In this study of Swedish crime-writing sensation Stieg Larsson (1954–2004), journalist Pettersson, who published Larsson’s first book in 2001 (not part of the Millenium Trilogy) opens with the claim that it is “not a biography in the conventional sense.”
Rather, it is a work that explores the writer's “public persona” in tandem with “the interplay between [Larsson’s] life and work and society at large.” True to his word, Petterson is restrained regarding the details about Larsson’s background, motivations and personal relationships. He begins with a cursory sketch of the writer’s beginnings in northern Sweden: his rural upbringing, his move to the largest city in the northern provinces and his early attraction to writing and left-wing political causes. From this point, Larsson’s work against the political predations of the Swedish extreme right rooted in neo-Nazi fascism and committed to “ethnic homogeneity and Western values” take center stage. His political activism and journalistic inclinations led him to Stockholm, where he worked as a news graphic illustrator and eventually founded Expo, a magazine dedicated to monitoring and exposing the activities of those affiliated with the extreme right. The story of the future crime-fiction novelist’s fight against neo-Nazism is intriguing, but Pettersson’s treatment of this aspect of the story is inept. In his efforts to explain the history and evolution of the Swedish right, Pettersson often loses the narrative thread about Larsson. Furthermore, he never accomplishes more than suggesting the obvious: that Larsson’s bestselling Millennium Trilogy was born of encounters with ideologies that openly espoused hatred of “the weak, the deviant, the foreign [and] the different.”
A frustrating read that promises more than it delivers.