Millennium 1: film of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Lisbeth Millennium 1 is the film based on the best-selling and superb novel The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, a book which very successfully combines the thriller with the traditional detective story as well as having a strong social conscience. Together with Karen of Euro Crime, I was lucky enough to be offered a ticket to the premiere, part of the current Film 4 FrightFest season in London, by the lovely people at Quercus, the UK publisher of Stieg Larsson’s trilogy.

The film is an initially alarming 150 minutes long, but boredom hasn't a chance as the pace and action never let up for a second after the start in which journalist Mikael Blomqvist (played by Michael Nyqvist) is tried and imprisoned for slandering Hans Wennerstrom, head of a multinational company. The film moves through this part of the plot in double-quick fashion, missing out virtually all the publishing and relationship dynamics of Millennium magazine and briskly moving on to the lonely Henrik Vanger (Sven Bertil-Taube)’s last-ditch attempt to find out what happened to his niece Harriet, who disappeared without trace one summer in the 1960s.

Vanger and his lawyer hire a firm of private investigators to check out Mikael, who is out of work after resigning from Millennium and awaiting his jail sentence,  before asking him to re-open the Harriet case. Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) is a young computer hacker who does the investigative work for the agency – and this is where the film bursts into another dimension. Clearly unhinged and dangerous, Lisbeth is a punky drop-out, a be-metalled, aggressive rebel – black of eye and hair – with no interpersonal skills. Paring the descriptive aspects of the book to the bone, we strongly identify with Lisbeth – how she falls into the power of an abusive guardian, and how she exacts revenge.

The film cracks on at blistering pace as Lisbeth and Mikael combine expertise and forces to discover the secret at the heart of the Vanger family. The film strips out most of the extraneous details, including the subterfuge that Mikael is writing a biography of the family, with the result that the tracking down of the crimes occurs with cracking drive and makes the mystery of Lisbeth sharper and clearer – why is she a ward of court and a delinquent? Why does she behave with such vicious drama? We can’t wait until the next film to find out (even though I already know part of the answer!).

What more can I write? The acting is without exception superb; the story is brilliantly adapted from the book in the sense that it is faithful to it without being over-wordy or over-respectful to it; Lisbeth in particular is a fantastic filmic creation, given bright life and intense, dangerous energy by the superb personification of Noomi Rapace, a feminist avenger of men who hate women.

I haven’t seen a film as good as this for years, and I can’t believe I’ll see another one to beat it for quite some time. Unfortunately it is not on general release in the UK until next Spring, but let us hope that the second two films in the trilogy follow very soon after that. I’ll be first in the queue.

More information about the film, together with Karen’s review, is at Euro Crime.
Trailers of the film, and more, at Stieg Larsson's website.
My reviews of the books The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire.
Quercus, Stieg Larsson's UK publisher.
Yellow Bird (film production company) Millennium trilogy website. (Yellow Bird also produces the Wallender TV series in Sweden.)

About my Twitter feed on Petrona

I first signed up to Twitter a couple of years ago, pretty much from its start, thanks to Debra Hamel*, who spotted its potential and was one of the service's early adopters. I didn't use Twitter, though, as I didn't find it useful or interesting for anything else I was doing.
Time went by, and not only did Twitter become integrated into other web services (eg if you post a blog post or contribute to Friend Feed or Face Book, your words can automatically be posted to Twitter or vice versa); but also secondary services allowed one to read Twitter in more useful (and less clunky) ways – notably Tweetdeck (mainly) or Thwirl in my case.
I've now installed a Twitter feed into my blog (see left) and am using it as a mini-news and information service. That is, if I see an interesting article in my RSS reader or via someone else on Twitter etc, I will post a link on Twitter or "reTweet" it, as appropriate, and the result will appear in the "Twitter feed" window of this blog. If you think one these articles, which are mostly about the subject-matter of the blog as described above in the subtitle below the word "PETRONA", looks worth reading, then click through to an individual article of interest. The five most recent links show up in the Petrona window. If you want to track all the articles I link to, then "follow" me on Twitter (@Maxine_Clarke) or if you prefer Friend Feed, at my "home" Friend Feed account, where these same links also appear.
If you want links and conversation exclusively about crime, mystery and thriller fiction, you are also welcome to join the FriendFeed room for the purpose. There, I and others who share similar reading interests post links and discuss the articles there and each others' blog posts (which automatically feed into the room). It is not (yet?) possible to integrate a FriendFeed into Petrona.
Any "inconsequential chat" (also known by some observers as "drivel") that I indulge in on Twitter will be in the form of "direct messages" to individual users, so will not show up in the Petrona Twitter feed. All you'll get there are links to articles I find stimulating or otherwise worthy of note but which I'm not writing a blog post about for one reason or another.

Lots of other people use Twitter for many reasons, but this is how I'm using it. In a nutshell: to share links to articles that interest me and that might interest you, with the odd comment about them thrown in.

*Debra is omnipresent on the Internet but you can easily find her various personae via her blog, the Deblog.

My life according to books I’ve read this year

Here is a task I found on Book Bird Dog blog – "My life according to literature". Looks like fun so I thought I would try it. You?

Using only books you have read this year (2009), cleverly answer these questions. Try not to repeat a book title.

Describe Yourself:
Shadow
How do you feel:
Long Lost
Describe where you currently live:
Dark Times in the City
If you could go anywhere, where would you go:
Back to the Coast
Your favorite form of transport:
Shooting Star
Your best friend is:
Dead Lovely
You and your friends are:
A Place of Safety
What’s the weather like:
August Heat
Favourite time of day:
The Twilight Time
If your life was a:
Paper Moon
What is life to you:
A Lonely Place
Your fear:
Nemesis
What is the best advice you have to give:
Hold Tight
Thought for the Day:
The Mind's Eye
How I would like to die:
Go to Helena Handbasket
My soul's present condition:
Close Up.

Full list of books, with links to reviews, can be found here. You may think the above list is a bit bleak, but a glance at the titles of the books I read this year will demonstrate the challenge not to be too depressing (A Darker Domain, The Darkest Room, The Abominable Man, City of Fear, Burial, Suffer the Children, The Lying Tongue, Frozen Tracks, Dead Tomorrow, Half Broken Things, Bloodprint, Trafficked, and so on. Note to self: Must read some books with more upbeat titles.)
How would your list look?

Book review: Dead Time by Stephen White

Dead Time is the latest in Steven White’s gripping series about psychologist Alan Gregory. Although it could be read as a stand-alone, I recommend reading some of the earlier books in the series first to fully appreciate the dynamics – which are deep, detailed and divisive – between the members of Alan’s family and their friends and colleagues.
Dead Time is the best kind of thriller – on one level it is an exciting detective story about the disappearance some years previously of a young woman on a hiking trip in the Grand Canyon. What happened to her, and were any of her fellow-travellers involved? And how is Alan Gregory going to feature in this case?
On another level, the novel’s events are filtered through the analytical eyes of Alan. No interaction between characters can take place without him internalising what is “really” going on. This approach provides a fascinating glimpse of the many ways in which people’s unconscious motivations control their words and deeds, as well as slowing down the action while interestingly building up suspense.
As the novel opens, Alan and his wife Lauren are reeling from previous events – Lauren is planning a trip to Holland to see if she can track down the daughter whose existence was revealed in Dry Ice, whereas Alan himself is trying to come to terms both with these revelations and with his and Lauren’s sudden new adoptive son, Jonas, and their police detective friend Sam is suspended from duty and has apparently withdrawn from human contact.
While Lauren is in Europe, Alan and Jonas travel to New York: Jonas is staying with his extended relations while Alan has too much time on his hands to try to come to terms with Lauren’s betrayal. He’s kick-started out of his drifting state by his ex-wife Meredith, who wants Alan to find a young woman, Lisa, who is doing Meredith a very special favour but who has inexplicably vanished. The reader knows before Alan does that Lisa is one of the Grand Canyon party, as is Eric, Meredith’s fiancé and about-to-be second husband. Particularly successful is the author’s technique of alternating chapters between Alan and Meredith’s perspectives – reading about the same interactions between them from each other’s point of view.
Alan and Sam find themselves digging into the Grand Canyon mystery – Sam by a direct reworking of the investigation into the young woman’s disappearance, and Alan by meeting the witnesses involved, which means both men have to spend time in LA and the surrounding countryside and culture, not to mention temptations.
Stephen White is a master at integrating the psychological landscape with his plots. This novel is all about the relationship between parents and children – biological, adoptive, estranged, and more. At the end of the book, many threads are tied together in unpredictable, insightful and exciting ways. As usual, I shall look forward to the next in the series.

Dead Time described at author's website.

Recommended: interview with Stephen White in USA Today.

Discovering Gunnar Staalesen, Norwegian author

Thanks to this post on the ever-excellent International Noir Fiction blog, I became aware of a Norwegian  series by Gunnar Staalesen. Glenn Harper, author of the blog, writes about a set of Norwegian TV films based on the books, which feature a detective with the appealing name of Varg Veum. (It seems as if films are accorded the same treatment as books in translation, as the episode shown in the US, which Glenn reviews, was the second of six.)
Intrigued by Glenn's comparisons of the series of books to Henning Mankell's Wallender series,and not a little influenced by the Viggo-Mortensen-like depiction of the main character in the film poster reproduced on Glenn's blog post, I decided to seek out the books.
Via FriendFeed, I learned from Karen of Euro Crime that four of the series are translated into English – bizarrely but unsurprisingly, these are numbers 2, 5, 11 and 14. (See here for Euro Crime listing.) So I wandered off to Amazon and managed to obtain no 2 (second hand) as well as nos 11 and 14 (new). No. 2 is officially called Yours Until Death, first published in Norway in 1979, published in English translation by Margaret Amassian in 1993 by Constable and Robinson. Varg ("Outlaw", to his embarrassment) Veum is a private detective but not a bit successful, and the book has definite echoes of Sjowall and Wahloo in its bleak social commentary.
More shall follow in a review. I'm glad I followed up and read this book – thanks Glenn! On to the other two volumes soon. I wonder if the TV series will ever make it to the UK.

My reviews of Creed, Fitzgerald and Edwardson at Euro Crime

I hope that by now I have run out of things to complain about (see previous two posts) and can move on to more constructive topics. While I was on my recent holiday, and in the immediate aftermath of my return, three of my book reviews were published at Euro Crime.

Suffer the Children by Adam Creed is a debut novel, first of a series about DI Will Wagstaffe, or "Staffe" as he is known, based in London. This series has a lot of potential but I think that future books could benefit from containing fewer details (especially gory ones!). But definitely a promising debut and one that readers missing Rebus or Frost might well enjoy.

My Last Confession by Helen Fitzgerald is the second story to feature the charming but feckless Krissie Donald. The story is a sharp and humorous satire written in a frothy style, but which I could not enjoy quite as much as I was supposed to. Many readers will have great fun with this engaging novel, though, I am sure.

Frozen Tracks by Ake Edwardson, translated from the Swedish by the eminent Laurie Thompson, is my personal favourite of this trio. It is the third novel in the DI Erik Winter series to be translated into English and is a satisfying read, both as a police procedural and in the way in which the author writes about his child characters.

Not getting away with Scandinavian murder

My second riposte is against a much harder target than my first one of this pair, which concerned Ian Rankin. This time, I am being forced to take issue with the wonderful Mike Ripley, he of the excellent Angel detective series, witty raconteur, man about town, distinguished reviewer, author of Shots Mag's hilarious Getting Away With Murder column, etc. Hence I shall probably be ripped (ha ha) to shreds or suffer some equally ghastly fate for launching into a foolhardy defence of Scandinavian crime fiction and of the "fanatical" and "chattering classes" as he seems to be calling me and others who dare to like reading this stuff. In his August column containing a very funny hatchet-job on Johan Theorin's latest, and superb, novel The Darkest Room*,  Mr Ripley writes:

quite recently, I was censored by the Eurocrime website when I wrote that I could think of many “terminally-serious, glacially-paced Scandinavian crime writers who should lighten up and try a crash course in (the sheer bloody humanity of) Reginald Hill.” Okay, so maybe I do have issues with the chattering classes who think that if it’s Scandinavian crime-writing it must, by association, be upmarket, fashionably flat-packed and therefore good. Its fans tend to be just that, fanatical; going into raptures about the latest Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish or Icelandic writer they have ‘discovered’.

In his July column, Mr Ripley comments on the 2009 International Dagger shortlist, including this sentiment:

Predictably, the list reflects the love affair between Nordic crime and the chattering classes, with five out of the six books being from authors of Scandinavian origin (four of them alive).

As Mr Ripley's Getting Away with Murder column does not allow comments, I thought I'd respond briefly here:

Dear Mr Ripley

I confess that I am one of those who in recent years have discovered novels by authors such as Maj Sjowall/Per Wahloo, Johan Theorin, Helene Tursten, Liza Marklund, Asa Larsson, Stieg Larsson, Anne Holt, Kjell Ericksson, Yrsa Sigurdadottir, Ake Edwardson, Inger Frimansson, Camilla Lackberg, Karin Fossum, Hakan Nesser, Arnaldur Indridason, Jo Nesbo and others from the Scandinavian region. Before then, I had thought these countries' entire crime-fiction output was written by Henning Mankell. While many (but not all) of these books are admittedly not primarily exciting, action-packed thrillers, most are either variants on the traditional police-procedural, or rely on a combination of character dynamics, atmosphere and a sense of place to hold reader interest. Some are even funny.
I find that most of them succeed admirably. Over the same period I have read an equal if not greater number of US and UK thrillers and other crime fiction, including some authors whom you promote in your column (some of whom I have read purely on the basis of recommendations in your column), and find that quite a few of them blur into an unmemorable, same-y whole. Others are good, but on average, I'm finding that for me, translated fiction is achieving a higher star-rate than yet another cynical, sexist male detective with a drink problem, or yet another high-octane, predictable thriller.
I agree with you that there is much excellent non-Nordic translated crime fiction in print just now (eg Saskia Noort, Petra Hammesfahr, Andrea Camilleri, Fred Vargas, Dominique Manotti, Gianrico Carofiglio). But I'd argue that a book is as good as its reader finds it. I "chatter" (a.k.a. read and review, I presume) these Scandinavian books because I enjoy them, and plead guilty to liking to share that joy in my reviews. I'm a reasonably well-read, old and broadly educated person, so while my enthusiasm for Nordic noir may certainly be considered strange, it isn't copy-cat, vacuous or jejune.
By the way, I think you mean "edited" when you write that your review was "censored".

Yours sincerely

Maxine Clarke
Confessed reading addict – with a confessed current bias towards Scandinavia.
Confessed admirer of Mike Ripley.

*Different perspectives of Johan Theorin's The Darkest Room can be found at:

DJ's krimiblog
Crime Scraps
International Noir Fiction
It's a Crime
Nordic Bookblog

Some of these people even like reading Reginald Hill ;-). (An excellent author, in case the ironic intention does not come across.)
My own (positive, I'm afraid Mr Ripley) review of The Darkest Room is submitted to Euro Crime.

Complaints about The Complaints

Don't mess with your readers, says Frank Wilson of Books, Inq. The only reason people care about Ian Rankin is because of Rebus, he writes, in response to a Herald article about the author, with the provocative title 'Killing characters is the real crime for fans'.
In the Herald piece, Colin Waters reports Rankin's announcement of his new series and opines that "the omens are not good", on the basis that Colin Dexter wrote no more after Morse, J K Rowling has yet to write anything significant after Harry Potter and Agatha Christie killed off Poirot because she did not like him.
I don't think any of these examples are relevant: Dexter pretty much retired after many years of Morse novels; Agatha Christie wrote many successful novels (series and non-series) before and after giving up on Poirot; and J K Rowling is not a crime-fiction author, conceived Potter as a seven-novel series, and is hardly a Salinger-like case yet. On the other hand, there are plenty of counter-examples of commercially successful authors who write more than one series and/or who write series and stand-alone novels: Val McDermid, Peter Temple, Ruth Rendell, John Harvey, Jonathan Kellerman, Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Andrew Taylor, Harlan Coben, Karin Slaughter, Patricia Cornwell and so on.
Be that as it may, Waters concludes that "Rankin has resisted the temptation to revive Rebus" but that if he does write another book featuring his famous detective, "the motive will be…..no great mystery". Give the guy a chance! The last Rebus book, Exit Music, was published only a couple of years ago and there have already been two novels since - last year's Doors Open, which as top-selling UK paperback last week could hardly be doing better, and the upcoming (aptly titled!) The Complaints
I predict that Ian Rankin will be crying all the way to the bank whether or not he decides to revive Rebus – he's a good writer and people like reading him. (His pre-Rebus novels were not successful when first published, but even though they aren't as good as the Rebus novels, they certainly were commercially successful when they were republished after the author found fame with Rebus – himself not immediately successful – it took a good few years for Rebus to catch on with the wide readership he currently enjoys.)

I was going to make this a two-part post and have a go at another (unrelated) strange attack, but given the length of this post already, I'll return to the topic of "Complaints" another time.

Ian Rankin bibliography at Euro Crime.

Ian Rankin's website.

Ian Rankin at Wikipedia.

Has anyone read The Dying Light by Henry Porter?

I have been asked by a user of Nature Network whether I have read The Dying Light, a new thriller by Henry Porter. Apparently there is an interesting video about the book on this Amazon page. I'm sure the book is very good, but not sure that it is my cup of tea, so if anyone has read it and can provide an opinion, that would be very kind.

From the Amazon review:

At his funeral the bells of the church were rung open rather than half-muffled, as is usual for the dead. Kate Lockhart has come with corporate leaders, ministers and intelligence chiefs to a beautiful town in the Welsh Marches to mourn her soul mate, David Eyam, the brightest government servant of his generation. All that remains of Eyam are the burnt fragments of a man killed far from home in a devastating explosion. But Eyam has left a devastating legacy and certain members of the congregation on that bitterly cold March day are desperate to suppress it. A group of locals come to feel the full weight of the state's determination. Kate Lockhart, now a Mergers and Acquisitions lawyer from Manhattan but a former SIS officer in Indonesia is equal to Eyam's legacy . She becomes the focus of the state's paranoiac power and leads the local resistance to it, with all the cunning of her former trade, directed from beyond the grave by Eyam. The state is no match for the genius of the dead.