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by Dan Burstein, Arne de Keijzer, and John-Henri Holmberg, eds.
St Martin's Griffin, May 2011
359 pages
ISBN: 0312610564

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

As has become common in publishing circles, this non-fiction work has a long subtitle that serves as both an abstract and a marketing gimmick: "The Enigma of Stieg Larsson and the Secrets Behind the Most Compelling Thriller of Our Time." As a tagline, it's about as enticing as a supermarket tabloid headline. As an abstract, it's inaccurate – thank goodness.

Instead of enigmas and secrets, this anthology offers a collection of essays about Larsson and his best-selling thrillers culled from various sources. Some of the material is original, and some will be familiar to anyone who reads Salon, Vanity Fair, The Economist, or Jezebel. Additional material includes a map, photos, a timeline of Larsson's life, and a "smorgasbord" of topics with a paragraph or two of commentary, ranging from the real-life inspirations for characters to speculation that a celebrity scandal was inspired by a scene in the film version of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO: "Did Elin Nordegren, the Swedish-born wife of Tiger Woods, see the Swedish version of the film before the fateful Thanksgiving evening in 2009 that ended in the use of a golf club to crack the window on Tiger's SUV, and marked the beginning of the unfolding of Tiger's marital infidelity story?"

Who cares?

Though this anthology suffers from such trivialities, it does include original material from Swedish sources that is of interest to those who want to know more about the author and his work. John-Henri Holmberg's contributions are the most valuable. He provides interesting biographical background based on his lifelong friendship with Larsson, information about early influences, insights into the Swedish context of the books' publication, and a critique of the translations. Also of interest are essays by and interviews with Karin Alfredsson, Mian Lodalen, and Katarina Wennstam, all unpacking the feminist social criticism in the novels and providing useful background on the Swedish context.

As part of a "Secrets Series" that includes similar guides to Dan Brown's popular thrillers, this volume is a curious object. It reads like the results of a Google search pasted into a scrapbook, loosely organized into categories such as "Why We Can't Get Enough of the Tattooed Girl" and "The Fatal Attraction of Nordic Noir." Most of the reprints chosen for inclusion are worth re-reading. Of the original material, much of it reads like hastily-written padding, but some of it is quite valuable for scholars interested in the popular reception of these unlikely bestsellers. Above all, it examines many of the cultural influences on Larsson's work, which borrows heavily from sources ranging from Pippi Longstocking and Modesty Blaise to contemporary crime fiction from the US and UK.

In the end, this mélange of fan culture and thoughtful analysis, while frustrating for the reader, may be an appropriate tribute to the author whose first publications were in science fiction fanzines and whose own work features unedited dollops of encyclopedic information within a storyline that borrows liberally from pop culture. This book is essentially a Stieg Larsson fanzine.

§ Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, June 2011

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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