Stieg Larsson’s trilogy set in his native Sweden has taken the world by storm. Great mystery writers create great characters and Larsson succeeded with Lisbeth Salander, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, who Played with Fire, and Kicked a Hornets’ Nest. She is every computer security official’s nightmare. The firewall hasn’t been built that can keep Lisbeth out. And when she uses her skills to protect those she cares about or to deliver justice (hers) to those she perceives as evil, even Homeland Security would have a hard time stopping her.
And that’s a good thing because Lisbeth’s exploits keep us turning the pages, rooting for her to succeed and keep one step ahead of the bad guys. Her back story, skillfully strung out in the first book and then fleshed out in the second, helps us understand what makes her tick. Lisbeth’s dragon tattoo is the visible symbol of what lies buried beneath the surface. She’s a survivor who at the young age of twenty-four has seen the dark side and those experiences make it hard for her to trust and, most of all, love.
Enter Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist who trusted too much. Believing the story fed to him by a news source, Blomkvist ends up being sued for libel and sent briefly to jail. Before he is incarcerated, Blomkvist agrees to take on a free lance assignment for an aging industrialist, Vanger, who wants Mikael to investigate the 36 year-old disappearance of his then 14 year-old niece. Blomkvist and Salander’s paths cross when she comes on board as his research assistant. Initially skeptical of her motives Blomkvist soon appreciates and begins to rely on her talents. In the end, those talents save his life.
Larsson died unexpectedly of a heart attack after finishing the third book, The Girl Who Kicked a Hornets’ Nest. That final installment in the trilogy will be published in the U.S. in 2010. The movie based on the first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, has already grossed nearly $100 million internationally and is scheduled for U.S. release in 2010. (Photos above show Noomi Rapace, who plays Salander). The second film has taken in $16 million from four foreign markets, while the third film is in post production. All three films, in Swedish with English subtitles, were produced by Yellow Bird, the same company that co-produces Wallander, a TV miniseries starring Kenneth Branagh, also set in Sweden, and based on the books by Henning Mankell.
The Wallender series and the Larsson mysteries both present a bleak picture of Sweden. The landscape is unwelcoming, the houses, even when opulent, cold. In the first Larsson book, Blomkvist, staying in a guest cottage on Vanger’s estate, has a hard time keeping warm. The chill he feels is a premonition that the cold case he pursues is about to reach out from the grave with deadly results. In the second installment, The Girl Who Played with Fire, Blomkvist comes to Salander’s rescue, believing she is innocent even when the whole country has her tried and convicted of a double murder.
Fans eager to read the third, and last, book in the series will have to wait until May, 2010. Hollywood knows a juggernaut when it sees one. George Clooney, Johnny Depp, and Brad Pitt are reportedly interested in playing Blomkvist. So a U.S. film may very well follow the Swedish version.
Larsson’s situation may be compared to that of Robert Ludlum who died after writing the Bourne trilogy, made into three very successful films staring Matt Damon. Eric Van Lustbader picked up where Ludlum left off and has since written four additional Bourne books. Larsson reportedly started a fourth book and outlined several others before his death. Is there another writer who could pick up where Larsson left off?
True fans hope so. Larsson created compelling characters and it is far too soon for them to make their exit.