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TGwtDT: Chapter 1

December 23, 2011

Part I


Chapter One

Change of POV!

Had any lingering questions about that old man from the prologue? Confused about abruptly tearful old folk and flowers? Well shove them queries right up your ass, because they sure as hell ain’t going to be answered in this chapter.

Instead, we meet ‘Carl’/’Kalle’ Mikael Blomkvist, who one might assume to be our protagonist were it not for his distinctive lack of dragon tats and tits. As Blomkvist is leaving a courthouse, he is approached by a mob of photographers and news reporters— all eager to hear his comments on the case which, as the narrative informs us in no uncertain terms, he has just lost. But Blomkvist takes the questions in stride, and it is through his interactions with the reporters, and the media covering this story, that we learn more about him. Sometimes this information is weaved pretty elegantly with the story, allowing the reader to pick up on Mikael’s characteristics like metaphorical golden apples along the road.

“He had no wish to discuss the verdict, but questions were unavoidable, and he— of all people— knew that they had to be asked and answered. This is how it is to be a criminal, he thought. On the other side of the microphone.

Ok, I thought to myself, he’s a reporter/journalist! The results of this case are big enough that Blomkvist would be present himself, if it wasn’t his own trial. Then the book drops the other shoe and hammers in any tentative assumptions you might have made through the use of meaty, soul-crushing flashbacks.

Wanna know why Mikael’s nickname is Carl/Kalle? Well, one time when he was twenty-three and just starting out as a journalist and staying at his girlfriend’s summer cabin at Katrineholm there was this gang of thieves who wore Donald Duck masks on their bank jobs and there were these Swedish guys living in another cabin who looked like the Donald Duck gang so Blomkvist called the cops and it turns out they were the Donald Duck gang and Kalle Blomkvist is a fictional boy detective created by Swedish author Astrid Lindgren so it’s like a joke doyagetit.

And perhaps the most irritating thing about this particular flashback (2 left in this chapter, one short and one long, btw) is that the joke doesn’t quite translate well for us American folks. I needed to look up Astrid Lindgren before I got the reference. But that’s not something Larsson can really help, so ignore that.

There’s a lot of extraneous bits here, and I’m sure a lot of this will end up getting cut for the silver screen. Hopefully this is a good thing, because better that they trim the fat than end up changing something really vital, right? Blomkvist doesn’t volunteer much to the reporters, has a brief run-in with a rival reporter named Borg (one line of dialogue, a page worth from Larsson to let me know that they’re RIVALS) and heads to a café for lunch. A radio serves as our exposition vehicle: how badly did Blomkvist lose, and was it worth the embarrassment?

“Journalist Mikael Blomkvist of the magazine Millennium was sentenced this morning to 90 days in gaol for aggravated libel of industrialist Hans-Erik Wennerstrom. In an article this year that drew attention to the so-called Minos affair, Blomkvist claimed that Wennerstrom had used state funds intended for industrial investment in Poland for arms deals. Blomkvist was also sentenced to pay 150,000 SEK in damages. In a statement, Wennerstrom’s lawyer Bertil Camnermarker said that his client was satisfied with the judgment. It was an exceptionally outrageous case of libel, he said.”

What we have here is an outrageously good lawyer, or an outrageously large lie. Blomkvist is outrageously depressed, as one might guess— the cost of the trial and his fine are enough to mean serious trouble for the Millennium, which Blomkvist is part owner of, and wipe out his personal savings. But Blomkvist’s reputation has taken the biggest beating: the scandal would make other magazines leery to publish anything with his name attached to it. Wennerstrom thumbing his nose at him in court is just an added insult to injury.

In essence, life sucks for Kalle Blomkvist.

And that’s it! We could really end the chapter here if we wanted to, stop reading, or skip ahead, or whatever. We’re not going to be any introduced to any new characters (except the one, in a flashback) and we’re not moving forward with the plot. Instead, we’re taking a look into the past— how Blomkvist got into his present day mess. And that sounds interesting on paper, but when you read the story on paper, it’s not. It’s pretty goddamn dull, and it’s why I quit this book the first time, and the second.

The Cliffnotes version:

  • Mikael runs into an old friend from school, Robban, who’s in the banking business.
  • They discuss the concept of ethics, morality and corruption in the business world— “certain golden parachute agreements”— and Robban brings up Wennerstrom.
  • The Agency for Industrial Assistance (AIA) is created; essentially, they are a conglomeration of industry heavyweights and firms with the Swedish government’s backing, authorized to distribute taxpayer funds to regimes looking to restructure their economy in Europe. These loans were interest-free and intended to be repaid in a number of years
  • Small-time player ‘strom somehow weasels his way into the AIA in 1992. He outlines his plans and receives 60 million kronor to set up a ‘tin-can industry’ called Minos (which should sound familiar, because it is.) He invests 54 million into the company, but it still goes under due to German competition. ‘strom is responsible for paying the difference and sends the government a check— since the rest of the money was invested in the company, it couldn’t be helped…
  • …Except Robban thinks he’s full of shit. In his employment with Handelsbanken, he saw the reports on Minos and got the chance to investigate for himself a few years ago and learned from the locals that the Minos factory employed old woman and produced little more than cardboard boxes and paper bags. Total cost: under 2 million.
  • Ok, so they made off with 50+ million, but Wennerstrom was worth billions. Why take the risk at stealing such a paltry amount? “The interest alone on sixty million for three years, that’s quite a bit. Depending on how he invested the money, he might have doubled the AIA money, or maybe grown it ten times over.”

I don’t hate flashbacks. Used correctly, they can be pretty effective, especially in your mystery/thriller hybrids, as this book claims to be. However, this chapter was about eighty percent past tense. We’re thirty pages in. Are you hooked yet? I wasn’t the first time, or the second, but I powered through all the same.

Bottom line: I’m not used to relying on sheer willpower to bring me through the first chapter. We’re not getting off to a good start, book.

Notes in the Margin

-What does anyone look like? You drop politics and economics but can’t find the space to waste a paragraph on a basic description? Come on, book.

-“Industries got the money and used it to invest in joint ventures from which they later reaped vast profits. In other words, business as usual.” Jaded, Blomkvist?

-Obviously we are bringing up these towns, places and people because they will play an important role in the story not only later on, but throughout our tale. Of course, yes, this must be true.

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