In which I ponder the pitfalls of posthumous publication (Oh, and read a murder mystery!)
Author: Stieg Larsson
What it’s about: Mikael Blomkvist is a journalist who has just been convicted of libeling one of the most powerful businessmen in Sweden. Lisbeth Salander is a private investigator (with a dragon tattoo) who is considered seriously unstable by the state. The two are thrown together in this fast-paced murder mystery as an aged tycoon hires them to solve the muder of his granddaughter Harriet Vanger, who disappeared from their family estate almost forty years ago. Her bereft grandfather Henrik has searched for her killer ever since, convinced that a member of his own family murdered Harriet in cold blood.
The book sounds kind of ridiculous when you explain it. I mean, the story includes sadists, serial killers, Biblically allusive murders, sexual exploitation, and a couple Nazis. But it’s a great read. I think it targets a Da Vinci Code demographic: it’s a commercially appealing, fast-paced thriller with plenty of intrigue thrown in. It’s even pretty smart. A word of warning: it took me a couple chapters to get into it. The story is set in Sweden, so the names are foreign and hard to remember for an American reader. And the beginning of the story is kind of confusing as Larsson tries to weave together the many different characters. It takes at least five chapters before it starts to get good.
Editorial quandaries: So, Larsson’s manuscripts were actually found in his home after his death and are being published posthumously. Also interesting is that Larsson had started to write a fourth book and had actually planned for a total of 10 books in the series. As someone who works in publishing, this presents a lot of interesting problems. I’m used to working with an author, and I imagine that publishing without them would be a tricky web. For example, the original title of this book was “Men Who Hate Women.” After reading the book, I honestly find this title more appropriate (telling you why would give too much away), but an editor or publisher had to make the major decision to change the title, which really shifted the intended focus of the book. I understand the decision. The new title is far more marketable and the original title might alienate the male audience who this book is actually meant to appeal to. And the book has been a huge success in America, so obviously it worked. But it’s still a decision that would have normally been made with the author and that’s only one of many changes that would have been made in the editing process.
Would I recommend? Sure. It’s not going to change your life, but it’s entertaining. I think it’s perfect travel reading material. Take it on your next flight. And there’s already a sequel, so if you’re really hooked, you can move right into it.