Stieg Larsson’s fiction replaces Sweden’s socialist dream with an individualist nightmare. Is this what has made him the country’s biggest literary phenomenon?by Andrew Brown / November 18, 2009 / Leave a comment
Published in December 2009 issue of Prospect Magazine
A Swat team on the G4S cash depot in Stockhold, 23rd September 2009, after a helicopter was used to rob the facility
The Millennium Trilogy:
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,
The Girl Who Played with Fire,
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest
By Stieg Larsson (Quercus)
What is it about crime in Sweden? The success of writers like Henning Mankell and now Stieg Larsson has clearly established a Scandinavia of the mind which is no more anchored to geography than Bohemia. It is the modern equivalent of the library in the country house of classic English detective stories: the conventional stage in which to find corpses surrounded by a selection of intriguing and sinister eccentrics. It has almost nothing to do with the criminality of the real country which has an entirely different look, both flatter and more dramatic.
On 23rd September this year, an armed gang landed a stolen helicopter on the roof of a secure G4S warehouse in the suburbs of Stockholm: they broke their way in through the skylight, and stole millions of pounds worth of banknotes (the Swat inspection of the scene afterwards is pictured, left). The police arrived by car at the foot of the building in time to film the helicopter as the gang made its getaway, but did not otherwise interfere. Although the Stockholm police have a helicopter at their disposal, it had been cunningly disabled by someone who left a large parcel, clearly labelled “bomb,” in the hangar. It was three hours before the police established that this was a hoax, and in that time no one would take the helicopter up.
Comically incompetent policemen have their place in Swedish crime fiction, too. But in Stieg Larsson’s millennium trilogy, which has sold more than 20m copies in Europe alone and been translated into more than 30 languages (a success that Larsson, who died in 2004, saw nothing of) incompetence has been carried to its logical conclusion and none of the police are any use at all, until one of them starts to sleep with the hero. The crimes are all solved by amateurs, and usually the punishment is dealt out by amateurs too. When Lisbeth Salander, the heroine of these novels, is raped, she does not go to the police, but instead returns to the rapist, stuns him with a Taser, tortures him a bit, tells him she will kill him if he ever goes near a woman again and then tattoos his stomach crudely and painfully with the message “I AM A SADISTIC PIG, A PERVERT AND A RAPIST.” He is also a lawyer.