Based on a true story (kinda, but not really). An article in The New York Times reported that Earl Stone, aged 90, had been convicted for transporting drugs for a Mexican cartel. If Earl Stone had been aged 30 or 40, or even 50, there’d be no story. The story is in his age. He was just doing what a man gotta do.
You have, for example, Brian Cox leaving the Scottish islands and chasing Patricia Arquette in Rory’s Way. This is meant to be a wry look at getting older and the aging process.
Anne Reid getting up to the naughty with a bearded (James Bond) Daniel Craig in The Mother.
Glenn Close, The Wife, standing behind her man, who is not much of a man and more of a meme dictionary with nice hair.
King of Thieves, The Hatton Garden job pulled off by old codgers Michael Caine, Tom Courtney, Michael Gambon, Charlie Cox, Jim Broadbent, Paul Whitehouse and Ray Winston.
Going in Style, a remake of a heist movie also starring Michael Caine. Morgan Freeman is the lead, as he’s always going to be. The premise of the movie is familiar. Like Clint Eastwood’s The Mule, old age brings with it baggage and no pension pot. Make my day, becomes make my pension please, or we’ll take it anyway. But, of course, they’d never hurt anyone in the taking. They’d be kind and courteous. Christopher Lloyd brings an aged geeky angle and the glamour comes from a youthful looking Ann-Margret (remember her?)
It’s not difficult to get Clint Eastwood to look ninety. He just looks like he always did. But older, when younger. Then, of course, there are the ladies. Just because Earl is ninety…girls a third of his age go for him…two at a time. Wow. Hmmmm. But he’s still loyal to his wife. Still a straight talker. He did the jobs for the best of reasons. He lost his business and home. His pal’s place burned down, but Earl provides. Earl always provides. That’s the moral of these stories. Everything goes to shit, but the old codgers see it out in Clint Eastwood style barking at the judge he’s guilty. Of course, he’s guilty, he’s Clint Eastwood protector of the faith.
My pet theory is that authors write the same book again and again, until they get it right (write). James Robertson writes about Scotland. No headline there. He always writes about Scotland. He can mix it up a bit with Saints, God and the Devil, but you know where you are with him.
Here we have an ensemble cast that takes us from Scotland in the 1950s to the mongrel breed of Scottish Devolution nobody much wanted, but we settled for. The book kicks off with Michael (Mike). He’s gay and a photographer, but not half the man his father, Angus, was. He was also a photographer, but better. It takes a lifetime to admit it, but Mike’s got there in the end. His dad seemed to have married his mum for spite. That, and she was beautiful. The conceit is Mike is arranging an exhibition of his father’s best memorial photographs.
His da’s lost love (one of many) Jean Barbour, keeps a room for Mike in her Edinburgh home. Everybody that is anybody goes to Jean Barbour’s, including Dufflecoat Dick. Jimmy Bond, who changed his name to Peter Bond, after another spy, Ian Fleming, brought a book about with its eponymous hero, James Bond.
Jimmy Bond is testing the waters for MI5. The London establishment can’t quite decide if Scotland is full of windbags or real revolutionaries. Oil in vast quantities, off the shores of Scotland, to a bankrupt Britain makes that a pressing question. Bond is good at snooping, lying low in the background, but Jean Barbour susses him out. He’s an alcoholic that has long and detailed conversations with himself. It’s in the same manner as some of Robertson’s other narrators had conversation with Saints or, in Gideon Mack’s case, the Devil. The demon drink, even if kept in check, answers back more than it should. Scotland might have flushed its heavy industries down the toilet, but there’s still something worth saving even in fictional towns like Drumkirk and Borlanslogie that are just over the hill, near Lothian. There’s a nod to The Great Disruption when members of the Kirk revolted about interference from their so-called betters about appointing ministers—which was surely—God’s work.
Don Lennie was thirty when he met Jack Gordon. In 1950, most able-bodied men had been in the armed services. Jack Gordon was a Japanese prisoner of war. That left a mark on him and he went walkabouts. Don stayed put, kept his job fixing lorries, and largely kept his mouth shut, about working conditions. He married his childhood sweetheart. They have two sons, but his youngest is nothing but trouble. His eldest boy is one he can be proud of. He hooks up with Jack Gordon’s daughter. The two of them school teachers and ban the bombers. Ticking in the background, the youngest son.
Then we have the aristocracy, washed up to be sure, but Michael Eddelstane has his father’s club in London and his father’s contacts, when Unionist meant not Union, but menial workers doing as you were told, while waving a flag for country and Queen. He’s got a sister, Lucy. She doesn’t understand how things work, and can easily be disinherited. And he’s got another brother, much like himself, but not as handsome and not as lucky. He doesn’t get to marry an heiress and inherit his father’s seat in the House of Commons. Michael has it all, but also that fatal flaw, and it’s not even booze or homosexuality (well, a bit of public school jiggery-pokery) or licking a woman’s toes as an Honourable MP for John Major’s government was found out by The Sun.
It’s not James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. Nor is it Nicola Sturgeon’s The Public Memoirs of SNP, but somewhere in between that heaven and hell. Scotland, aye.
When Mikael Blomkvist is holed up in cottage in the Vanger estate and can’t think he reads detective novels. I do that too. Hence The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (and the first 100 pages of The Girl Who Kicks the Hornets’ Nest). Blomkvist namechecks Val McDermid The Mermaids Singing and some other—to me—obscure Scandinavian detective novels. In short, Blomkvist was behaving like a real person. He was behaving like me, which might have been you. But who would play you in the film? The answer is Daniel Craig plays Blomkvist. (Roona Mara plays Lisbeth Salander) Larsson/Blomkvist was everyman with a mission, or two missions, or perhaps three books full of Millennium and another three, literally, ghost written.
The trial was already over, everything that could be said had been said, but he never doubted that he would lose. The written verdict was handed down at 10.00 on Friday morning, and all that remained was a summing-up from the reporters waiting on the corridor outside the district court.
Blomkvist had been found guilty, fined and he’s going to jail for three months. But he’s more worried about the Millennium magazine he’s set up to investigate corruption and big finance, which is often the same thing. He’s been accused of libel and defamation of the reputation of financier Hans Erik Wennerstrom. That’s a bit like defaming Sir Philip Nigel Ross Green special adviser to Prime Minister David Cameron. And conservatives really would be so outraged with the Swedish model of prison time. Blomkvist thought of it as therapeutic. Our Tory friends, of course, think that the hanging of a boy of thirteen-year-old for stealing a spoon in 1788 was too lenient, because he hadn’t been flogged properly first.
Stieg Larsson has a didactic element to his writing, which if often glossed over by his page-turning prose. Current concerns in the disunited United Kingdom that children are facing Christmas cooped up with their abusers, with the NSPCC charity receiving more than 31 000 calls since April, are matched by the author’s themes of incest and sexual abuse and eugenics of the Nazi variety in The Vanger Family. They are portrayed as old money, industrialists that made things and didn’t mind destroying people in the process. But not all of them. Christopher Plummer plays the eighty-two-year-old patriarch Henrik Vanger in the film of the same name, he’s that nice kind of Teutonic fellow that worries about worker redundancies. And for the last 40 years he’s been receiving a framed and pressed flower, with a note to mark the disappearance of his niece Harriet. He believes someone is his family has murdered her. All police leads have ended in failure. He hires Blomkvist, ostensibly to write a family history, to look for new leads of what happened on the day of her disappearance. But he doesn’t hold out much hope.
Blomkvist says because it’s an island, it’s a bit like an Agatha Christie closed-room whodunnit in the Vanger family, but then discounts the idea. But that’s exactly what this long-winding book is.
Larsson makes misogynistic abuse plain. Part 1, for example, tells the reader, 18% of the women in Sweden have at one time been threatened by a man. Part 2, 46% of the women in Sweden have been subjected to violence by a man. Part 3, 13% of the women in Sweden have been subjected to aggravated sexual assault outside a sexual relationship. 92% of Women in Sweden who have been subjected to sexual assault have not reported the most recent violent incident to the police. Here in Britain the Independent Monitor for the Press, Femicide Census, reported that a woman is currently being killed by a man every three days. Larsson, before his death, was outing not just a Scandinavian, but a British and, arguably, universal pattern.
Larsson’s revenge was the creation of the iconic Lisbeth Salander. While journalist Blomkvist experiences middle-class angst of where his next story will be coming from, Salander is the outsider’s outsider. She’s four-foot-eleven, twenty four, but looks like a beautiful fifteen-year-old waif and every minute is a battle for survival. Her battle with a bureaucracy designed to help her is of the deadly variety. Her social worker a sadistic predator that orally and anally rapes her. Larsson flips to his point of view as he muses that she’s better than a prostitute because he pays for her services with her own—state-funded—money.
Salander will get her revenge—she always does. She’s a hi-tech hacker, the best in Sweden, and she has a photographic memory. Blomkvist muses that she suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, but they become lovers as they unravel the mystery of what happened to Harriet Vanger and other mutilated and abused women. Salander is the equaliser that’s not going to let powerful men get away with it.
Salander, ironically, becomes part of capitalist branding like our aging James Bond. She becomes not a character, but a sexy Japanese Anamie figure that can be deployed in a number of situations and she’ll come out top girl.
In The Girl Who Kicks the Hornets’ Nest, for example, she’s been shot in the head by her father and buried in a shallow grave by her half-brother who is built like ‘a brick shithouse’. Because of a genetic condition, her half-brother feels no pain. He’s superhuman and a psychopathic murderer. He disarms two armed cops, kills one of them and steals their car, yet she takes him down. She has internal injuries to her leg and…well, you get the drift. Bad thing happen. Bad things happen to her. But it makes her stronger. More of a brand name. Watch the movie, save yourself time.