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Lisbeth Salander Returns: A Book Review

A Little Background

dragon tattooI have already reviewed Stieg Larsson’s three-book Millennium SeriesThe Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2005), The Girl Who Played with Fire (2006), and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (2007).  They bring to life an intriguing title character, Lisbeth Salander—a dark, brilliant young woman with a slight build, horrendous past and gruff attitude.  She captures the reader’s heart even as she antagonizes most people she encounters. The second main character is Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist and eventual friend and colleague of Lisbeth.

played with fireLarsson planned a 10-part series but died in 2004 only having completed the three books that were all published posthumously.  The novels gained critical and popular acclaim almost immediately.  As of March 2015, the three novels have sold over 80 million copies worldwide.

hornets nestA few months ago, a friend and I were lamenting that there would no further books in the Millennium Series.  We both really like Lisbeth—she is a unique character come to life.  We have both re-read the trilogy several times, and I have recently watched the three Swedish films made from the books.  There is also an American film of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  I was disheartened to read that plans for American films #2 and #3 were on hold but more so that there were plans to diverge from Larsson’s plots for those films.

As sad as it is to contemplate no further tales of Lisbeth Salander, it would be worse for her to be changed, modified in some way.  Above all, Lisbeth’s dark, quirky anti-social brilliance needs to not be tinkered with.  Then I heard the news that Lisbeth was slated to live again; in fact, had already come to life in a fourth book in the series:  The Girl in the Spider Web (2015).

Stieg Larsson

Stieg Larsson

Apparently, Larsson had a common law wife but no will.  Swedish courts gave control of his estate and thus of Lisbeth Salander and the Millennium Series to his father and brother.  Although his wife insists that Larsson would not want further books written, would not sanction someone else bringing Lisbeth and Mikael to life, David Lagercrantz had been commissioned to write the fourth novel in the series.  Lagercrantz is a respected Swedish author with journalistic experience who loved the original three novels and their title character.

I was hopeful but cautious as I picked up this new novel.

The Girl in the Spider Web:  A Book Review

Spiders web

David Lagercrantz

David Lagercrantz

David Lagercrantz has done a good job writing the fourth novel in the Millennium Series:  The Girl in the Spider Web.  The Swedish title was initially That Which Doesn’t Kill You.  Of course, although that title does not follow the pattern of the first three, it does point to Lisbeth Salander’s ability to survive and endure.  As in the original novels, Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist and their unusual relationship are the heart of the story.  Lagercrantz draws these two characters as well as a few others from earlier books with careful attention to their pasts while setting them free in new situations.

Lisbeth Salander rings true to the young woman who came to life through the first three books.  Lagercrantz even adds some explanatory details about her childhood that help readers better understand what motivates her approach to life and generated her hacking alias Wasp.  Her actions are as direct and purposeful as ever even as her conversations are short and to the point.  Her willingness to risk all to protect someone else, to right a wrong, is at the heart of this novel’s main conflicts.

Mikael Blomvkist is still the brooding journalist committed to the integrity of a story while being bored with the superficial that can take over everyday headlines.  He jumps into action when a lead sparks his interest as well as his sense of decency.  He works to balance protecting sources while also helping the police when events turn deadly.  And above all he is fiercely loyal to Lisbeth.  Their interaction starts slowly, since they have been estranged for some time, but follows from the creative and intimate albeit somewhat cryptic exchanges via his computer. Lagercrantz entices the reader, slowly pulling Lisbeth into the story line:  she is first merely mentioned, then is seen in small snippets until she actually takes action.  It is not until about half way through the book that she and Mikael actually connect directly.

The plot offers layers of complexity similar to what is found in the original novels.  This time the journalistic expose centers on digital surveillance, privacy, hacking, national security vs. personal gain, and international espionage.  Sapo, the Swedish secret service, is part of the picture again, but this time the intrigue is international as it pulls America’s NSA (National Security Agency) into the action as well.  Slowly pieces of the puzzle surface as those involved share what they know—sometimes for the greater good and other times for personal concerns.   The big picture slowly takes shape, so that by the end of novel the suspense builds keeping readers fully engaged.  I stayed up much too late, just to finish the last chapters, so I could see how things turned out!

There is also an element of social awareness in the novel through some of the new characters that Lagercrantz brings to life.  There is an autistic boy whose memory offers a clue to solving the murders at the heart of the plot.  Several of the other characters focus a spotlight on such topics as effective parenting and domestic violence.  There are also some fun surprises and revelations in the characters and plot twists that readers will just have to discover on their own.  The ending neatly ties up the disparate threads of the plot—some perhaps a bit too easily—but overall the resolution is satisfying and seems realistic.  And there are enough loose ends to warrant another novel in the ongoing adventures of Lisbeth and Mikael.

If you enjoyed Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Series and especially the characters of Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomvkist, you will enjoy Lagercrantz’s addition to the series.  As in any series, it helps to have read the previous works to fully appreciate the subtle details and connections within the current novel, but you do not need to have read the originals to enjoy The Girl in the Spider Web.  A short who’s who is offered at the start of this fourth novel, explaining some of the main characters and plot points from the first three books.


Rock with Wings: A Book Review

Lt. Joe Leaphorn

Officer Jim Chee

Officer Bernie Manuelito

If you have read Tony Hillerman’s Leaphorn and Chee Mystery Series set in and around the Navajo Nation, then you know and love these three main characters.  They are the tribal police officers who solve the problems inherent in each novel’s main action.  Their humanity shines through as they deal with not just their work but with love, family and culture as well.

After Tony Hillerman’s death, his daughter Anne Hillerman continued the lives and stories of these (and other) characters, much to the delight of her father’s fans. Her first effort –Spider Woman’s Daughter—proved she was up to the task of continuing the characters and stories bought to life by her father.

AnneHillermanrock with wings coverHer second novel Rock with Wings (2015) is another fitting addition to the series, adding another layer of complexity to the inter-relationships of the primary characters while exploring several interrelated mysteries.  Anne Hillerman uses adept character development and a sensitive sense of place to weave together an impressive tale as intricate and beautiful as a carefully designed rug. She weaves the lives of these likable characters together with a movie about Zombies, solar energy, secondary characters such as lost teens and an elderly grandfather, financial intrigue, and photo tours into a seamless whole that builds to an engaging conclusion that ties all the loose ends together.

IMG_5768Rock with Wings starts with Bernie and Chee planning a short vacation to Monument Valley to visit one of Chee’s relatives.  It is their first get-away since their honeymoon two years earlier.  As can be expected, the overdue vacation is interrupted as various cases and family matters pull at the time and attention of the two tribal officers.  Bernie is bothered by the nervous behavior of a driver she stopped for a traffic violation; the guy tries to bribe her to let him off with a ticket.  Federal interest further sparks her curiosity into this ongoing investigation aided by her attention to detail and interest in local flora.

The vacation is initially interrupted when Bernie rushes home to address family problems.  At the same time, Chee is temporarily re-assigned to work at the Monument Valley office, in part to serve as the liaison to a film crew using Monument Valley as its backdrop for a zombie movie, of all things.  This movie production twist allows Hillerman to skillfully add film history of the area into the novel.  In fact, John Ford’s classic Stagecoach offers a useful clue to solve one of many intertwining cases Chee is juggling.

Although exploring her odd-driver situation, Bernie also tends to family matters with her mother and sister. There are even a few glimpses of Chee’s rather atypical relationship with his mother-in-law.  Since the couple are separated for several days, when Chee is not working, he willingly helps his cousin who is setting up a photo tour guide business within Monument Valley.  This domestic theme shows insights into Navajo culture and adds a refreshing balance to the criminal trails that each officer is following.  This thread with its strong focus on family life is a nice addition to the series that Anne Hillerman brings to the novels.

Hillerman does a masterful job balancing Bernie’s and Chee’s investigations, and eventually—step by step—solving all the little questions and even showing some overlap of their various cases as part of a bigger picture.  An integral aspect of the novel that helps solve the cases is Lt. Joe Leaphorn.  He is retired and still recuperating from being shot in the head in the last novel.  His recovery is slow, but he is able to find ways to contribute to the investigations as both Chee and Bernie seek out his input and advice.  Hillerman has made these characters her own even while subtly clarifying their interdependence and allowing them all—especially Bernie—to develop new skills.

Anne Hillerman continues her father’s practice of making Nature in general and the Navajo Nation specifically an integral part of each novel.  The location is more than just a backdrop.  The protagonists’ constant awareness of the world around them—the pending rain, the gorgeous sunsets, the morning runs to welcome the day—highlights the importance of Nature to the characters; through Nature they are better able to achieve hozhoni, the Navajo sense of peace, harmony and balance.

In addition, the open spaces, long distances and rough terrain of the Navajo Nation compound the work conducted by tribal officers.  Bernie even gives a civic talk in this most recent novel, explaining how the long distances and rough country make policing the Navajo Nation a major challenge on the best of days.  Often, the tribal officers are on patrol alone, and they frequently have to travel long distances to and from crime scenes as well as to various offices.  Effective communication is often non-existent when not only cell phones but patrol car radios do not work given the rocky terrain.

IMG_7350But sense of place plays an even more important role in Anne Hillerman’s Rock with Wings. For one thing, “Rock with Wings” is the Navajo name for Ship Rock, an impressive monadnock that holds significance for the Navajo and is the exact setting for one of the major events in the novel. The rock formation rises almost 1600 feet above the high desert floor.  Second, Monument Valley—called Tse Bii Ndzisgaii in Navajo or Valley of Rocks—is the exact setting for the other major case being explored.  The realities of these places contribute to the stories as they unfold.



I was incredibly lucky last spring to have literally visited both Ship Rock and Monument Valley just weeks before reading Rock with Wings.  The impressiveness as well as the isolation and openness of the two locales stayed with me as I read the novel, making the reality of the mysteries even more evident.  If you have not yet read Rock with Wings, I suggest you do—and if you can visit the Navajo Nation, do that too.  The novel can stand alone as an engaging mystery, but complex layers of character and place emerge if you read it as the continuation of the Leaphorn and Chee Mystery Series.

Either way, Rock with Wings is a good read.  I am hopeful that Anne Hillerman will offer another novel in the series, soon.

NO REST FOR THE DEAD: One Mystery, Many Authors

I always enjoy a good murder mystery, especially in the summer when I can lounge at the beach or curl up on the couch inside with the air conditioning.  These novels—although maybe not great literature—offer strong characters, intriguing plot twists, and exciting settings. The suspense of the mystery or thriller keeps me engaged, but the plots are not so intricate or themes so profound that I cannot be interrupted and keep continuity.  If I doze off while reading, no problem.  I can pick right back up again!

If I find a mystery author I like, I go back over and over.  Some of my go-to authors include Laurie King’s Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series, Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn series, Sue Graftson’s alphabet mystery series, and James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club series.  But I am always open for a good mystery to read, a new author to explore.

no rest for the deadA few weeks ago I was intrigued by a new title—No Rest for the Dead—because of its author.  I actually should say authors, plural.  What caught my eye about this tome was that it was a group project, written by 26 different mystery writers.  You know the concept of a progressive dinner?  Start a meal in one place and move on to another location for the next course?  That is how this book was created, a progressive draft where different authors wrote different chapters.

David Baldacci (author of King & Maxwell series) wrote the introduction to this collective endeavor and explained what a magnificent feat this joint project really was:This is a rare thing indeed because mystery writers are notoriously reclusive, paranoid, and unfriendly folks when it comes to their work. . . .  While they each deliver their own signature brand of storytelling to the novel, it is startling how these writers. . . have woven a yarn that seems to be the product of one mind, one imagination (albeit schizophrenic).”

And Baldacci was right:  No Rest for the Dead is an impressive collaboration. I was intrigued by the authors themselves, some of whom I had read before and enjoyed.  All are successful in their own ways, most having been on the NY Times Bestsellers List many times.  The 26 authors who worked together to create this murder mystery are listed below basically in order of the appearance of their contributions in the novel.  I have added a little info about the couple of authors that I have read before and liked:

  • Andrew F. Gulli
  • Jonathon Santlofer
  • Jeff Lindsay (Dexter series that was inspiration for Dexter TV show)
  • Alexander McCall Smith (The #1 Ladies Detective Agency and other series).
  • Raymond Khoury
  • Sandra Brown
  • Faye Kellerman
  • Kathy Reichs (Temperance Brennan series, basis for Bones TV show)
  • John Lescroart
  • T. Jefferson Parker
  • Lori Armstrong
  • Matthew Pearl
  • Michael Palmer
  • J. A. Jance
  • Gayle Kynds
  • R. L. Stine (Goosbumps series for kids)
  • Marcia Talley
  • Thomas Cook
  • Diana Gabaldon (Outlander series)
  • Peter James
  • Tess Gerritsen (Rizzoli & Isles series, basis for TV show)
  • Lisa Scottoline
  • Phillip Margolin
  • Jeffrey Deaver
  • Jeff Abbott
  • Marcus Sakey

I was also intrigued by No Rest for the Dead because of what prompted this extreme collaboration.  The idea of an anthology of mystery short stories that would generate income for cancer charities originated with Andrew J. Gulli, managing editor of Strand, the number one magazine for mystery and short story writers.  A friend of his, now late, suggested making the project a novel with many authors as a better way to entice readers.  That change helped the idea coalesce, and soon authors were coming on board for the project.  Gulli and his sister Lamia Gulli edited this jointly written novel. Other than payments to authors all proceeds are going to Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.  According to LLS, 148 people die from blood cancer every day.  Helping cancer research is a great cause!

Of course, the book will only sell and raise money for LLS if No Rest for the Dead is a good novel.  Fortunately, it is.  As the novel opens, the readers are aware that the woman convicted of killing her husband was put to death for his murder ten years ago.  But now, the main detective who helped convict her feels he was wrong and that an innocent woman was killed.  This former police detective, Jon Nunn, has been obsessed for the past decade with trying to find the truth.  This opening sets up a great dynamic, generating interest and suspense in finding the truth.

The plot unfolds in a two-part structure.  After the opening setup, the readers are taken back in time to just before the murder, so all the suspects and their actions can be clarified.  The murder victim is seen as arrogant and condescending, and many people have motive to kill him.  I don’t want to say that I cheered over the fact that he had been bumped off, but I was not very sad.  Then the readers are returned to the present when all these players are being brought together on the 10th anniversary of the convicted murderer’s death.  Current intrigue shows that someone is working to thwart the detective’s ongoing investigation to find out the truth.  As a reader, I was quickly committed to the plot, wanting desperately to know the truth about this murder.

Overall, No Rest for the Dead is a fun summer read. If you like murder mysteries, you will not be disappointed.  The characters are engaging, the action is compelling, and the final resolution offers a surprise twist.  I even stayed up one night to read just one more chapter. And then another.  But this mystery is also a good read for those who value the art of writing itself.  I was impressed by the smooth transition from one chapter to the next as new authors picked up the story and carried it forward.  The varying writing styles melded together well.  In fact, I was able to forget that so many different voices were penning this cohesive presentation.   I echo Baldacci’s comment on the success of this writing experiment:  “It’s hard what these writers have done. Give them their due.”

My final analysis?  Give it a try!  If you end up not liking No Rest for the Dead, most of your $10 will have gone to LLS. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


“Novels are written word by word. If you can write a word, and then another word, you can write a novel—assuming your novel will be two words long. Here’s a two-word romance novel: I do. It’s also a murder mystery.”   Jarod Kintz

“Murder is easy, if no one suspects you.”  Agatha Christie

“The lady in the liquor store sold me a fifth of whiskey and the landlord’s name without taking her eyes off the book she was reading.”  Andrew Cotto

“The sweetest smiles hold the darkest secrets. . . “   Sara Shepard

“You don’t just spontaneously develop a fatal head wound.”  Detective Vega, CSI

“I specialize in murders of quiet, domestic interest.”  Agatha Christie

 “One must never set up a murder.  They just happen unexpectedly, as in life.”  Alfred Hitchcock

“There are 4 kinds of homicide: felonious, excusable, justifiable, and praiseworthy.”  Ambrose Bierce

“Truth will come to sight; murder cannot be hid long.”   William Shakespeare

“What the detective story is about is not murder but the restoration of order.”  P. D. James


What are your best summer reads? 

If you read murder mysteries, share some favorite authors!

Recharge Your Life!

I better remember to tell my sister “Thank you!” For one thing, she is always there for me: nudging me into action with a kind word or a kick in the pants, collaborating on how to best help our elderly parents, listening to complaints about bills and insurance, or just sending words of good cheer and encouragement. But this specific nod of appreciation is for giving me a great little book: Oil for Your Lamp: Women Taking Care of Themselves (2010, Simple Truths, LLC). The book shares a deceptively simple message, but if taken to heart its truth can be life-changing.

The authors, Lisa Hammond & B.J. Gallagher, present stories, poems, photos and advice to illustrate the wisdom of Mother Teresa’s words: “To keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it.” The book is divided into two sections: How & Why We Let Our Lamps Run Low and How to Fill Our Own Lamps. The first section reminds readers how easy it is to let doing too much and doing for others take over our lives. In part, women are socialized to be care-givers—of others, not of ourselves. And we have internalized that expectation too well, giving it more and more control as we master the art of multi-tasking.

For me, one of the best features of the book is the many quotes interspersed throughout from a wide array of sources, including everyone from Mother Teresa & Oprah to Winnie the Pooh & Mark Twain. These quotes trumpet the lessons offered in the second section of the book. The advice on how to recharge is what sounds so simple, as it reminds readers of what we often know but do not put into action in our day-to-day lives. The basics include realizing it is okay to put ourselves first, to ask for help, and to simply do nothing at times. My favorite advice is the challenge to follow the edict so often given to children: Go outside and play! Personally, my playtime usually involves a sojourn into Nature—or taking a nice long catnap.

The book and its simple direct message are great gifts! Think about giving them to others. If someone gives the book to you, be sure you remember to say “thanks.” Paying attention to what is good and right in your life—perhaps through a gratitude journal—can help you keep life’s demands in perspective, which in turn can help you set the best priorities for yourself. So, the next time you are taking a day to detox, laying down for a nap, or saying “no” to a new commitment, also remember to give thanks. Of course, there is a lot in life worthy of appreciation: acts of kindness, words of hope or encouragement, a helping hand, a positive attitude, just an awareness of life’s blessings, or even the beauty of Nature. So count your blessings and jump-start the re-charging process!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go call my sister—and maybe send some flowers to a friend.

“Don’t under estimate the value of doing nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things we can’t hear, and not bothering.” Winnie the Pooh

“If you neglect to recharge a battery, it dies. And if you run full speed ahead without stopping for water, you lose momentum to finish the race.” Oprah Winfrey

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