Swedish writer Stieg Larsson was relatively unknown when he delivered his now-megaselling mystery "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," and its two sequels, to his publisher. Larsson died shortly after -- of a heart attack, at age 50 -- before seeing how successful his works would become. "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" remains at the top of our paperback bestseller list, with its sequel, "The Girl Who Played With Fire," right behind at No. 2.
Larsson's nominal protagonist is a good-natured, if hard-driving, journalist named Mikael Blomkvist, who is rather obviously a projection of the author, though without any spikes, verbal or behavioral, to snag the reader's attention. That's where "The Girl" of his titles comes in. Lisbeth Salander is a genius-level computer hacker who is also, essentially, a psychopath — rendered almost mute and unable to trust anyone after a lifetime of abuse, both parental and state-sponsored, both vividly physical and cruelly institutional.
Salander quickly demonstrates an ability to give as good as she gets. You really don't want to be the guardian who sexually tortures her when she takes her revenge. Or, for that matter, her brutish father, a sometime Soviet spy, now running (in "Hornet's Nest") a sex-trafficking ring in which, as one might say, "the highest levels of Swedish society" are complicit.
"Hornet's Nest," which carries on without pause from its predecessor, finds Salander near death from a bullet wound to her head and awaiting desperate medical measures. Mostly, she remains confined there, but physical passivity does not imply helplessness. Give this kid a smuggled computer and a lot of help from her few allies and you can be sure she will confound her smug, well-connected enemies.
While Schickel isn't much of a fan of Larsson's prose, he notes that the plots are lively and intricate. Perhaps that makes the books prime candidates for screen adaptation. The 2009 Swedish film of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" has been released in the U.S., and an American version -- rumored to star Carey Mulligan and be directed by David Fincher -- is in the works for 2012.
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Photo: Actress Noomi Rapace stars in the Swedish film version of "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." Credit: Knut Koivisto / Music Box Films
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