PUBLISHED IN: San Francisco Chronicle. Radio New Zealnd's "IT Guy in San Francisco." Former editor in chief of Ski Press Canada and Ski Press USA. Magazines include Geo; Destinations; Diversion; plus inflight and AAA publications. Leading newspapers in the U.S. and abroad. Former humor columnist for TWA and commentator on Vermont Public Radio.
SPECIALTIES: Skiing; adventure; food; humor; northern New England; San Francisco Bay area; New Zealand; Canada; South Florida; the Caribbean and anywhere there’s a hill with snow on it. Crime-fiction savvy.
BOOKS: Most recent is SNOWMOBILE: BOMBARDIER'S DREAM MACHINE. Others include Backroad & Offroad Biking; PIG, COW and Ice Cream. Authored five books for adults and roughly 25 for children. YouTube videographer. iPhone app creator.
AWARDS: 2013 Mitch Kaplan Award for dedication to snowsports journalism. 2010 winner Canada's Northern Lights Award, Internet Writing.
Five- time winner of the Harold S. Hirsch Award, North American Snowsports Association for excellence in snowsports writing.
Kroepsch-Maurice Award for Excellence in Teaching from the University of Vermont.
New Zealand Psychological Society Award for Contribution of Psychology to New Zealand Society.
Co-winner with Effin Older of the 1995 Grand Prize and Best Resort & Travel Production, International Ski Film Festival.
“Good Guy of the Month” by the inmates of New Zealand’s Women’s Prison.
Lisbeth's Older Sister
by Jules Older
I was halfway through The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, the final book of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, when the realization struck.
Lisbeth Salander wasn't the first young, quirky, smart female heroine of a wildly popular Scandinavian crime novel. Damn — I've been down this snowy road before!
So, who was first?
No, not Hedda Gabler. Not Sonja Henie. Not Garbo or the woman in that Munch painting, The Scream.
The first was one Smilla Qaaviqaaq Jaspersen, the title-role protagonist of Peter Hoeg’s 1992 crime novel, Smilla’s Sense of Snow.
Like Lisbeth, Smilla is an outsider; she spent her early years in the wilds of Greenland before being brought to Copenhagen. Both women are extremely smart: Lisbeth a computer savant with a photographic memory and Smilla a scientific researcher. Both are dogged in their pursuits of crime. Both have affairs… well, Lisbeth has affairs with nearly everybody whom she's not planning to destroy. And both are half Scandinavian: Smilla a mix of Inuit and Danish; Lisbeth, Russian and Swedish.
But none of this is what grabbed me halfway through Hornet’s Nest.
No, it was their shared relationship to Scandinavian society — and the problem this creates for North American readers.
Most of us think of Denmark and Sweden as quintessential elements of the People’s Paradise that is Scandinavia. Cradle-to-grave health care. Enlightened governments. Concerned citizens, healthy, active, honest and blonde. Perfect.
Yet in both books, as I realized halfway through Hornet’s Nest, the real villain isn’t some psychopathic fiend (though they aren't in short supply either) but the government, the power structure, the businessmen, the authorities, the police and/or security forces.
The real villains? Denmark and Sweden are the villains.
That’s a problem for us North Americans. As I said to the Vermont book group I was leading about Smilla, “New Jersey, sure. Las Vegas, fine. Sicily, no problemo. But it’s a little hard to picture all this official evil in Denmark.”
When I saw the same thing in Larsson’s books as I had in Hoeg’s, I knew I was in over my head. So I asked Swedish journalist and editor (and Lifeguard) Lena Höglund to help me make sense of all this. Here's what she had to say:
You are right that Swedish people in my generation and older all were raised in an atmosphere that told us that the state always did the right thing and always worked to protect us, while other Europeans, Italians for example, have a tradition of never trusting a public institution. So maybe it was very challenging for these Scandinavian authors to break a taboo like this. On the other hand: the scenario where the state is the worst enemy is everywhere in crime literature I think. So they might have just followed the common pattern.
Oh, and who’s the better author, Hoeg or Larsson?
No contest. Hoeg runs out of story halfway through Smilla and has to resort to less and less likely plots to keep his plot going. Larsson perches you on the edge of your seat from the beginning of the first novel to the end of the third. And Larsson has a sense of humor.
Ah, but which one did the critics favor? Hoeg. They went wild for him. The New Yorker even favorably compared him to Melville and Conrad.