Let me be straight with you, lest I color your perception of these books: I am a big ole scaredy cat. The biggest. I love reading mysteries, but most do not make me curl up into the fetal position. The last scary movie I watched was What Lies Beneath with Michele Pfeiffer and Harrison Ford. I saw it at the theater and lay across the theater seats of my then-boyfriend and his best friend, crying. (They were not amused.) I cannot watch Law & Order: SVU even though I love it. Law & Order: Criminal Intent? Forgettaboutit. I can handle murder, violence, and mayhem, but sexual torture? Torture in general? Nope. Can’t do it.
Flash forward to the night I stayed up devouring The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I. Was. Petrified. Sexual torture mixed with a basement full of torture devices and Biblical punishment meted out by a madman? I broke out in a cold sweat. I couldn’t get up and check my alarm system because my bed was the only safe haven anywhere, and the light from my bedside lamp, while reassuring, also ensured I was visible to the evil outside my lair. Suffice it to say, I was not looking forward to the other books.
However, a friend whose opinion I trust told me the next book wasn’t so bad. Last week, I borrowed it and read it cover to cover. If you’ve read this far, you probably know a bit about the books, so I won’t spend too much time summarizing. Lisbeth Salander, the antisocial, enigmatic young woman with a violent streak is back in The Girl Who Played with Fire. She has spent time in many different countries and returns to Sweden to determine the best way to have Nils Bjurman, her guardian, declare her competent (some mystery from her past caused Salander to be institutionalized as a child). No worries; she has something to hold over his head, and of course, she has a plan.
Mikael Blomvqist is back as well, sleeping around as usual, and is occasionally curious about Salander. He and two journalists, Dag and Mia, are working on a scoop about sexual trafficking in Sweden. Very quickly, Dag and Mia are murdered, Blomqvist finds them, and in a strange twist, Salander is being hunted as the killer. The tale that unravels involves the Soviet Union, spies, conspiracy, a killer with a disorder that makes him feel no pain, Salander, and a mysterious figure named Zalachenko. (Yes, really). I won’t give any more away, but I will say that the book ends abruptly with quite a cliffhanger. I borrowed the next book and learned that Larsson originally intended the first three books to be one continuous volume.
The other thing I learned (through reading – couldn’t confirm it anywhere) is that absolutely no one chose to edit these last two books. The first book was fast paced and had a tightly-written mystery, although the ending did seem to drag a bit. The second two books were full of such unbelievable coincidences and strange rabbit holes that the lack of editing was glaring. I still enjoyed the books because I am intrigued by Salander’s character and wanted to know more about her. However, the loose ends and the blatant tying of those ends lacked the initial ingenuity of the trilogy and left me again questioning if there was an editor. Was there some argument that since Larsson died, no one could edit the manuscripts? Was it for posterity’s sake? I’m really asking. If you know the answer, please comment. I think, as a writer, Larsson would have preferred the polished end product editing provides.
Instead, the public is left with The Girl Who… mania and not a whole lot of consistency and a bit too much substance, at times. It also struck me that these three books are almost totally different genres. The first book is two parts mystery, two parts thriller. The second book is suspenseful but reads more like a John Le Carre novel than an out-and-out mystery. The third book is pure John Grisham. Salander sits in a hospital bed for most of it, using her personal computer device to track down information and to determine the identity of Ericka Berger’s stalker. Whaaa? There is a laughable trial where the attorneys parade in witnesses but also speak to people in the courtroom who aren’t testifying. Whaa? Then, when the book is presumably over, Salander stumbles upon the killer from the second book and survives. Whaaa?
There is talk of someone taking Larsson’s extensive plot notes and character sketches for the other seven planned books and completing them. I’ll make my formal request to a writer who is alive and kicking and who writes thoughtful, complex, well-edited novels: Ian Rankin. Or, better yet, Mr. Rankin: pleeeease write more Inspector Rebus novels.
Devolving from an intelligent series to a John Grisham pulp, the last two books of The Girl Who…trilogy are not ideal, and I hoped for a lot more from this promising series.