Wherefore art thou, Lisbeth?

Review: The Girl Who Takes and Eye for an Eye – David Lagercrantz

2 of 5 stars
Published 2017

This is the second in the new round of books about Swedish hacker Lisbeth Salander, originally written by Stieg Larsson and now by David Lagercrantz. The previous book, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, while not *quite* up to the heights of Larsson’s vision and interpretation, was pretty good. I was more disappointed in this one. Lagercrantz is a talented writer in his own right and the in some ways I think he has captured the original spirit of the book and characters well enough but the book lacks the intensity of the Stieg Larsson trilogy.

We start with Lisbeth in prison for taking extreme measures to save a boy’s life. It’s not specified, but I think that was the result of the ending of the previous novel, The Girl in the Spider’s Web. Mikael Blomkvist visits regularly and then begins an investigation for Millenium magazine that has a connection to Lisbeth’s childhood. It’s going to tie together the young Muslim woman in prison that Lisbeth is trying to protect. And then there are identical twins, ties to a science/social experiment, and a lot of time is spent on this. In fact, there’s too much time spent on all the background and investigation and not enough time on Lisbeth which is mainly why I grew to love the original trilogy. In this book, she’s a shadow of her former self.

I find she doesn’t seem to be as engaged in the overall story, she’s almost an afterthought with most of her appearances in the shadows and the bulk of her storyline coming in near the end of this book rather than being an integral part of the whole thing. I like Blomkvist but I liked the chemistry between the pair of them and that’s lacking for the most part. In the tradition of the original concept, he shouldn’t be the star, he should be an equal protagonist or nearly so. Lisbeth Salander is the character that really made the books so successful, the underdog against all odds, used and abused and back for revenge. Her revenge doesn’t feel as satisfying this time.

In the first Lagercrantz book, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, Lisbeth was written quite well and the book was a fairly satisfying sequel to the series. There was a new aspect to her past and family that was revealed but I don’t want to spoil it though if you’ve read this book, you’ve probably read the previous four.

This time, he builds on that fact and adds more to Lisbeth’s childhood woes surrounding it. None of the Lagercrantz reveals were hinted at in the Larsson trilogy that I recall. It makes me wonder how much more will be retro-fitted into her back story in future books. For me, it starts to stretch credibility. Add to that, the relative lack of Lisbeth as the central figure in this book and interest starts to wane. If it wasn’t a Salander book with high expectations, though, I would have rated it higher. If you’re going to title a book “The Girl Who…” then it should be about The Girl.


Review: The Thirst – Jo Nesbø

4 of 5 stars
Published 2017

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson started me on a trail of books by mainly Norwegian and Swedish crime writers with a few other Scandinavian ones thrown in as I discovered them. Jo Nesbø is one probably my favourite. Most of his books have Detective Harry Hole (“Hooleh”) as the protagonist. Harry is deeply flawed, an addict and a brilliant cop, focussing particularly on serial killers.

Harry keeps trying to get out of the police business but keeps getting drawn back in to help his old colleagues. In this, the 11th in the series, Harry is lecturing at the Police College where his stepson is also attending classes. As always, there’s a murder and then another one and soon, Harry is coerced back in to help solve the crime.

Harry is married to his Rakel and is happy and almost second guesses it. He still dreams about the one that got away, the one killer he didn’t manage to catch, Valentin Geritsen. In the blurb for this book, they mention the new crimes as harkening back to Harry’s nemesis and that’s the name of one of the books. The new crimes are even more grisly and the serial killer is given the nickname  of Vampire Killer. Harry plays cat and mouse with him but even then, tries to pull away from the investigation due to Rackel having a health crisis but it’s in his blood. It’s not really a spoiler to say that the killer gets caught this time around but maybe there’s more to it than that. Harry certainly has a nagging doubt and sure enough, the twists just keep on turning.

Some familiar faces return. Followers of Harry will remember some of the details of their personal lives. There’s an exciting confrontation at the end, but which is becoming a somewhat regular occurrence in these stories. I wonder if this series is reaching it’s natural end and I’m sure the author is getting tired of trying to keep Harry’s world tense and exciting, trying to make the usually bloody endings with a fresh flavour of inventiveness and gore.

I wonder if Harry’s mixed feelings about staying away from the police force and getting dragged back in all the time are reflective of Nesbø’s with the character. Surely he must be to the point of wanting to write about someone different and I think it shows a little. I still very much enjoyed The Thirst. While I’d miss Harry, I’d also not want him to become a shadow of his former self so if at some point Nesbø gives Harry Hole a fitting ending, moving on to something else, I’ll go with him. He’s a talented writer and the translator seems to be spot on in keeping the book’s intended atmosphere alive.

Very much looking forward to the first American film made from a Nesbø novel this fall, The Snowman starring Michael Fassbender as Harry Hole.

Book to Screen – The Snowman

Jo Nesbo is the Norwegian author of a series of crime novels about detective Harry Hole (pronounced Hoo-leh). Harry is a deeply flawed man, an alcoholic and a brilliant detective, especially when it comes to catching serial killers. In an interview that you can find on his website, Nesbo describes Harry as “an innocent with problems, becoming more and more like the criminals he hunts, gone to a darker , he’s on his way to hell”

The interview was recorded about the time The Snowman (#7) was released, which was 4 novels ago and at that point, Nesbo says there will not be a film made but it seems that over the past few years, he’s changed his mind or he’s finished with Harry novels. That was his other point, no movie until he’s done with Harry.

I really enjoy the Harry Hole novels and I’m excited to see that there will be a movie made from one of them, The Snowman. They’ve picked Michael Fassbender to play Harry. Not a bad choice, he’s fairly tall at least and Harry, in the books, is about 6’4″. Fassbender doesn’t have a face like 40 miles of rough road like Harry does, though, which is from all that booze, cigs and stress but I’m sure they can manage to make him look rumpled and worn around the edges. The trailer (see below) seems to show him looking fairly rough but he’s still a handsome man, Michael Fassbender and I always picture Harry as a man that might have been good looking in his youth but whose years swimming in the bottle and tangling with serial killers all show on his face.

So. The Snowman. I’ll copy my review here:

This is the third Jo Nesbo book i’ve read and I’ve read them all out of order. This one falls in between the other two I read and even though the killer from this book is revealed in the first one I read, The Leopard, I couldn’t remember exactly who it was at first. Even when I did, and was looking for clues, the story was so well crafted that I second guessed myself once. Inspector Harry Hole is on the trail of a serial killer who ends up being called The Snowman. He kills women who have children mostly. The women go missing and most of them were never found both in the past and in the present until the Snowman leaves a head of one woman atop a snowman in the forest.

Harry’s ex-girlfriend Rakel and her son Oleg are still weaving in and out of his world. He manages to stay off the booze most of the time and goes off on his own to investigate things which frustrates his superiors to no end. His new partner, Katrine Bratt is sharp and may have an agenda of her own. The climax would be a visual thriller if they filmed it. I like the Harry Hole books and I like the way Nesbo constructs his stories.

As I wrote above, I read Harry #8, The Leopard, before The Snowman but with enough distance between them that I didn’t remember who the killer was. It’s been enough time again, five years, that I can’t think who it is off the top of my head now, either! I do think I’ll try to reread this before seeing the movie though I’m actually reading the latest Harry Hole book, The Thirst, now. I would recommend reading his books in order because on occasion, he’ll mention something in a subsequent book that might spoil one of the previous books if you haven’t read it yet.

The movie, which is released in October, was filmed in Oslo and Norway and the trailer looks fierce:

Archive Reviews: Tana French

For my participation in the Begorrathon aka Reading Ireland Month, my first post is going to be about an Irish crime writer that I’ve enjoyed. I’ve only read three of her books but I do hope to pick up more of them.

The author is Tana French. While she was born in Ireland and lives there now, she has also lived in the United States, Malawi and Italy and she’s not only a talented writer, she’s an actress as well!

She has written six books and they are all crime fiction, based around a squad of detectives working out of a Dublin police station. Not every book involves the same detectives including Rob Ryan, Cassie Maddox,  Frank Mackey, Scorcher Kennedy, with Steven Moran and  Antoinette Conway appearing in several books. The stories all have twists and turns, secrets and lies that have to be unraveled. The plots drew me in and were all real page turners. All three of the books I read were good, solid 4 star books. Here, then, are the reviews that I posted elsewhere, on Livejournal or Goodreads.

The Likeness  (Published 2008)
Apparently this is the second book about the main character, Detective Cassie Maddox but I haven’t read the first one (yet). It doesn’t matter, they made enough references to the previous plot that you get the gist of who she is. I don’t really think i have to read it now (edit to add, but I did! see next review)

Anyway, this book takes place in and around Dublin in present day. A murdered woman is found and she looks to be Cassie’s identical twin though is not. Cassie had not recently been working on the murder squad or the undercover squad after some traumatic events and has to be persuaded to take over the woman’s life to help find the murderer.

The woman lives in a house with four graduate students who may or may not be suspects and Cassie has to find a way to fit in and figure it all out. She does fairly well thanks to both the dead woman’s mobile phone that has a lot of video that was shot of the roomies and information the police extracted about the dead woman’s life from the same roomies. The dead woman is an enigma, however, with no apparent family, friends or past so the murderer might be someone she knew from her former life.

The book is well written and it drew me in. The roommates are not completely drawn out but then, since they are strangers to Cassie and she’s trying to get to know them but not get too close to them, it works. Cassie does get drawn in to their cocoon of a life, a bit, while trying to unearth a murderer. They are all loners, people that don’t quite fit in but found each other and seem to live in their own little world, which, little by little, is developing the cracks that Cassie soon detects and you start having various suspicions along with her. It did keep my interest and the ending, while not a complete surprise, wasn’t quite what I expected either.

In The Woods: (Published 2007)
This is the first of the Murder Squad series by Tana French, but the second one I’ve read. One summer night in 1984, three children decide to camp in the woods near their home. Something happens, two of them disappear and one is left horrified but can’t remember anything. Jump forward 20 years and Dublin detective Rob Ryan has to solve a murder of a 12 year old girl, killed in the same wooded area. He and his partner, Cassie Maddox, dig for clues and have to find out if this murder is related to the past or not.

Rob becomes obsessed as the past haunts him and sends him into a tailspin. It affects his friendship with Cassie and his job. It’s a pretty good story but the issue of the past incident is never resolved which is a bit of a disappointment.

The Secret Place Published 2014
This is the fifth of the Dublin Murder Squad series and my favourite so far. I had a hard time putting this one down. It takes place nominally through the course of one day with flashbacks. A teenage girl from a private girls’ school in Dublin brings a hand made postcard to Detective Stephen Moran, whom she knew from a prior case through her father, Detective Frank Mackey. The postcard says that the writer of it knows who killed a teenage boy from a neighbouring boys’ school over a year ago. It was posted anonymously on a bulletin board in the girls school. The ambitious detective, Moran, teams up with a veteran female detective, somewhat of a lone wolf, Antoinette Conway, to head to the school to figure out what was missed during the original investigation that Conway was involved in.

They spend all day weeding through the web of lies that the teenage girls spin. The girls always trying to either protect someone else, themselves, or implicate someone else for their own reasons. As the detectives slowly peel away the lies and use bits of new, true information that they manage to eke out of the girls, we get flashbacks to the real story. There are two sets of cliques, groups of four girls each who are rival groups. One set of girls are the “popular” girls, with a leader who is in parts bully, controlling and mean and the other set of girls, to which the initial card-bearer belongs, are a close knit group, mainly going their own way from the student society in genera and a bit more on an equal footing with each other than the first group.

The characters and the teenage girl dynamic feels very real and very well written. Tana French has got inside the heads of these girls and if the teenagespeak and slang is a bit annoying, it’s only because that’s exactly how these kids would talk at that age (15/16). The only thing that lost me and which really seemed to have no bearing on anything is a small telekinetic sub-thing which may or may not have been imaginary but which was baffling and either way, served no purpose really.

So there you are, the three books I’ve read by Tana French. I really do hope I get to read more of the series (so many books, so little time!)

The Dublin Murder Squad books

Follow Ms. French: Facebook.  and  Her website.