The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Girl with the dragon tattoo
I admit it, I am out-of-step with current, popular taste, because I seem to be the one man on earth who thinks that the international bestseller  THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is a lousy book. I'm not even sure why I finished reading it. Sonny Mehta, the book's U.S. publisher at Knopf, calls it "deeply ambitious, insightful and fiercely smart," and I am here to tell you it is none of those things.  

The book is two-thirds exposition… we're talking hundreds and hundreds of pages of numbingly dull backstory that brackets the one third in the middle where something actually happens. Unfortunately, what happens isn't ambitious, insightful, fiercely smart or even mildly interesting. And it's all written with cliche-ridden prose that is so bad that it's distracting. (that may be the fault of the translator, Reg Keeland, and not the original, Swedish author, Stieg Larsson). Here are some examples:

"I think you are grasping at straws going to Hedestad."


"Ricky, that story is dead as a doornail."


You didn't have to be a rocket scientist to see that these events were somehow related. There had to be a skeleton in one of their cupboards.

These are just three examples out of hundreds. And there are also a lot of clumsy descriptions, like this one: 

She looked like an ageing vampire — still strikingly beautiful but venomous as a snake.

So is she a vampire or a snake?  Are vampire venomous? And there are even clunkier sentences, like this one:

Harald Vanger had gone back to his cave by the time Blomkvist came out. When he turned the corner, he found someone quite else sitting on the porch of the cottage.

Someone quite else?? Either Larsson was a very bad writer or the translator's grasp of English isn't so good. It certainly doesn't strike me as "fiercely smart."

The title of the book is misleading, too, since it refers to the hero's sidekick and not the actual central character, who is a one-dimensionally valiant reporter for a financial magazine who is irresistible to women. If the women that he meets don't bed him immediately and fall madly in love with him, it's clear that they desperately want to.  Virtually all the men in the tale are sadists and all the women in the story have been sexually brutalized, willingly or unwillingly (it's mentioned in an aside that the reporter and his business partner/lover dabbled in S&M and bondage for fun years ago). Maybe that's why the original title of the book in Sweden was MEN WHO HATE WOMEN. I'm not kidding, that was the title.

It all adds up to a book that's heavy on dull exposition, glorifies rape & torture while pretending to disapprove, and is written in unbearably flat, cliche-ridden prose. I can't find a single positive thing to say about the book except that the galley was well-bound and is no longer taking up space on my bookshelf.

UPDATE: Well, it looks like I am not the only one who hated the book. The New York Times did, too, for many of the same reasons that I did.

UPDATE 3-15-09: When Ellen Clair Lamb reviewed the book, and commented on the clunky translation, the translator responded:

Sorry you didn't like the translation. I originally translated it into American English, but then the book was bought in the UK, and the Scottish editor really did a number on it — hence my pseudonym. I'm hoping Knopf's edition of books 2 & 3 will come out better. — "Reg Keeland"

Last Day in Paradise

I had two panels on the last day of Left Coast Crime…one was hosting a mystery trivia contest in which my friend Robin Burcell was stumped by a two-part question in which the correct answers were "Robin Burcell" and the name of the lead character of her first book. Maybe she was just sunburned, tired, or hung over…or the question was badly worded. To be fair, I was so relaxed after a week in Hawaii that I probably would have missed a question in which I was the correct answer, too. But it was very funny nonetheless. 

The other panel, which included Jan Burke, Rhys Bowen, Honolulu librarian Cynthia Chow, and LCC organizer Bill Gottfried, was about…actually, I have no clue what it was about. People asked us questions and we answered them with wit, cleverness, and amazing insights into human nature, politics, religion, sex, and philosophy. All in all, I had a great time in Hawaii and was truly honored to be LCC's toastmaster (I even got a very, glass sculpture as an award…as did Barry Eisler and Rhys Bowen…which I will share with you when it arrives by post in a few days).

(Pictured, me looking goofy in my Monk hat and LCC 2009 t-shirt… and my embarrassed daughter deciding to be seen with me anyway)

Recession a boon for books?

According to the Telegraph in London, some publishers see opportunity in these dark financial times.

Publishing is not immune to tough times. This week Random House announced 5 per cent redundancies. Agents are shaking their heads over the reduced advances. Paper costs have risen. Books are being delayed from 2009 to 2010 to stretch budgets. Booksellers are cautious about almost anything without a TV tie-in. But publishers aren't, like ITV, dependent on advertisers. And readers are addicts. They will not stop reading to stare at the telly. Indeed, publishing can benefit from recession.

"At staff presentations, if people are looking gloomy," says John Makinson, chief executive of Penguin, "I tell them that the 1930s were the golden age of publishing in Britain. Many major publishing houses started then and Allen Lane, who launched paperbacks for sixpence, vastly expanded the market.

"Book sales correlate well with the market for takeaway pizzas," says Makinson. The idea – born out by industry-wide figures showing a rise in sales since this time last year – is that staying in is the new going out. Paperbacks cost less than a cinema ticket and provide many more hours of amusement.

Mr. Monk and the Blogs

I've been catching up on everything I missed while I was out-of-town and discovered some bloggers had some very nice things to say about my MONK books last week. The William-To-Jose blog liked MR. MONK GOES TO GERMANY:

What a pleasant surprise it turned out to be. This is a funny, funny book! Goldberg has a fantastic grasp of the characters and reading this was almost like watching the show. […]The book also has it's serious moments, however, especially when Monk has to confront certain truths he'd rather not. This grounds the book so it doesn't come off as pure fluff.

I agree with him about the importance of grounding Monk…of finding something with emotional stakes for him in every story…otherwise he'd just be a cartoon character.

Author Bill Crider enjoyed Monk's adventures in Germany, too.

The book reads smoothly and quickly, with plenty of laughs and a smile on every page. Which is quite an achievement, considering that Monk is in reality a sad case, a slave to his phobias and compulsions. Even Natalie loses control in this one, but to good effect. And at the end, well, she pulls quite a stunt. […] Sitting in hospital waiting rooms is no fun at all, but Mr. Monk Goes to Germany brightened my time in them this week, and it might brighten your day, too.

I don't think there's any greater compliment that a writer could get than hearing that his stories have made someone's day brighter…and helped them forget whatever woes they have, if only for a while. Thank you so much, Bill…and I hope your wife is feeling better.

Karen Rainey draws a distinction between between "derivative" books, which she doesn't like much, and tie-ins which, in the case of Monk, she likes a lot.

A derivative book is NOT a tie-in book such as Lee Goldberg’s Monk books. He’s contracted to write those books based on the television series. (By the way, he goes way beyond the television character arc in his books and they’re really good.)

She defines "derivative books" as ones in which an author continues the work of another, using the same characters, the same world, etc, like sequels to Jane Austen's books or "Gone with the Wind." She says:

A book ends when it ends. A book ends when the author thinks it’s right to end it. Would I like a different ending to Gone with the Wind? It’s not my call. It’s Margaret Mitchell’s work, not Karen Ranney’s. It’s my opinion that no one else has the right to come along and “borrow” those characters.

I'm sure there are plenty of fanfiction writers out there don't agree with her and they've probably let her know in the strongest possible terms. In their minds, tie-in writing is simply "paid fanfic." I'm not sure whether they truly don't understand the significant differences between tie-ins (which are the equivalent of being a freelance writer of an episode of a TV series) and fanfic (which is the equivalent of stealing someone else's work and putting your own name on it) or if they simply don't want to acknowledge it. But I've talked enough about that already.

Crime in Paradise

The best part for me of Tuesday's Left Coast Crime conference activities occurred in the evening. First I screened an episode of MONK and answered questions for the audience. It's rare that I get to see one of my episodes with an audience larger than my wife and the family dog (and they both usually sleep through everything I write on TV). I then spent a few hours on the patio chatting with my wife, my daughter, and my friends Barry Eisler, Robin Burcell, Jan Burke, and Twist Phelan. We talked about everything from dating to booksignings. It was great fun.

The sun finally came out in full force on Wednesday morning. I started the day as toastmaster for the brunch and awards banquet, which I hope was as much fun for the audience as it was for me. The conference isn't over yet, but I can safely say that Bill and  Toby Gottfried have pulled  off another successful Left Coast Crimes. They announced that the next Left Coast  Crime will be in Los Angeles and then Sacramento in 2011.

After the awards, my family and I played hookey from the conference to swim, snorkel, and do some sight-seeing, returning in time for an all-author signing at five. We ended the day by going out to dinner with authors Jonathan Hayes, Jason Starr, and Michelle Gagnon.  That was a lot of fun, too.

Tomorrow I have two more panels and then I'm going to try to sneak to the beach to burn the few spots on my body that aren't already charred.

UPDATE: Rhys Bowen reports on the awards brunch and yesterday's conference events for the St. Martin's Press blog.

Fun in the Sun

Today the sun finally peeked out and I got to sense what  it feels like to be John Grisham…there must have been a dozen people around the pool and on the beach reading my MONK books. I pretended that  it was because I am so damn successful and not because there was a mystery conference going on and they all got their books for free from my publisher…

All of my panels over the last few days have been in the same conference room, so I'm assuming it's the hotel's designated Jew Room. I wouldn't be surprised if that was also where they hold all their Bar Mitzvah's. I'll have to ask Barry Eisler if all of his panels have been in there, too.

Since my family is here with me, I've been terrible about attending other panels, using the free time to take walks, swim, and break my diet. I've gained 360 pounds  since I got here.

Tonight they are screening and discussing the Monk episode based on my book "Mr. Monk Goes to the Fire house" so that should be fun.

Okay, I have to go, it's time to eat again.

(Pictured: Me getting some fan love from Barry Eisler)

Aloha from Hawaii

Big Island March 2009
It's been cloudy and  rainy for the first three days of Left Coast Crime 2009 here on the Big Island of Hawaii, but it hasn't dimmed the enthusiasm of the attendees.  Bill & Toby Gottfried have always delivered great conventions and I am pleased to  report that LCC 2009 is no exception.

I haven't attended many panels (besides my own) but I've enjoyed chatting with readers and authors, something the layout of the vast, open lobby encourages with many comfortable sitting  areas where you can feel the warm ocean breeze (without getting soaked  by the rain). On the first night, I spent a few hours chatting at a table with authors Robin Burcell, Tim Maleeny, and Jonathan Hayes…and as time went on, our number grew to include Twist Phelan, Barry Eisler, Rhys Bowen and Meg Chittenden (by then we'd moved down to the poolside bar). I'd never met Jonathan before  — he's a Senior Medical Examiner in Manhattan and wrote a serial killer novel called PRECIOUS BLOOD. You'd think he'd be a dark and brooding fellow, but he's quite the opposite…charming, funny, and a terrific storyteller. I'm going to have to read his books now.

Twist told me that she and author Jan Burke got lost on their way to see the volcano, which was probably a good thing, because Denise Hamilton and her family also headed there and got so bogged down in heavy rain, that they gave up and camped out at a hotel in Hilo for the night instead.Big Island Authors

Yesterday I sat in on a readers group that was discussing one of my DIAGNOSIS MURDER  novels and that as great fun for me. I was also on a panel about humorous mysteries and my fellow panelist Parnell Hall had the audience howling with embarrassed laughter as he described his battle with an auto-flushing  toilet in a New York airport.  We only discuss lofty writerly issues at these conferences.

I have no silly questions to share with you today or salacious gossip…but i'm working on it.
(pictured on the right…Meg Chittenden, me, Rhys Bowen and Robin  Burcell).

Mr. Goldberg Goes to Hawaii

As you read this, I am on my way to Hawaii with my family to attend Left Coast Crime 2009, where I will be serving a toastmaster and speaking on several panels. Fun, sun, and mystery novels. It doesn't get any better than that. Paradise in Paradise. I am truly a lucky man.  

I have to thank my publishers, Penguin, for donating copies of "Mr. Monk Goes to Hawaii" for the attendees…and the USA Network for sponsoring the book-bags that everybody will be toting. 

The authors attending include Barry Eisler, Vicki Hendricks, Rhys Bowen, Jan Burke, Dana Stabenow, Laurie King, and local boy Lono Waiwaiole, one of my favorite authors of dark noir.

I don't know how often I'll be able to blog, so forgive me if things slow down here over the next week…