Created by Stieg Larsson
"People always have secrets. It's just a matter of finding out what they are."
-- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Journalist MIKAEL BLOMKVIST and computer hacker LISBETH SALANDER are the mismatched detective duo who appear in a series of internationally acclaimed, posthumously published thrillers by Swedish author Stieg Larsson. The three books are known as the "Millennium Trilogy," after the magazine Blomkvist works for.
When we first meet Mikael in 2005's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, he's a middle-aged financial reporter whose career has gone straight into the dumpster, thanks to a conviction for libelling a high-flying Swedish tycoon and a pending jail sentence.
But another powerful but aging Swedish businessman offers him a way out -- if Mikael agrees to look into a seriously cold case involving the disappearance of a teen heiress, his brother's granddaughter, almost forty years ago. What can a potential jailbird out to clear his name and reputation do but jump at the chance?
With the unexpected help of Lisbeth, the tattooed girl of the title, a troubled young investigator with a photographic memory and more emotional luggage than anyone should have to carry, Mikael begins to dig into the case, and soon unearths a wriggling mass of deep dark and disturbing family secrets that wouldn't be out of place in a Ross Macdonald novel.
But that's just part of this book's charms. At times it also reads like a something right out of the Silence of the Lambs school, and at other times it seems like we've wandered into an almost Ludlumesque paranoid world of omnipotent global and corpotrate corruption.
But mostly it's Lisbeth's very hands-on, almost Spillane-like approach to vengeance. Such a big, disjointed novel, with its wide range of characters and ever-shifting themes should be one whopping, unholy mess, with no business being as compelling and entertaining as it is, but Lisbeth's relentless ferocity and mercurial sense of justice struck a chord with millions of readers, including me.
He may not have been the greatest stylist, but thanks to Larsson's considerable storytelling mojo, this rambling slab of a novel became an international sensation, almost from the moment it was first published in Swedish in 2005, and that buzz soon spread around the globe, country by country and continent by continent, as it was been translated into one foreign language after another. Somehow this unlikely thriller has become one of the most compelling and bestselling crime novels of the decade.
And the second and third novels in the series, The Girl Who Played with Fire (2006) and The Girl who Kicked the Hornets' Nest (2007), only upped the ante, with Mikael and Lisbeth -- who rarely even have physical contact with each other -- plow into the morass of Sweden's illicit sex industry, its social welfare system, its national security and legal and justice systems from different ends. Again, it's a scenario that shouldn't work, and yet...
Part of the series' success, of course, is the backstory. The author, a graphic designer and the editor-in-chief at the Swedish antiracist magazine Expo, dropped dead of a heart attack in 2004, shortly after delivering the manuscripts for the first three books.
The three completed books have already been filmed in Sweden, and the first opened in Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland in early 2009 to massive acclaim and popularity, setting box office records in Norway and Denmark for a Swedish film.
Needless to say, Hollywood soon came sniffing around, with a big bucks Hollywood version, starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara, and directed by hot shot director David Fincher. Although it did great at the box office and was generally well-received, no sequel has been announced yet.
But all four films are worth watching. The Swedish films have this low-level grit and down to earh appeal, and present themslerves as intricate mysteries, whereas the Fincher film is more of a thriller. For instance, some of the revelations slowly built up to in the first Swedish version are quickly dismissed in a quick bit of exposition quite early in the American version. And it should be noted that while both Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara give strongh and compelling performances as Lisbeth, there's a world of difference between Michael Nyqvist's performance as a world-weary, out-of-shape middle-aged Blomkvist and that of Daniel Craig's. The Swedish version shows Blomkvist as a bit of a schlep; a guy who should really eat better and get to the gym more often. The Hollywood version essentially gives us James Bond. Even Craig's six packs have six packs.
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Of course, all the money generated from the franchise proved irresistable. In 2015, it was announced that the Millenium Trilogy would no longer be a trilogy -- it would soon be followed by The Girl in the Spider's Web, a sequel written by a Swedish journalist and biographer, David Lagercrantz. It's worth noting that this book is labelled a "Lisbeth Salander" novel. And money begets money, so in 2017 another sequel, The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye, was published. Adding insult to injury, it was announced in March 2017 that Sony Pictures was moving forward with a sequel to Fincher's 2011 effort, based not on any of Larrson's books but on Lagercrantz's The Girl in the Spider's Web.
Still, the rumours persist that Larsson left most of a fourth novel and the synopses of the fifth and sixth books on a computer owned by his long-time companion who, unfortunately, doesn't have the legal right to release them. Larsson's literary estate is instead controlled by his estranged father and brother, due to the fact that Larsson died inestate, and Swedish law does not recognize common law marriages.
So, Larsson did leave behind most of a sequel, but The Girl in the Spider's Web isn't it.
Fancy, schmancy slip-cased set of the three novels, each unjacketed, bound in full cloth and uniquely stamped, with maps and individual full-color endpapers, and On Stieg Larsson, a collection of essays about and correspondence with the author.
A wrenching adaptation of the global bestseller that digs deeper than either the Swedish or American film dared to go; heading straight back to the source for a fresh but jarring take on the story of Lisbeth and Mikael.
A second adaptation, first published in French via Editions Dupuis beginning in 2013, who ultimately collected all three of Larsson's original novels in six graphic volumes. Titan/Hard Case Crime began serializing the series in English in 2017.
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-- an e-mail Entertainment Weekly received from actress Rooney Mara on the set of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in Sweden.
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