So, being in the book business and all means that sometimes it's a good idea to read something everyone else reads. That can be an incredibly painful experience (see: Twilight and The Da Vinci Code), but sometimes the masses, they surprise you. Sometimes, the masses just get it right (see: The Book of Negroes) -- which is exactly the case with The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stiegg Larsson.
I could not put this book down, I kid you not. It's a traditional "good whack on the head" Swedish mystery starring a politically charged magazine editor, Mikael Blomkvist, a brilliant but psychologically damaged computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander, and the cops -- each racing to solve the same case. The murders in question, a couple, one a journalist and the other a PhD student, and a lawyer, happened relatively at the same time and all evidence points to Salander, wait, let me rephrase, all circumstantial evidence points to her, which is the point that Blomkvist and Lisbeth race towards, proving her innocence. Of course, they come up against many obstacles along the way, and it all makes for very good reading.
Larsson's internationally bestselling books have surrounded me while on the subway. And I resisted. I tried as hard as I could to ignore all the good things people were saying. All the recommendations, and it's not as if this review is free of criticism. There are elements to Larsson's writing that betray his journalistic roots -- he uses way, way too much extraneous detail and often digresses to make points, get out a history or fill in details that are simply unnecessary. I think, had he written the whole 10 books as he planned before his untimely death, a lot of this would have cleared itself up. You learn from doing -- novels don't need to be 500 pages long unless they're Russian, right?
But I like the characters so much, Salander's damaged but brilliant, which is always a good combination in a mystery novel. Blomkvist's principled and determined, and he reminds me of Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander, a character I enjoy so very much because he's simply who he is, if that makes any sense. He's just well written, and that's the way I feel about Blomkvist too. Also, there are twists I didn't expect, and that does not happen often. On the whole, it's no wonder that so many other crime novelists are feeling a bit of a pinch -- the entire world seems to be reading these books, and I don't blame them.
Oh, and I'm pretty excited that I can use this as perhaps the one and only Around the World in 52 Books entry for 2010, as Larsson's Swedish and that totally counts. So much for not having reading challenges this year.
WHAT'S NEXT: I'm going to finish Invisible Man for Black History Month, try to squeeze in a little Zora Neale Hurston, although I'm not sure what to read of hers since I've already read There Eyes Were Watching God and my experience of that book (when I read it) was so perfect that I don't want to ruin it with a reread.