Quick — name a Swedish international bestselling author of an intense and addictive trilogy of thrillers. Stieg Larsson? No. Leif GW Persson? Yes. In contrast to my regard for Persson, who just released the second novel in his trilogy (the third has not yet hit the bookstores), I would never classify Larsson as a writer of either intense or addictive books.
In all fairness I only read the first two of Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. Many people claim the final book The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is the most enjoyable and satisfying of the three. But I had already tried so hard to enjoy the first two. I couldn’t do it anymore. The girl working at the bookstore forewarned me that it would take a while to get into The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but she said it was worth it. So I trusted her. And she betrayed me.
My biggest problem, besides the ridiculously slow-moving plot, is the characters that we’re apparently supposed to like. The male protagonist, “sexy” womanizer Mikael Blomkvist, seems to prioritize getting laid rather than clearing his name of libel — not to mention uncovering the mystery he’s being paid to solve and we’ve paid Larsson to read. The dragon-tattooed Lisbeth Salander has, to put it lightly, issues. She’s been sexually and mentally tortured for years. And naturally, I felt sorry for her and appreciated her resolve — until she hopped into bed with Blomkvist, that is. Idiot. However, I didn’t let my frustration with the first book deter me from giving the second one a try. This time, I had no one to blame but myself.
Although I don’t understand the appeal of Larsson’s books, there has been one major advantage to their success. The publishing world has rushed to ride the wave of Scandinavian crime novels. Henning Mankel and Leif GW Persson are two examples of that. I haven’t read Mankel, but Persson’s first two novels in his trilogy, Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End and Another Time, Another Life, are exactly what I was looking for in Larsson’s fiction. The trilogy is based on the real events surrounding the still-unsolved murder of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme. There’s a large cast of characters and, like Larsson’s, most of them aren’t exactly likable (to say the least). The difference is that’s not Persson’s goal. His characters aren’t there for the audience to cheer on. Rather they’re the key to the unraveling of the spectacularly complicated plotlines. The best part of Persson, though? He’s funny. Really funny — the last thing one expects in a crime novelist. But Persson does dark comedy right, and the sharp one-liners that pepper his books raise the bar for crime fiction.