Magazine article The Spectator

Recent Crime Novels

Magazine article The Spectator

Recent Crime Novels

Article excerpt

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (MacLehose Press, £14.99, translated from the Swedish by Stephen Murray) is the first volume of Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy. Larsson was a journalist who sadly died of a heart attack before publication. But the books are selling in their millions across Europe and, once you read the first of them, it's not hard to see why. The central character, Blomkvist, works for a hard-hitting magazine named Millennium. An attack on a corrupt Swedish billionaire has backfired, leaving him on the brink of financial and professional ruin.

He accepts a lifeline in the form of a commission to investigate the disappearance of a teenage girl nearly 40 years earlier in an island variant of the classic locked-room mystery. But the two cases are linked, and there are also connections to Sweden's wartime fascists.

This is a long thriller but it sustains the reader's interest, partly because it's wellplotted but more, perhaps, because of the anger Larsson directs at his targets.

Misogyny, financial corruption, murder, fascism all have a contribution to make, and Larsson implies that ultimately they spring from the same source. The book may not be particularly subtle but it's highly effective and a very good read: I look forward to the sequels.

R. N. Morris turns to Dostoevsky for inspiration in A Vengeful Longing (Faber, £12.99), the second novel in a series whose protagonist, the investigating magistrate Porfiry Petrovich, has been lifted from Crime and Punishment. It's 1868, and another sweltering summer in St Petersburg, with the inhabitants plagued by building work, stench, outbreaks of cholera and rumblings of political discontent. Porfiry and his idealistic young assistant (who proudly proclaims himself an egoist, a rationalist and a materialist) are called to deal with three interlinked crimes -- a double murder by poisoned chocolates, followed by deaths by shooting and stabbing.

The result is a book that satisfies on more than one level -- as a story of investigation and also as a historical novel crammed with sharply individualised characters. Morris has clearly done his research, and he also has an unusual ability to enter imaginatively into another time and place. The novel is well written too, and constantly nudges against the genre envelope of crime fiction.

'There will always be blood, ' Porphyry tells his traumatised assistant.

'If you cannot see beyond the blood, you will see nothing. …

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