No less significant is Larsson’s treatment of the role money plays in the profession. Journalists, few people understand, are awfully poorly paid. Blomkvist lives on junk food, coffee, and cigarettes, with virtually no creature comforts. The freelancer who is murdered for the information he stumbles upon can only afford a secondhand laptop. Larsson is also the first storyteller in any medium I have ever encountered who has an editor attempt to balance the monetary cost of a story against its societal value, something that has been the bane of this journalist’s career but rarely merits a mention in journalism-based entertainment. (Like Woody Allen’s infuriatingly magnificent on-screen apartments, the Hollywood version of the journalist almost always enjoys an unlimited expense account.) “Blomkvist had blown 150,000 kroner on the Salander story,” complains the magazine’s acting managing editor even though it’s a story upon which the capture of myriad murderers—to say nothing of the future of the nation’s democracy—may well depend.

In many respects, these details are peripheral to the story of Salander’s struggle against the murderously evil genius she is battling. As with most entries in this genre, the blood and guts—and the suspense that accompanies them—are what keep things moving and the reader riveted. And of course the dramatic details of Larsson’s life, death, and afterlife have kept the world’s attention focused on the author himself, as well as on his warring partner, Eva Gabrielsson, and (now extremely wealthy) father and brother, and the distribution of the avalanche of proceeds from his estate. But nowhere have I seen anyone argue for the books’ value as illustrations of both the difficulties and the importance of the journalistic profession.

After all, without Blomkvist, the (really) bad guys would win. Good people would be destroyed; bad people would get away with murder. Swedish democracy would be compromised quite possibly beyond redemption. (The internal debate Blomkvist undertakes when deciding to what degree it is proper to cooperate with Swedish authorities both to punish the bad guys and to save his country’s soul is among the most sophisticated and compelling treatments of this issue I’ve seen anywhere.)

Part of the problem, of course, is that newspapers rarely pay attention to books anymore. The New York Times is the only paper that still publishes a stand-alone book review section, and fewer and fewer papers devote any daily space to even a single review. (In late July, the Los Angeles Times laid off every one of its already freelance book reviewers and columnists, leaving the job to just four remaining staffers.) This ongoing dereliction of duty when it comes to the world of literature might explain why no editor has so far tried to exploit Larsson’s magnificent posthumous achievement for the potential propaganda goldmine it contains. They are too busy touching up their résumés.


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Eric Alterman is distinguished professor of English and journalism at Brooklyn College and the CUNY School of Journalism. He is also a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a columnist for The Nation and the Forward. His most recent book is The Cause: The Fight for American Liberalism from Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama.