Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Stieg Larsson's Millenium Series

I just finished the third, and last volume of Stieg Larsson's Millennium Series. The trilogy contains three immense volumes:

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
The Girl That Played With Fire
The Girl That Kicked The Hornet's Nest

They tell the story of Lisbeth Salander, a highly intelligent young woman in her early twenties, who was deliberately mishandled by a section of the Swedish secret police, SAPO. Her father, Zalachenko, was a Russian agent who sought asylum in Sweden. Because of his connections and the information he could provide the Swedish government, SAPO (similar to American CIA) protected him as a highly valuable informant. Zalachenko created his own crime syndicate, and SAPO looked the other way.

Zalachenko was incredibly vicious. When Lisbeth was twelve, he beat her mother so badly she suffered irreparable brain damage. Lisbeth tried reporting him to the police, but they refused to do anything, as he was under the protection of SAPO. So, at twelve years old, she decided to take matters into her own hands, made a Molotov Cocktail and threw it into Zalachenko's car, setting him on fire.

The fire failed to kill Zalachenko. SAPO saw Lisbeth as dangerous to their interests with him, covered up the police reports of the fire, and doctored Lisbeth's psych evaluation so that she would be placed in a mental hospital for children.

Repeatedly, Lisbeth would try to explain what had happened, yet no one would listen – not the police, certainly not the secret police, and not the psychologists that faked her mental evaluations. She decided then to withdraw completely, and refuse to speak to anyone. This resulted in her being deemed “retarded” by most people she came into contact with, particularly once she was allowed to leave the asylum, under guardianship.

Lisbeth's first guardian was a kindly older gentleman who was making progress in drawing her out. He got her a low level position at a security firm, where her co-workers considered her an anomaly. The owner of the firm, quickly realized she was far from “retarded”, was actually extremely intelligent, and had a knack for investigation and computer hacking.

This basically lays the foundation for the three books. You get a little more of Lisbeth's back story with each volume. Early on in the first book, Lisbeth becomes acquainted with journalist Michael Blomqvist. Because of her investigative and computer skills, she's able to help him solve several mysteries and corporate cover ups.

By the end of the second book, Lisbeth began working towards revenge against Zalachenko, also a subject of investigation by Blomqvist. The third book culminates into a series of events where Lisbeth is arrested for attempting to kill Zalachenko, has to prove her innocence and mental capabilities so as not to be institutionalized again.

I've noticed in several advertisements, this series is being marketed as “a new heroine for a new millennium”, or something to that effect. That's actually a large part of what kept me reading these books. I don't care for stories about victims as heroes. Throughout these books, Lisbeth Salander has been, in my opinion, a “non-victim”. She had many, many bad things happen to her, and chose not to shout her victimhood from the rooftops. She decided that what happened to her was no one else's business, and took her life into her own hands.

From this, she methodically began planning revenge on those who hurt her. Particularly Zalachenko. Throughout the three books, Larsson keeps the suspense high, the mysteries exciting, and throws in a few terrific twists.

I'm sure Hollywood will option these books for movies and completely ruin them. Lisbeth Salander is supposed to be about 4'11'' and around 90 pounds, yet strong and wiry. I can see Hollywood casting Angelina Jolie in the role, even though she's two feet taller, and nowhere near the same body shape. This wouldn't be such a big deal if it weren't for the fact that Lisbeth's size plays an integral role in the stories.

I had two issues with the books. One was a particularly violent rape scene, however it was not titillating or sensualized. It was brutal. While that is not my taste in reading, it was highly important to the plot of the third book. The other issue I had was that the final book became somewhat bogged down, explaining the legalese and government of Sweden. It's worth getting through though, because for those of us not familiar with the Swedish government, it's important to the plot.

Unfortunately, we won't be seeing any more novels from Stieg Larsson. He suffered a massive heart attack in 2004, before any of his books were even published.

A bit of background on the author: It seems Larsson was pretty much a raging communist. This places him squarely in an area of books that I would not normally read. However, I didn't feel there was any overt propaganda when reading his books. They were just great crime novels.