Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Why Frank Kane is better than Stieg Larsson

Frank Kane's 1955 novel Liz, newly rereleased by Stark House Press, is about a sexy, smart woman who kicks ass, takes revenge on sexual sadists, and has great breasts. Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its follow-ups are about a sexy, smart woman who kicks ass, takes revenge on sexual sadists, and acquires great breasts through surgery.

What are the differences between Kane's Liz Allen and Larsson's Lisbeth Salander, besides two syllables, three novels*, and 2,260 pages?  Liz does not pretend to be about big issues; at least one of Larsson's novels, on the other hand, feels compelled to include alarming statistics about violence against women as chapter epigraphs.  Why Larsson or his publishers chose to do this other than as a flagrant bid to have the book regarded as a thinking person's thriller, I don't know, but the following excerpt, typical of one strand of Larsson criticism, makes the point well:
"I lost count of the book reviews I read that basically went like this: HUZZAH FEMINIST STIEG LARSSON, FEMINIST PENNER OF FEMINIST THRILLERS FOR FEMINISTS LISBETH WHAT A BABE."
Larsson's detractors, that is, accuse him of wanting to have it both ways: to condemn violence against women while using that same violence to attract readers. Kane makes no such pretense; I suspect that sort of pandering was left to higher-brow authors in 1955.

Speaking of having it both ways, Salander is bisexual, which I think readers are meant to take as a sign that she is a complex, modern character, though the real reason may lie elsewhere. The discussion to which I link above notes the apparent breast fixation of Larsson's co-protagonist Mikael Blomkvist. Big tits and female bisexuality. Sound like any set of male fantasies you know?

Kane's Liz, on the other hand, endures then deflects a lesbian encounter with a mix of fascination and repulsion. It's a sexy scene, yes, but believable and utterly without self-congratulation or self-importance.
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Ed Gorman's blog reprints Robert J. Randisi's introduction to the Stark House reissue of Liz, which also includes Kane's Syndicate Girl.

* Including the post-Larsson novel due out in the U.S. in September

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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4 Comments:

Blogger Bill Crider said...

I gave up on the Salander novels after about 50 pages of the first one. Either the writing or the translation was not very good, and I didn't feel like struggling on. I never had that problem with Frank Kane.

July 08, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Funny you should say that because I was going to mention that the writing in Liz has a rough edge or two. The book might repeat the same phrase several time to describes a given situation, and in at least one place it uses the wrong word--diffuse for suffuse. I chalk this all up the publication conditions that prevailed in the world of paperback originals.

But this would not be a good basis for contrast with the Stieg Larsson books, whose prose style is not the smoothest. I don't blame the English translator; I just think Larsson died before he had a chance to figure out how to write novels. The grapevine has it that the first book in particular received little editing.

July 08, 2015  
Blogger Mack Lundy said...

I just read the first chapter of Liz. Nothing like starting with a punch to the gut and the promise that the punches will keep on coming. Thanks for writing about this. I needed instant gratification and got the Kindle edition.

July 09, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Mack: Liz gets to the point a lot ore quickly that the countless recent crime novels, not all of them from Scandinavia, that begin with a woman in similar circumstances.

July 09, 2015  

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