Book Simple: The Encyclopedia Brown of Sweden
a blogumn by Amy Brown
Vacations in my house have always involved cleaning and mystery novels. This Thanksgiving has proven to be no different. My mother has embarked on a massive construction project in my childhood home. In order to maneuver, we are required to reorganize all our accrued literature, including my Dad’s old Optics journals and my baby board books. It’s been four days, I’ve culled the contents of fifty cardboard storage boxes to fill nine plastic tubs, and I top off my evening with Motrin each night.
Adventuring into the past can prove hazardous, as the eponymous heroine of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and her sidekick, Mikael, discover. Mikael Blomkvist, an Encyclopedia Brown of Sweden, grown up, is asked by a retired industrialist to investigate a mysterious disappearance forty years ago. The magnate’s niece, Harriet vanished from an isolated island on a day when an overturned oil truck blocked the only bridge. Each year, a framed pressed flower appears by post, Harriet’s perennial birthday gift to her favorite uncle. Is it a taunt from her murderer? And who on the island hated a young girl enough to kill her?
Described this way, the story sounds like a classic Agatha Christie – the kind Mom and I sorted by what seemed like the hundreds into yard sale boxes. I love Agatha Christie novels, and this book lives up to the comparison. But in the modern twist Larsson introduces, Blomkvist is not a detective, but a financial journalist, disgraced in a libel suit and out of a job. The varying motives, financial and personal, hidden and disclosed by the characters form a fascinating web.
Our girl of the title, Lisbeth Salander, punkish and antisocial, is drawn into the web through her exceptional research skills. (In the interests of full disclosure, one of my first jobs post college involved the illicit, though perfectly legal, accumulation of information about wealthy clients, so I may have a soft spot for sneaky private eyes.) Her own secrets enable her to march fearlessly into the hidden areas of the rich and powerful. She’s the most interesting female character I’ve read in a while and makes the recent debate over the exclusion of female writers from a “best of” list seem rather obsolete. Who cares which sex writes them as long as I get to read about awesome, engaging, multi-layered female characters?
The novel has tremendously interesting things to say about modern esoterica – libel laws, board seats, protective custody laws within Sweden – as well as insights into the modern financial crisis. Oh, and it’s a great mystery. So read it and be thankful – I know I was.