Sunday, November 21, 2010

Stieg, We Hardly Knew You

Is there anyone left in the known world (with the possible exception of my elderly aunt Hannah) who hasn’t read at least one of the books in Stieg Larsson’s monumental Millennium Trilogy, starring superhacker Lisbeth Salander and her friend and occasional squeeze, editor Michael Blomkvist? If you haven’t, what are you doing here? Start reading!

My own holiday gift season began last week, when a splendid boxed set of three beautiful Larsson hardcover editions, designed by Peter Mendelsund, arrived from publisher Alfred A. Knopf. I had reviewed and discussed the three Salander-Blomkvist novels for everything from the Chicago Tribune to my daughter Katie Shinden’s book group. But tucked inside the slipcase of this boxed set was a fourth, much smaller book, as good as gold: On Stieg Larsson, a previously unpublished collection of essays about, and correspondence with the late author from five Swedish colleagues who knew him best.

The incredible world success--literary and financial--of Larsson’s trilogy has generated some intelligent, in-depth coverage, especially from The Rap Sheet’s Ali Karim and CBS Sunday Morning, which last month aired a fine piece in which Larsson’s heirs bared their teeth over royalties. But On Stieg Larsson offers many new and touching moments, such as these quotes from Jonas Sundberg, who was a friend of Larsson’s and a co-founder of Expo magazine, which became the model for Blomkvist’s Millennium in the novels:
Stieg received me at his office at the TT News Agency ... He had a hint of an accent from Northern Sweden and seemed a little bit reserved ...

I found him very humble, yet aware of the quality of his own knowledge and brilliant thinking, peering at me through his round glasses ...

He had made serious arrangements to conceal his home
address ...

I became more aware of the risks involved when Stieg showed us a 9-mm bullet he had received in the post ...
Expo was founded in 1995, Sundberg tell us, “and its accuracy seemed to scare the extreme right. Newsstands selling Expo had their windows smashed, printers were terrorized, [and the magazine] was about to go under, when Sweden’s major dailies stepped in to support it.”

In 2003, Larsson walked into Sundberg’s office and said, “I’m working on my pension insurance, you know!” He explained to his friend that he was finishing work on a crime novel. A few weeks later, Larsson announced that he’d sold the book “for real money! Not jubilant, but with that sort of quiet pleasure he had when a plan of his worked out well.”

Elsewhere in On Stieg Larsson, Eva Gedin, the author’s editor at Swedish publisher Norstedts, moves us to tears with this statement: “To think that his wildest dreams would come true. For despite his reserved air, there was also a measure of natural self-assurance about him that suggested he had a premonition that his crime novels might possibly become something truly significant.”

Larsson died in 2004, at the age of 50, after a massive heart attack. The first three of his novels (and possibly others) were finished and edited, but had not yet seen print. They’ve since become publishing phenomena, even though they haven’t won over everyone. When my colleagues, Sarah Weinman and Oline Cogdill, and I tried to choose The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as the Best Mystery of 2008, officials of the Los Angeles Times Book Awards told us that no dead authors need apply.

No matter. Larsson has had his revenge on critics who doubted what he could accomplish. For anyone who hasn’t yet discovered his work, or wants to enshrine it on their bookshelves, Knopf’s wonderful new boxed set is the answer. It carries a hefty $99 retail price tag, but Amazon will release it on November 26 for a slightly more reasonable $49.95.

READ MORE:The Man Who Created The Girl Who ...,” by Peter Rozovsky (Detectives Beyond Borders); “A Larsson Gift for the Reader in Your Life,” by Ali Karim (Existentialist Man); “Man of Mystery: Why Do People Love Stieg Larsson’s Novels?” by Joan Acocella (The New Yorker).


RJR said...

Haven't read them.


Mike Ripley said...

Me neither.