Stieg Larsson (1954-2004) is best known for the Millennium Trilogy of crime novels, beginning with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2005). He was also a short story writer and a journalist. Inspired by his grandfather. Larsson for years tracked and documented the activities of Sweden’s far-right and neo-Nazi groups, amassing and maintaining voluminous files.
In February, 1986, Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was walking home with his wife after seeing a movie in Stockholm when a lone gunman shot and killed him. The gunman also fired at Palme’s wife, but her slightly turning away caused the bullet to tear through her clothes and only leave powder burns. A massive investigation followed and continued for years, but the killer has never been identified or found.
Jan Stocklassa is a Swedish writer and journalist who was working on a story about how places involving crime scenes seem to have their own legend. He was studying at a luxury apartment in Stockholm that had been the scene of a triple murder in 1932, when he learned that the apartment had also been occupied in the 1980s by a couple once suspected in Palme’s assassination. That led him to the Palme investigation, and eventually he discovered that Stieg Larsson had also investigated the assassination as a reporter, and his research was included in a large file of documents.
Stocklassa found the documents. And Stocklassa, like Larsson, became riveted by the Palme story. And he learned that the story stretched from Stockholm to London, Cyprus, Prague, South Africa, and rural Sweden. The Man Who Played with Fire: Stieg Larsson’s Lost Files and the Hunt for an Assassin (translated by Tara Chace) tells that story. It’s the story of the Plame assassination, of shadowing groups and associations, and state security officers who were willing to do anything in the name of state security. And it is also the story of Stieg Larsson, a man almost obsessed with opposing far-right activities.
The story told by Stocklassa involves pseudonyms, strange telephone calls, a contact in Prague who decided she would come along for the investigatory ride, the confessions and amnesties after the fall of the apartheid regime in South Africa, hacking of Facebook conversations, surreptitious video and audio recordings and other borderline and not-so-borderline legal activities.
Stocklassa is based in Sweden and reports on international affairs. His first book, Caught by Prague (2007), dealt with corruption in Saab and British Aerospace’s plans to sell jetfighters to the Czech Republic. He’s also helped launch newspapers and has been a documentary film producer.
The Man Who Played with Fire keeps your eyebrows near your hairline, with shocks and surprises that seem to happen on almost every page. Stocklassa tells an exhaustingly detailed story, but by the end, you fairly certain of what happened to the Swedish prime minister.