In Stieg’s League: Millennium Trilogy Readalikes

July 6, 2010

If you count yourself among author Stieg Larsson’s many legions of fans, it’s likely that these days you’re caught in somewhat of a predicament.  If, on the one hand, you were one of the fortunate first to devour Larsson’s new The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, you’re probably already wondering what new crime fiction fare could possibly satisfy your continued hunger for the tragically-shortened Millennium Trilogy.  If, on the other hand, you find yourself buried deep on the waiting list for Larsson’s last, the chances are good you’re in need of a literary elixir to both stoke the pleasures and soothe the pains of anticipating your third and final date with what Entertainment Weekly recently dubbed “the hottest books on the planet.”  Whichever your situation, however, rest assured that there’s still a wealth of incredible Scandanavian crime fiction just waiting to be discovered.  In particular, Larsson’s native Sweden boasts a bumper crop of talented authors writing books that explore their country’s dark underbelly and feature mesmerizing characters, complex mysteries, and seat-of-your-pants suspense in the same vein as Larsson’s international bestsellers.  So, as they do in Sweden, pour yourself a coffee from the table thermos, stretch out on an IKEA-brand futon, and give one of the following thrilling translations a try:  

Sun Storm by Asa Larsson – If you were transfixed by the enigmatic Lisbeth Salander and undeterred by the grittiest corners of Stieg Larsson’s Sweden, consider trying this spellbinding series debut and 2003 award winner for Sweden’s Best First Crime Novel.  The story begins with young Stockholm lawyer Rebecka Martinsson’s reluctant return to her small hometown after her childhood friend Viktor is found brutally murdered.  A charismatic pastor known for his near-death experience, Viktor’s mutilated body is discovered before the altar of his own fundamentalist church and his troubled sister Sanna is the prime suspect in the ritualistic killing.  Driven by complicated feelings of friendship and concern for Sanna’s daughters, Rebecka works to clear Sanna’s name despite having to confront dangerous religious fanatics and the personal demons that drove her from the church and town years before.  Though more mainstream than Lisbeth Salander, Rebecka’s guarded nature, sharp tongue, strong convictions, and willing use of violence make her a similar force to reckon with.  Above all, Sun Storm is a dark, atmospheric book of unrelenting psychological suspense that will leave you breathless up until the explosive finale.

Missing by Karin Alvtegen – For another hard-edged page turner with a fascinating female lead, check out this riveting standalone from the grand-niece of Pippi Longstocking-author Astrid Lindgren.  Winner of Scandinavia’s prestigious Glass Key Award for the Best Crime Novel of the Year, this lightening-quick read follows the tormented Sibylla Forsenstrom in a storyline with flavors of Larsson’s The Girl Who Played with Fire.  Scarred by cold, emotionally-abusive parents, Sibylla fled her affluent childhood home at age 17 for a hard, yet peaceful existence living “off the grid” on Stockholm’s streets.  Now, 15 years later, her cherished anonymity is threatened when a brief male acquaintance is horrifically murdered in the Grand Hotel and Sibylla is linked to his room.  Instantly convicted in the media, Sibylla struggles to prove her innocence by finding the true killer while alluding a police manhunt that intensifies after she’s blamed for a second grisly murder.  Both an engrossing mystery and a captivating character study of a complex survivor, Missing shows why Alvtegen has been called “Sweden’s Queen of Crime.”

Unseen by Mari Jungstedt – If you were drawn to the Millennium Trilogy by journalist Mikael Blomkvist and his tenacious investigations into Sweden’s dark side, you might try this chilling first novel from a veteran Stockholm television reporter.  Set on the vividly-rendered island of Gotland during the busy Midsummer’s tourist season, the macabre mystery begins when a woman is discovered the victim of a vicious axe murder on a secluded beach.  Swedish T.V. Regional News reporter Johan Berg is immediately dispatched to cover the story, and his parallel investigation to that of the intuitive Inspector Anders Knutas soon focuses on the victim’s jealous boyfriend.  When two more woman are savagely killed, however, Berg and Knutas realize they must work quickly to stop a serial killer whose seemingly random attacks have Gotland paralyzed with fear.  Much like Larsson’s Blomkvist, Berg is an idealistic newsman with a knack for complicated romance made clear by his lustful affair with the married friend of the first victim.  Nevertheless, the likably pesky journalist will appeal to your inner newshound in this tense, concisely-written series debut.

Detective Inspector Huss by Helene Tursten – If Stieg Larsson’s intricately twisting mysteries turned on your inner sleuth, but some of his books’ graphic violence turned your stomach, take a chance on this elaborate police procedural that kicks off an intriguing series favorably compared to the work of Henning Mankell.  The action begins on a rain-soaked evening in the city of Goteborg just as wealthy businessman Richard von Knecht plunges from his balcony in an apparent suicide.  First on the scene is Inspector Irene Huss, a Violent Crimes Unit detective, judo expert, and mother of twin teenage daughters.  As the evidence begins pointing toward murder, an already sensitive investigation turns complicated and dangerous when von Knecht’s office building is leveled by a firebomb.  Following a twisted trail of clues toward the surprising killers, Huss and her colleagues tangle with skinheads, dope dealers, high-priced hookers, the Hell’s Angels, and a perversely dysfunctional moneyed class in a sordid Swedish underworld painted with a much softer brush than that of the “Tattoo” Trilogy.  Like Larsson’s books, however, Detective Inspector Huss features keen social insight and a rich cast of interesting characters that enhance a finely-detailed mystery you’ll be hardpressed to put down.

Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin – For another menacing mindbender that goes lighter on the dark side, mystify yourself with this haunting cold case that mirrors the unsolved disappearance at the center of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  The first book in a loose-knit series set on the Swedish island of Oland, the mystery picks up with Julia Davidsson’s difficult return to Oland twenty years after her young son Jens vanished into the island fog.  Alcoholic and still paralyzed by grief, Julia’s painful homecoming is at the behest of her elderly estranged father Gerlof who has ominously and anonymously received a child’s sandal in the mail.  Believing that it belonged to Jens, Gerlof is emboldened in his obsessive theory that island ne’er-do-well Nils Kant was behind the disappearance and enlists Julia to help investigate.  Theorin masterfully alternates between the Davidsson’s modern-day search for answers and historical episodes from Kant’s life so that when the storylines finally converge in a jaw-dropping finale the suspense is at a fever pitch.  Atmospheric, intensely introspective, and ultimately hopeful, Echoes from the Dead is superior crime fiction that also explores the psychology of guilt, nostalgia, and the grieving process.  Give this mystery a try and it will be no mystery why it was honored with a 2009 Dagger Award and as Sweden’s Best First Crime Novel for 2007.

In addition to these incredible fiction titles, check out the following nonfiction books to delve deeper into the world of Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist:

A Concise History of Sweden by Neil Kent – Learn more about Stieg Larsson’s homeland as well as the setting for the Millennium Trilogy in this comprehensive history of Sweden from the Stone Age to the present day.  The informative and entertaining work includes coverage of the Vikings, the Scandinavian Union, Sweden’s 17th-century superpower status, the Swedish Enlightenment, the rise of Social Democracy, and Sweden’s commitment to military neutrality.

Hacker Culture by Douglas Thomas – Lisabeth Salander is a brilliant computer hacker under the alias “Wasp.”  Learn more about her underground hacker network in this engaging and in-depth history by USC professor Douglas Thomas.  Included is an examination of hacker culture’s evolution within mainstream society, its treatment in the media including the effects of mythmaking films such as Sneakers, and a look at the legality of hacking.

The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome by Tony Attwood – Based on her photographic memory and antisocial behavior, Mikael Blomkvist and others “close” to Lisabeth Salander believe she may have a form of Asperger’s Syndrome.  Learn more about the condition in this comprehensive guide by a clinical psychologist and international expert on Asperger’s.  Included in this readable overview are sections on diagnosis, friendship, cognitive ability, bullying, and long-term relationships.

 

Russell J.

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