Implausible consensual sex: While the rape scenes are, sadly, all too believable, the sex lives of Blomkvist and Salander read like pure fantasy. He openly sleeps with a woman he's investigating in book one; a secret service agent who's investigating him in book three; Salander, briefly; and a married co-worker steadily - her husband doesn't mind because he's bisexual and gets around too. Salander has S&M sex with lesbians, spontaneous sex with Blomkvist and perfunctory sex with various stunned men she marches into her bedroom as needed.
All this passes for normal behaviour in permissive Sweden, and so it should, but the all-round open-mindedness defies belief for us puritanical North Americans.
Basic subject matter: Mr. Larsson obviously didn't get the memo that journalism is dead and thrillers need wall-to-wall action. Guns, violence and the occasional motorcycle going slightly over the speed limit on a sunny afternoon are all present, but the bulk of the "action" consists of a flat-chested goth girl and a schlubby middle-aged hack tapping away at their respective computers and sending each other long emails.
Unattractive Swedish people: The actors in the Millennium movies look exactly the way we imagine from the books - i.e., normal, i.e., distinctly unattractive by Hollywood standards (with the exception of the exotically beautiful Noomi Rapace who plays Salander).
THE DELICIOUS REASONS TO ADORE THESE THRILLERS
Unattractive Swedish people: There's never been a heroine quite like Lisbeth Salander. The world of Scandinavian corruption feels equally foreign, which is the main reason the Swedish movies work so brilliantly sans well-known, gorgeous stars. We're in a whole new world here. Perhaps the Hollywood version will succeed, the way State of Play with Russell Crowe attracted more viewers than the vastly superior original British mini-series.
Just announced this week is the casting of Daniel Craig (a.k.a. James Bond) as the books' hero, Blomkvist, in a Hollywood remake of the original Swedish movie, which can't but help to amp up the lust factor. Mr. Craig, with his weatherbeaten looks and watery blue eyes at least approaches what a middle-aged Swedish lothario might look like. Noomi Rapace's Salander will be hard to beat.
It's fun to hate Sweden: Perverts, pigs, sadists, men at all levels of society who hate women - looks like holier-than-thou Sweden's social democrat paradise didn't work out so well after all. Mr. Larsson detested generalizations about any group, and was careful to target individuals in both his journalism and his fiction. But as his companion of 32 years, Eva Gabrielsson, told one British newspaper after his death, the "veil of naivety about a dream-castle country fell with a bang, not with a whimper."
The soothing effects of mind-numbing detail: Readers have diagnosed the seemingly unemotional Salander as having Asperger's or autism. But it's Salander's creator, Stieg Larsson, who can't get through a single page of relentlessly chronological prose without cataloguing his characters' every gesture, along with specific references to items they put on, take off, touch, buy or eat.
The coffee-coffee-coffee chorus becomes the literary equivalent of flicking a light switch on and off. What makes it work is the integrity of his voice. He sincerely, consistently believes it's all important, and so, therefore, do we.
The comfort of moral certitude: It makes sense that Mr. Larsson was also interested in writing science fiction, the last bastion of the righteous moralist. There are no grey areas in the Millennium trilogy, no redemption for the wicked. Just innocent victims and their evil tormenters, who get what they deserve, in excruciating detail - ( spoiler alert) from the retaliatory torture Salander inflicts on her rapist Nils Bjurman in book one to the orgy of vindication during the courtroom scenes with Peter Teleborian in book three.
Vengeful record-keeping: It's revenge-fantasy porn for anyone who's ever obsessed about what they'd say to an ex-boss, ex-lover or anyone else who's injured them - an insanely detailed record of every slight, followed by the abject humiliation of the offender who is proven to be guilty on all counts. Heaven.
Someone, somewhere might want to debate whether the books constitute high art or guilty pleasure. In the meantime, 40 million people are simply taking them home, no questions asked.
With a report from Zosia Bielski