Murder & Mayhem

larsson-dexterNo, I haven’t turned into a speed reader. Pairing two books in a single blog post simply means I haven’t had as much time as I’d like to keep my blog current.

But let’s say that after reading a splendid memoir by Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, I was in the mood for something different.

Different is what I got in reading two crime novels back to back: Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” followed by Pete Dexter’s “Brotherly Love.

Both books have been around a while. And both delivered big-time in providing page-turning drama and memorable characters. If I had to choose between the two, I’d give the nod to “Brotherly Love” for its spare writing, inexorable tension and pitch-perfect dialogue, all wrapped up neatly in a gangster story of revenge, family ties and violence, both actual and implied.

***

“The Girl…” came out in Sweden in 2005, then in Great Britain and the United States in 2008, as part of a trilogy published after Larsson died of a heart attack in 2004 at age 50.

There was quite the buzz about it, too, especially after it was made into a movie starring Daniel Craig as investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist and Rooney Mara as his unlikely partner, the quirky tattooed punk detective Lisbeth Salander. I haven’t seen the movie, but if it’s anything like the novel, I’m sure it makes for scintillating watching.

Stieg Larsson

Stieg Larsson

The book is nearly 600 pages – twice as long as “Brotherly Love” – and it does seem maybe 10 percent too long. But, wow, I was impressed with the intricacy of the plot. Larsson weaves a complicated tale of a disgraced journalist who is hired by an aging businessman to investigate the unsolved murder of a beloved niece – who may have been killed by a family member. Blomkvist uses all his wits and investigative skills as he teams up with Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo, to delve into the past of a dysfunctional family living in a remote, bitterly cold town far north of Stockholm.

The story is chilling, downright creepy and a little too techie at times, but overall a fascinating read that makes me want to tackle “The Girl Who Played With Fire” – most likely sometime next year.

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“Brotherly Love,” published in 1991, is the fourth of seven novels by Pete Dexter, a former newspaper columnist (Philadelphia Daily News, The Sacramento Bee) who later became a novelist and screenwriter. He won the National Book Award for Fiction for “Paris Trout” (1988) and also authored “Deadwood” (1986) and “Mulholland Falls” (1996).

Pete Dexter

Pete Dexter

In “Brotherly Love,” Dexter recreates the 1960s and ’70s world of Irish and Italian gangsters fighting for control over union pension funds in Philadelphia. The story pivots around two cousins, Peter and Michael Flood, one orphaned at a young age and just trying to get by, the other drawn to violence and the ways of the mob.

Michael spends a lot of time trying to settle old scores and isn’t shy about taking what he wants – money, material things, a friend’s wife. Peter, meanwhile, is torn by guilt over the death of his younger sister, and strives to stay free of the mob life embraced by both his union boss father and his uncle, Michael’s father.

If you like Elmore Leonard, you’d probably like “Brotherly Love” for its grit and authenticity in depicting the seedy underbelly of old-school gangsters. Michael’s determination to exact retribution for perceived wrongs, whether big or small, is particularly horrifying.

So, yes, 864 pages of murder and mayhem. Two excellent books.

Larsson photo: bullybloggers.wordpress.com

Dexter photo: Dian Dexter, courtesy of the Washington Post.

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