In the Grip of Summer

This summer has been far from the vacation ideal. For once, every weekend has been jam packed with social obligations, numerous errands, and the occasional moments of summertime. I’ve left the world of the internet, completely abandoning things like Facebook games for tending my garden, which has become a paradise of zucchini and pumpkin vines. There was the cocktail party in July we hosted as a surrogate wedding shower and the amount of horsd’oeuvres concocting makes me want to never see a canape for a good while. There is also my (seemingly futile) attempts to master the GRE, which is more a measurement of verbal trickery and posturing than of a solid education and an inquisitive mind.

But the real occupation of my time has been reading the Stieg Larsson mystery books, beginning with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I usually steer pretty clear of any book that merits the NY Times Bestseller list and manages to arrive in mass-market paperback form before the hardcover first edition has been delegated to the back of the bookstore, it’s half-price sticker looking forlorn and betrayed. I like mysteries – but I usually stick to the tried and true, like Agatha Christie, or the more literary, like Benjamin Black. But unlike so many other mass market books, the trilogy featuring the “odd” heroine Lisbeth Salander and her slightly smarmy partner in crime, Mikeal Blomkvist, is rather brilliant because Larsson knows how to master a sentence. How much the translator prettifies is unknown to me, being limited in knowledge of Swedish to the rambling Scandinavian film class I took in college and the strange outbreak of Scandos in St. Andrews.

For a mystery to be successful, it must also present a gripping narrative, the plot and intrigue trading off to create an Abbott and Costello like counter-balance. In the first novel, Blomkvist meets Salander and together, through the unorthodox, manage to unearth a scandal of extreme proportions. What makes the book even more successful is how believable it is. While I found Blomkvist a mix of good-too shoes and schmuck and Salander the prototype misfit, they were real. Their flaws were legitimate, unlike so many other characters one finds in the mystery genre. Who really cares about another renegade cop? No one will begin to match Dirty Harry. While I enjoy the absurd, it often is detrimental to the mystery – one wants a hint of humanity in the midst of crime and blood. What makes The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo brilliant that it masters storytelling, despite its graphic nature, something mysteries often forget in the middle of exposing clues and motive. For once, I think a book actually deserves its mass market status. and reminds people why they used to like to read.

The two other books in Larssons trilogy are interesting, but they are by no means as enticing as the first. However, feeling like I am a mini-expert in British crime stories (thank you, Masterpiece Mystery!), I haven’t enjoyed a mystery this much in a good while. So much so I read during all my lunches at work and when they were over, my first thought was how much time it would be until I go leave work and go home and read some more.

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