Monday, 26 July 2010

Lansdale to Larsson

So I'd finished the Maigrets and had another week or so of holiday left.

Perfect for the job was the 'Girl With The Dragon Tattoo' by Stieg Larsson. The Millenium Trilogy had been recommended to me so many times by people I respect that I just had to go for it.

It's sold so many copies that I don't suppose my two pennies' worth will hold their value. Even so, I'm going to offer them just in case.

Once I'd bought the trilogy a while ago I put the books onto one of the 'to be read' shelves and they looked a little too intiimidating to take on. Individually they're huge, in a trio they're enormous. Then again, some of my favourite books have been on the large side ('The Count Of Monte Cristo' or 'Clockers' for example). Anyway, there was no way to dip in a toe, I just had to jump in.

And boy was the water cold. Freezing in fact.

There's a lovely prologue, intriguing and suggestive and a great hook line. Two old men on the phone discuss the latest pressed flower sent as a brithday gift to one of them, a business Tycoon coming to the end of his life. He has the flowers lined on the wall and he's had one every year for most of his adult life. One is missing. Since the 1970s the flowers have been sent anonymously from places around the world and with no clues as to who might have sent them. Later on we might kick ourselves for not having the confidence to go with the first thought, but hey, it hasn't been the first time, right?

Then came Chapter 1. It moves in to the world of one of our main characters, loveable liberal Carl Mikael Blomkvist. He's just come out of court with his unblemished reputation as a journalist in tatters.

Why? I found myself thinking 'who cares?'. I'd seen Twitter posts by people starting the book. Sounded like they wanted to hang themselves. I wondered if it was a touch of jealousy concerning the book's success, now there I was thinking exactly the same. 500 more pages at that pace would make Moby Dick seem like a Ladybird book.

I wondered how the book had ever got published.

All the things I've heard about approaching editors and agents, this book went against the rules. There's overloaded tell rather than show, it's ponderous and wordy and needs a good edit if you ask me. I reckon that either Larsson had a good friend in the industry or put together one hell of a synopsis when he was selling it on.

He even says it himself on Page 22:

"So where is the story in this?"

The answer:

"Be patient."

It's as if he knows.

So, fifty pages in and I was all for giving up. Problem was, he'd introduced some pretty good characters, namely Blomkvist and a spiky, young woman hacker / misfit Salander. It's their chemistry as well as the plot (the search for the murderer of a missing girl) that sucked me in.

Once over the first hurdle, I couldn't get enough of it. I was reading whenever I could.

It's dense. There's not a great deal of snappy dialogue to help you through it. Description is heavy, detail is sometimes overdone, but the drive is there and all you have to do is fasten your seatbelt.

In the end I'm delighted I stuck with it. It's a cracker.

Deserving of it's position in the sales ranks? Such things bewilder me completely, but yes, I think maybe so.

Best thing about it is that I've got two more fabulous reads ahead of me in the near future.

So it had taken me a week and a lot of concentrating to complete 'Tattoo'. I needed more fun. Something lighter. Something completely different.

Step forward Joe R Lansdale.

I've done the Hap and Leonard books in a really muddled order. It hasn't really mattered.

I love the pair of them. They are a great team and an unusual one.

There are so many contrasts between them that it's difficult at first to see why they're so loyal to each other. As you get to know them, you see more and more of their common ground. Their personalities seem to mingle at times as they come close and face the world together.

When I say face the world, I dont' mean it in the you and I sense. I mean their world. Hard men who find themselves in troubled waters against crazy guys with guns and huge fists and plenty of attitude.

Mostly, they find themselves in closed off, narrow minded communities where they're the outsiders having to face hostility from almost everyone.

They set themselves up like they might have if it were an old western. Given it's Texas, perhaps it's like they're in a new one. We know the fights are coming, we just have to hope that Hap and Leonard are tough enough to give and take a beating (we know they are, but the other guys always have some kind of advantage).

In 'The Two Bear Mambo' our boys are looking for a girl who's gone missing. She's a black girl who poked her business in to a Klan town.

Course Hap and Leonard are going to follow her down to find out what happened to her, even if Leonard (black, full of attitude and gay) will be about as welcome as the in-laws.

There's fighting and tension and fun. Best of all, there are similes that most writers wouldn't even get close to. He's a master at imagery. Oh, and there's the humour. I laughed out loud many times. You go there, you will too.

Joe R Lansdale's a real force. As his characters get themselves into and out of deep shit, we get to know a little about the world, have to think about it. Some of his questions are challenging, though not always pleasant.

Any book that can offer so much fun and social commentary has to be worth a read.
Put on your hard hats.


  1. The Girl Who Played With Fire, for me, was the most immediately accessible of the trilogy. I thought the last book was a let-down. But the characters were just so strong that ... I had to keep reading. I'm a big fan of Lansdale, too.

  2. Tattoo was a hell of a book. I think it went against so many things I've been advised or learned that I find it difficult to see how he reeled me in. Reel me in he did, though. Glad you liked the second - it will give me something to look forward to.