Over the years, I’ve grown to realize that buying translations is a great way to discover wonderful new writers. The strategy has helped me discover new writers, many of whom have gone on to achieve popular acclaim in the English language, and some of whom continue to remain relatively unknown: Henning Mankell, Per Wahlöö, Peter Hoeg, Boris Akunin, Sergei Lukyanenko and, of course, Stieg Larsson.
The Girl who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest: Random House, 290 pages, Rs695.
There are two interesting things about this list: Apart from Lukyanenko, the others are known for their detective fiction; and apart from Lukyanenko, who is Russian, and Hoeg, who is Danish, the others on the list are Swedish. Larsson is the best known in this group, thanks to the popular success of his Millennium trilogy.
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The third book in the trilogy, The Girl who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, is out in India finally and it is a great end to the trilogy (strictly in the popular sense; the good guys stay alive and the bad guys are locked away).
At one level, the Millennium trilogy (named after a magazine of the same name run by some characters in the book) isn’t really a trilogy. It is, actually, a first book that can stand on its own. And then, a second book and its sequel.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo merely serves to introduce the readers to the characters—investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist whom the late author has clearly modelled after himself; Lisbeth Salander, a brilliant, if dysfunctional and sociopathic young hacker; and Erika Berger, Blomkvist’s colleague and occasional lover. The second book, The Girl who Played with Fire, is about Salander’s quest for her father, a Russian spy whom she hates; and the third is about efforts by a section of Sweden’s secret police to make the whole thing go away by having Salander committed to a mental asylum again.
It’s hard to explain the success of the trilogy. The writing is functional and sparse and the plots, while extremely interesting, aren’t extraordinary. It could be the characters. While Larsson does lavish attention on Blomkvist, it is his female characters, even the minor ones, that stand out. That’s a rarity in popular fiction.