limited third person narrative to reveal the action through the experience of Mikael Blomkvist, financial reporter and publisher, and Lizbeth Salander, the "Girl".

At the start of the novel we learn Mikael has been found guilty of libel, not exactly an endorsement of credibility for a main character. In short order we learn Lizbeth is an asocial computer savant with a history of institutionalization and suspected Aspberger's Syndrome. Clearly these are not main stream heroes. But the presenting problem is engaging, the depth of character development masterful, and just enough tangents to offer relief from the shocking elements.

The problem involves a retired and fading patriarch of a Swedish industrial conglomerate. Before passing to the next life he wants to commission a family biography, although the real reason is to determine who murdered his favorite niece when she was 16, some 40 years earlier. The murder was one of those 'locked-room' situations involving people on an island, the connecting bridge out of service, and no known boating traffic. All the suspects are identified and there are multiple photographs and a well documented time line. Along with the exhaustive written records of an official investigation that reached a dead end years earlier.

Like so many of the mysteries I write about, this one contains some graphic and shocking passages. Each of the title pages of the four parts of this book include a statistic about the mistreatment of Swedish women by men. Hopefully, this gives you an idea of the terrain this book travels. By the end of the book, order is more or less restored by the actions of our not-so-normal heroes, the reputation of our reporter hero restored, and a few rough edges of the Girl are polished.

As a frequent reader of mystery and detective novels I know someone is going to get murdered so there is a story to tell. Even though it is only fiction this can lead to a relaxed attitude about violent death. While telling a compelling story, Larsson challenges this comfort with death and examines the social as well as personal consequences.

If I have not scared you away, this book is now available in paperback as well as on CD. If you have a long drive, CD time reported at 16.5 hours, this will keep you awake although speed control could be an issue. The good news is that volume two, The Girl Who Played with Fire, is available in hard cover. I'm hoping someone gives it to me for Christmas.
No, this isn't our mystery blogger, Steve. It isn't Stieg Larsson, wither. It's Kevin. If you recall last week's post about our visit to Marshmallow World, you'll also remember that none of my pictures turned out. Luckily, Kevin took this self portrait with a cut-out of the character that started the whole MW adventure!
What am I reading? Just finished Shiver by Maggie Stievater. Werewolves! I have finally dug into my friend Loreen's manuscript called Tumor Board. More next time.

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