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Sunday, 30 June 2013

If you like Stieg Larsson, you'll love this blog post

Now, I read Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy a few years back and really enjoyed it. However, it really irritates me that he seems to have become the yardstick by which all other thrillers are judged. You can barely set foot into the crime section of a bookshop without seeing his name emblazoned across the shelves - "If you like Stieg Larsson, you'll love this!" "For fans of Stieg Larsson!". It smacks of lazy marketing to me. This month I have read two books with similar quotes shouting at me from the front cover, and they were both very different from one another.

"The Next Stieg Larsson"
The Devil's Star by Jo Nesbo
The only Jo Nesbo book I have previously read is The Snowman, which I thought was really great and got completely immersed in. I wasn't overly enamoured with Harry Hole as a character but enjoyed the twists and turns of the plot. Unfortunately this one didn't quite match up to my previous experience of Jo Nesbo's work.

A young woman is found murdered in her flat with no apparent motive or suspects, and bizarrely, a tiny, red, star-shaped diamond is found planted behind one of her eyelids. Harry Hole is lying at home in a drunken stupor in a puddle of his own self-loathing and vomit, having to all intents and purposes lost his job - he's just waiting for the big boss to sign his dismissal papers on the dotted line. However, it's the summer holidays and the department is short-staffed, so his Chief Inspector gives him a ring and orders him to take on the case (!) until his expulsion from the force is a done deal.

This one wasn't for me, I'm afraid. There were too many implausible details and I couldn't find myself invested in the plot. The fact that Harry's boss would have him working in such a state, that his stunning girlfriend would take him back and place such a loose cannon in charge of her little boy - it just didn't ring true. At one particularly charged moment, during a face-off with the perpetrator, Harry actually falls asleep (that is, if I understood the scene properly, which I think I did)! He's just in a really bad place and isn't a particularly fun protagonist to spend time with.

So now that's one real winner of a thriller from Jo Nesbo and one that didn't hit the mark for me. I'll definitely be trying another to see what I make of it. What's your favourite of the Harry Hole series?

"The Japanese Stieg Larsson"
The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino

Yasuko is a single mother living a quiet yet happy life since escaping from an abusive relationship some years ago. But when her ex-husband turns up on her doorstep without warning, her peace is shattered. She is forced to defend herself and her daughter, and the situation escalates and takes a terrible turn. Assistance unexpectedly arrives in the form of Yasuko's neighbour Ishigami, a reserved maths professor who provides her with an alibi and helps her to hide the body. It seems his genius logic has got them out of some very hot water indeed. Unfortunately, Ishigami doesn't realise that the police have a very useful friend on their side - Manabu Yukawa, outstanding physicist, and at one time the only student in their class who could match Ishigami's intellect.

This book can be summed up by a question Yukawa asks Ishigami over a discussion about their love of maths and puzzles:
"Which is harder; devising an unsolvable problem, or solving that problem?"
This is the essence of the story - we know that Ishigami has come up with some ingenious way of covering his tracks but have no idea how he could possibly have done it. The excitement comes in watching the police stumble in ever decreasing circles around their suspects and wondering if they will ever be able to work out the solution. It's a howdunnit rather than a whodunnit or even a whydunnit. I had no idea how it would end and didn't even know how I wanted it to end or whose side I should be on. Ishigami is such a complex character - I had such admiration for his amazing mind but at the same time his cold detachment from the crime and his intense feelings towards Yasuko were very sinister.

I found this book to be similar to Stieg Larsson's work in almost no way at all! The only comparison I can draw is that they have both apparently sold huge numbers of copies in their countries of origin. The Devotion of Suspect X is deliciously slow-paced and very much a police procedural, concentrating almost entirely on the intricacies of problem-solving rather than thrills and action. I believe this is part of a 'Detective Galileo' series featuring Professor Yukawa, which I would be interested to read, however, for me Ishigami was definitely the star of this show.


  1. I am totally with you on the irritation with books that say "if you like Stieg Larsson", etc. Whenever I see comparisons to another writer like that, I am pretty sure it is not true.

    I liked the Millenium series less than you did but I did read every page and wanted to know how it ended, so that speaks well for it. I could have done with about 200 less pages per book.

    I have not read Devotion of Suspect X but I am looking forward to doing so. My husband read it and liked it a lot. Glad you reviewed it and liked it.

    1. I really enjoyed Suspect X and I think you will like it - it's quite a unique take on the crime novel.

  2. Oh dear. Like Tracy, I agree about the Steig Larsson comparisons. But I do like Jo Nesbo. But I do appreciate that he's not to everyone's taste!

    1. So which ones would you recommend? As things stand, I'm currently on the fence where Nesbo's concerned, having loved one and not enjoyed another.

  3. I think it's a real shame when novels get compared to other novels in the same genre. It just gives you false expectations and is definitely very lazy marketing. I don't mind somebody saying to me 'if you like DuMaurier, you'll like Donna Tart' for example but don't use it as your incentive to buy. I always end up comparing the two when I read when this tactic has been used and then it sort of makes me feel annoyed when they're actually not comparable at all - it makes me feel like I've bought under false pretenses. I want to buy the book on it's own merit.
    Lynn :D

    1. Absolutely! I agree - sometimes, having a book compared to something else can make you enjoy it less than you would had you approached it with no preconceptions.