Stieg Larsson: The Real Story of the Man Who Played with Fire, written by Jan-Erik Pettersson, translated by Tom Geddes (Sterling)

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This insightful, nimbly translated biography is a must-read for fans of the Millennium Trilogy. Although Pettersson takes pains to point out that his book isn’t a conventional biography but, rather, is about the “public persona of Stieg Larsson . . . the interplay between his life and work and society at large,” it often feels very much like a personal biography. It takes Larsson from childhood—he was born in the factory town of Skelleftehamn in 1954—through his death of a heart attack in 2004, showing how Larsson’s campaign against right-wing politics, neo-Nazis, and racism came to inform his best-selling thrillers. It also contains some personal revelations: Larsson was an avid fan of science fiction and the films of Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone. There is perhaps too much detail for American readers about such matters as the history of crime fiction in Sweden, but it plays a role in helping us understand Larsson himself. A revelatory and always fascinating biography of a man who, as it turns out, was just as complex and multilayered as the novels that brought him fame.

This review originally appeared in Booklist, November 2011.

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