Barry Forshaw

John Blake Hbk £17.99

Released: April 10th 2010

Reviewer: Ali Karim


Ali Karim is assistant editor at SHOTS and writes/reviews for The Rap Sheet, January Magazine, Deadly Pleasures, Crimespree and Mystery Readers International


There are several biographies of the late Stieg Larsson in the pipeline, but the first out and into the bookstores is from one of Britain’s most knowledgeable literary critics, Barry Forshaw. Barry is well placed to provide the key insights onto Larsson’s life for several reasons, including writing “Penguin’s rough guide to crime-fiction”, as well as editing “British Crime Fiction an Encyclopedia” and of course he is an enthusiast of the works of Stieg Larsson. I will have to hold my hand up and indicate that Forshaw did ask if he could use some of my interviews, features and articles I have published over the last few years on Larsson and his work, which I did gladly as I was very interested to read about Stieg Larsson’s life and what he left with his ‘Millennium Series’.  

Forshaw’s book is spilt into three sections. The first and probably most interesting is an insight into Larsson’s life and death. The biography interviews many of Larsson’s friends, colleagues as well as family and provides an insight into a very driven and fearless journalist. Larsson’s left-wing politics can be traced to his grandfather and the aftermath of the Vietnam War, where Larsson and his long-time partner Eva Gabrielsson first met, side-by-side at an anti-war rally in the early 1970’s. This section also details the origins of Larsson’s character Lisabeth Salander being a hybrid of his niece Therese, as well as an imaging of what Pippi Longstocking would be like as an adult. Forshaw lays to rest the surreal conspiracy theories that have sprouted like Poison Ivy, since Larsson’s early demise, as the biography examines Larsson’s punishing workaholic nature, and the abuse of his body with 3 packs of cigarettes a day, between mouthful’s of Billy’s Pan Pizza and a lack of exercise. There is also significant information on the legal battle on his estate as Larsson left no will, hence his father and brother have inherited his entire estate. There is much mention of money, especially some of the surprising values of first editions of ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’, due to the small print run.  

The second section of the biography focuses on the three books themselves, linking the narrative to that of Larsson’s life and the backdrop of the politics of Sweden that provoked Larsson to turn his hobby [an obsession with crime fiction] into his own stab at penning his own peculiar brand of crime fiction. 

In the third and final section, Forshaw provides insight from many of Larrson’s contemporaries, both Scandinavian as well as British writers. This is presented in a ‘warts-and-all’ series of essays and observations. One especially incisive commentary is provided by Roger Jon Ellory [‘A Quiet Belief in Angels’], who ponders on why so many people love the books and why an equally vocal element dislike them so much. Ellory suggests that had Larsson lived, he would have been forced by his editor to re-work much of the narrative, and the additional editorial red-ink may well have made them even more profound and illuminating. Ellory feels that due to Larsson’s early and unplanned demise, forced the publishers to get them onto bookshelves just that much faster, and who knows what they would have read like had Larsson re-wrote them. For one thing that we are certain we will never know. 

Due to reader interest in the enigmatic Larsson and his three books, I predict that this volume will be flying off the shelves as if kicked by Lisabeth Salander. It was in fact serialised recently in the British Sunday Times Newspaper, such is public’s insatiable desire to know more about the Stieg Larsson phenomenon, and this book will not be the last. A wonderful literary examination into the legacy of one Swedish Journalist who penned three of the most significant works of crime fiction of the decade, but who did not live to see their effect on a genre he loved. 

A must buy for all Stieg Larsson fans.






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