The ‘Unputdownable’ Lisbeth Salander

Crime thrillers, detective stories and mystery novels rarely have original plots. The basic premise of someone committing a crime and someone trying to solve it, has not changed in centuries. The reason we find some authors and stories more interesting than others is mainly because of the way in which the words are handled, or because of the idiosyncrasies and character development of the crime-solvers and sometimes the villains as well. In the end, a good mystery novel is one that is…”unputdownable”.
My tastes have veered from Fatty and the Find-Outers and Hardy Boys, to Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Dolye to current-day authors like Jonathan Kellerman, Richard Stark and Ian Rankin. Though, it is the authors who create these books, it is their unique characters who breath life into the plots; people such as Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, Philip Marlowe and Sherlock Holmes to name a few. Unfortunately, there just aren’t too many interesting detectives / policemen / criminals turned good, who have cropped up in recent times.
And since in this day and age of perennial lack of time, it is hard to justify reading a crime thriller without feeling pangs of guilt over the fact that the time spent reading it could have been used to read something more “life-changing” or “educative”, a detective story has to be really, really good to justify the effort and time taken over it.
So imagine how great it felt, coming upon a protagonist, who is a thin, young, 4ft, 10in Swedish misanthrope in her 20s, a social misfit and outcast with innumerable tattoos and piercings, who only wants to be left alone, but because of the fact that she was abused as a child, wants to exact revenge on those responsible, has a photographic memory, perhaps has Asperger’s syndrome, is a computer hacker and fights to maim and hurt.
Welcome to the world of Lisbeth Salander.
Lisbeth is a character created by Stieg Larsson, who has written three crime thrillers, together also called the Millennium trilogy, around her and a journalist investigator called Mikael Blomkvist. The stories are based in Sweden, mainly Stockholm. For starters, the books completely blow away any ideas we may have had of the Scandinavian countries being peace-loving, slow-paced islands of “ramrajya”. Add to this, the complex plots, the central theme of sexual abuse and the combination of Lisbeth and Blomkvist…and you have three books that are…”unputdownable”.
I am still on an idyllic local vacation and knowing that I had some time, I downloaded all three books into my Kindle app on the IPAD and finished reading them over a span of five days. The first book is “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, which can be read as a standalone novel but also provides the background for the other two books, the first of which, “The Girl Who Played with Fire”, is really just the first half of a story that finally ends in “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest”. Mr. Larsson died of a massive heart attack after finishing these three books; he had apparently planned ten.
Many people have compared Lisbeth to Modesty Blaise; I wouldn’t know since my exposure to Modesty Blaise is restricted to the lurid Sunday comic strip of my youth. But whatever Lisbeth may be like, it is amazing the kind of empathy Mr. Larsson manages to evoke for her, despite all her shortcomings and lack of traditional morals.
After a long time, we have a character, for whom it is worth spending the time required to get to know her better, in the pages where she lives.

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