The other day, the Swedish Ambassador, Mr Staffan Carlsson, was kind and generous enough to invite Karen of Euro Crime and me to an evening panel discussion about Stieg Larsson's books. It was a convivial occasion – as well as an ever-enjoyable talk over a pre-Embassy salad with Karen, we met some old and new friends at the event itself. The panel discussion, though, to my mind, was a mixed experience. I was impressed (of course) by the wit and intelligence of author Hakan Nesser (if you haven't read his books, please do, they are very good, and short), and also by Eva Gedin of Nordstedt, Larsson's Swedish publisher and the person who first recognised his talent. Lynda la Plante was also on the panel and was very forthright and amusing. Barry Forshaw has written a biography of Larsson, called The Man Who Left Too Soon, and as a result had formed some views of the author and his books, which were also promoted by the panel chair, journalist Mark Lawson.
Although I don't doubt that Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy is an exceptionally good set of novels, in particular Lisbeth Salander being a great fictional character, I am not so sure that I agree that this author is head and shoulders above other crime novelists, whether Swedish or not. The panel also fell into the usual trap of considering only Henning Mankell and Larsson as the extent of Swedish crime fiction output until some of the audience reminded them of the existence of Sjowall and Wahloo and others. (Considering Sweden alone, I have read and enjoyed many authors to the same extent as Larsson: Karin Alvtegen, Johan Theorin, Liza Marklund, Helene Tursten and Asa Larsson to name but four, and find others very promising and "as good" in different ways: Camilla Lackberg, Kjell Ericksson, Ake Edwardson, Inger Frimansson, etc.)
I would recommend anyone who liked The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo to try Johan Theorin's The Darkest Room, for example; and for those who liked The Girl Who Played with Fire, try Karin Alvtegen's (perhaps superior and certainly shorter) Missing; and the Le-Carre like The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest is matched by Henning Mankell's latest, The Man From Beijing. In terms of one author's body of work, try Asa Larsson, whose first three novels are translated into English. I am not playing a game of "who is best" but pointing out that there are plenty of excellent Swedish crime books out there not written by Stieg Larsson.
Without a doubt the Millennium trilogy is an exhilerating read, and I highly recommend the novels. Last week, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was the best-selling book in the UK, and I see people all the time reading it on the train or tube. It's a real cross-over novel, with men and women, young and old, all seemingly finding things to like about it. I also highly recommend the film version, currently on general release in the UK and elsewhere.
A final point – Eva Gedin, S. Larsson's original publisher, was asked whether Larsson wrote any more novels or part-novels (the author envisaged writing a series of ten about Millennium). She thought not, but said that in her view the trilogy has a completeness about it, so has come to a natural end. One of the panellists, I cannot remember which, thought that Lisbeth's story should not continue as it would have to return her to "more of the same". I disagree. I think the first three novels, while forming a trilogy, tell the story of Lisbeth's "second birth". By the end of the third, she is ready to embark on her life's real journey, having been able to unshackle herself from the events described in the preceding three books. We know that the author left various avenues unexplored, most particularly the relationship between Lisbeth and her twin sister. I, for one, am convinced that Stieg Larsson had many original and imaginative plans in store for Lisbeth, but died before he could write about them. What a tragedy.