February 11, 2014

Book: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 4:22 pm

imageThis author started a trend that made Swedish crime fiction the hottest commodity for a while. It also created a huge buzz, along with the two sequels in the Millenium Trilogy.


I think, having read this, the hype is justified. The investigator and the main character, Lisbeth, is unlike any detective I have ever come across. The kind of things she does are at the edge of what is possible, I think, but makes for exhilarating story. The Swedish names and places were difficult for me to follow at first, but then once I got used to it, gave the story a nice Swedish flavour. It also has a political backdrop of the Palme scandal that rocked Sweden quite a few years ago.


The other thing that is interesting is that the manuscript was unknown until the author’s death (at a relatively young age, by a heart attack) and the trilogy was discovered, fully written, among his personal effects. If only he had lived to see his books become such bestsellers.


The American edition also cleverly changed the titles to start like ‘The Girl… ‘. The original title for this book translates to ‘Men Who Hate Women’. Not as good as the current one for the North American market, in my view.


It also appears that he planned this as a series and not a trilogy and also found among his personal effects were outlines for further stories. His wife had announced that she plans to develop these and publish them, I heard, but nothing has come out of it so far.


Now, on to the review of the book.


The introduction does not make sense initially, but is intriguing. An old eighty year old retired detective receives flowers every year. No letters, no address, he talks to Morrell, an equally old detective Superintendent, also retired. “Case of the pressed flowers” bothers him, his last, unsolved case. Out of the forty four cases he has left unsolved in his career, this seems to bother him the most.


The story is about Michel Blomkvist. He is a publisher who published a story about Wonnestrom, an industrialist. Being not as careful as he usually is, he opened himself up for a libel suit by Wonnestrorm, and rather than reveal the source of his stories, chose to go to prison. The affair cost him his financial success too and he lost lucrative contracts and also had to step away from his post as the editor of the Millenium magazine.  Wonnerstorm, who he knew was a crook, got away scot free.


He employs Armansky, the boss of an investigative agency, who assigns  Lisbeth Salander, a maverick, non-conformist girl with tattoos, nose rings, punk style to his case. Despite the appearance of being a tramp, Lisbeth is a brilliant investigator, as Armansky, who employed her initially as a mail girl discovered, and as Blomkvist also discovers.

Lisbeth is socially awkward, does not open up to anyone, is very difficult to get along with, until you get to know her. Her rebellious and wayward past has not endeared her to most people, and so she is surprised when someone understands her or shows kindness to her.


When Blomkvist is out on his own, he is invited by Frode, a retired lawyer of a retired millionaire Henrik Vanger, for an investigation. He is worried about the disappearance of his niece Herriet decades ago, and unlike almost everyone else even in his family, refuses to believe that she is dead. To his family, there is an overwhelming circumstantial evidence that she has been murdered.

Salander, due to her criminal, juvenile past, is deemed unfit to manage her affairs and is assigned a caretaker, who is one of the people who understand her and is kind to her. In fact, he is the one who placed her with Armansky, thereby enabling her career to take off. But when he gets a stroke and is paralyzed, she is assigned to another lawyer, Burjman,  who is an asshole. Bjurman, knowing that she is fully vulnerable and her credibility is low, takes advantage of her and sadistically rapes her. She turns the tables on him the next time, recording the whole thing and then humiliates him with a deep carving on his stomach that will last for his life that says “I am a pervert”.

This promiscuous book – is it the Swedish relaxed attitude to sex? – has everyone having sex with everyone else, in the vein of the soap operas like The Bold and The Beautiful. Blomkvist has sex with his business partner Erika Berger at the Millenium though she is married to someone else. The husband knows it and “does not mind”. He has sex with Henrik’s  daughter Cecillia Vangar, both before and after his prison sentence and is found out by Erika Berger who “does not mind”.

Then he has sex with Lisbeth too. Go figure.


Harriet case opens up when Blomkvist finds more pictures of Harriet in the newspaper office microfische and discovers what the list of names and “phone numbers” mean with the help of his Bible thumping daughter who visits him briefly. But Henrik is out of action due to a heart attack and he reports to the lawyer Frode in the meanwhile.


A bit dry at first, I thought, and then, when it takes off, and you get you used to it, it sweeps you off your feet and you get hooked. There are plenty of surprising twists. How Blomkvist finds out about Salandar and comes to her house and how he confronts her, for instance, is good.


The killer those many years ago is a very interesting twist and how he reveals himself and even captures Blomkvist is captivating. The rescue of Blomkvist by Lisbeth is beautifully told. The interesting thing is that the murders years ago when the killer was a child is also linked to this in a believable way. (I am trying not to spoil the story for you, in case you have not read the book).


What happened to Herriet Vanger who disappeared and presumably murdered all those years ago and how Blomkvist finds out the truth with Lisbeth is well told. Above all, the skills of Lisbeth and the cat and mouse games that she plays with various people, outwitting people who are much richer, more experienced and stronger than her is the best aspect of the book. Her detective skills are legendary and are described without stating the obvious.


The ending is also believable and kind of real.


Now, Blomkvist and Herriet turn their attention on Wonstrom to redeem Blomkvist’s reputation and bring their awesome skills to bear on this matter. The results are equally fascinating to read.


The subsequent expose is the biggest in Swedish history and makes a celebrity out of the Millennium publications and Erika / Mikael pair.


The ending, the plots and the counterplots are all brilliant.

Salander’s financial revenge on Wonnestrom is brilliant and well told too.


A great read, thoroughly enjoyable, I would say a 8/10


–       – Krishna


February 3, 2014

Book: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 3:31 pm

imageThis is the second installment of the series that began with The Hunger Games, which was reviewed here before.


When it comes to movies based on books, my, and I guess most other people’s, preferences will be to the book. This is especially true if you read the book before you see the movie, because then you are not biased by the movie depiction. You can never create the kind of experience in a movie that you get in a book, reading at your own pace and letting your imagination bring this to life, and interpreting the detailed descriptions of the author in your own way. The movie presents a defined picture with a defined speed, both of which are not under your control.

However, there are some movies that are  way better than the books. What comes to mind is The Constant Gardner, The Lord of the Rings, The Jurassic Park, just to name a few.  I will add Catching Fire to the same category.

In case you are wondering, yes, this is the review of the book, not the movie, though the movie is a really faithful reproduction of the book.

Let us look at the story. The story continues from book 1 seamlessly.


Katniss finds that her little ploy of ‘love struck young couple’ that helped her win the sympathy during the Hunger Games is now a liability. Katniss is force locked into “eternal love” with Peeta by the wily President Snow. Snow hates her for “insulting” him publicly by doing the stunt with the berries in Hunger Games.


Katniss now is the rallying symbol for the people oppressed under the Capital’s hegemony. She, of course, is clueless.  When district 8 goes into open rebellion, Katniss watches, shocked.


She sees no way out from the web she has spun around herself, especially when Snow reveals that he knows  her kiss she thought she shared in secret with Gale. Her solution is to run away. When Gale is whipped due to a change in Chief (he was caught trying to sell squirrels from the forest), she knows there is no escape, she abandons plans to run.  She meets Willow in the woods who is going to “nonexistant” District 13. Even now she is not ready to openly lead the rebellion, who is looking at her as a star who defied Snow and lived.


Snow knows that she is a threat and has to be eliminated. He comes up with a new twist. When the time for Quarter Quell comes, which traditionally has a twist in selecting the new participants for Hunger Games, he decides that the contenders should be chosen from the winners of past games in each district. Since District 12 has only Katniss as the female winner, he knows that she will be in!


Now she has been again chosen with Peeta to compete in a Winner’s cup and knows that this time, her life and Peeta’s may be lost. She also knows that Snow has arranged it somehow. Again Cynna creates an amazing dress for her tournament. Defiance of Snow in the dress design earns his arrest and presumable death.

When the games begin, she enters into a secret alliance with Haymitch to protect Peeta against all costs. When the games begin they  form an alliance with Finnik, who saves Petra many times. Also in the alliance is old Mags. A killer fog takes Mags and they find themselves with just sea water and nothing else at all.

They come up with new threats this time, with murderous monkeys, jabberbirds that reflect sounds of their dear ones being tortured, lightning, lots more.

When they figure out the system due to the ‘tick tock’ clue given by half crazy Wiress before she died, the game makers spin the centre so that they become disoriented again.


Katniss knows something is weird when all the competitors except the careers seem to be bent on protecting her and Peeta, even at the xost of their lives.


Then the thing goes haywire. They have the plan from Beetee to have a wire to electricute every other competitor but then it kind of turns into the supposedly surprise ending, and does not work out as planned.


The book takes an abrupt twist at the end, which, if I reveal, will be a spoiler.


The problem is this. The juvenile tone of the book we found in Book One intensifies here and it is like reading a book for teens. Not a problem if it is meant for the teens but as adult fiction, it seems too light.


The twist I mentioned also comes in the last three pages with insufficient introduction. It is almost as if the author did not know how to finish this book and suddenly said, well, enough of that. Let me write the ending I planned and be done with this.


Not as good as the hype indicates.


Let us say 5/10


–       – Krishna


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