The Girl Who Played With Fire by Steig Larson read by Simon Vance

Quiet, patient, relentless intelligence spills over the pages of this story about a girl geek, a journalist, a news magazine devoted to the critique of corrupt Swedish institutions, and an odd assemblage of  Stockholm’s thugs, bureaucrats, intellectuals, and cops.   None are verbose. Men and women think. Thinking happens without talk, without sounds, without annunciation. It is sometimes   signaled  by cigarettes. Sometimes by a  walk.   Much goes unsaid, and unshared.

All the good guys use Macs. Some of them smoke.  The geek uses a powerbook, the journalist a Mac ibook, the magazine editor  an Airbook. The geekgirl (Salander) is  skinny,  occasionally violent,  abnormally intelligent, obsessively private. She does not emote; she enjoys:  mathematics, sex, hacking.  She has  lesbian girlfriends, bank accounts in the Canary Islands, lawyers in Gibraltar, and a local accountant. She buys a 2.5 million kroner flat with a view and decorates it in one day of shopping in Ikea,   for a total of 97,000 kroner.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larson read by Simon Vance

“Salander was not a normal person.” Bandied about from one institution to another,  she has a casebook full of entries written by social workers, psychiatrists, administrators: serious Swedish officials. Because she does not speak, she is assumed to be stupid. She is not. Because she looks too young, she is assumed to be innocent. She is not. She is a child of the institution, its data and its archives, and she is at home among data, at home with texts. She rents her mother’s old flat, somewhere in Stockholm, and feeds herself like a latchkey child: thick bread sandwiches with cheese and liverwurst. She is contracted by a security firm to find confidential information and report it, piecemeal. One day she is assigned a case.

Inside the Red Mansion by Oliver August read by Simon Vance

Oliver August, correspondent for the Times of London in China is learning Chinese. His teacher asks him what Oliver means. Oliver responds: ‘Since a man that works on a farm was a farmer, a man who harvested olives was an Oliver’. His teacher then couples two radicals – olive (gan) and farmer ( no ). The 26 year old reporter is thereafter laughingly referred to as Farmer.

“Nobody in their right minds called themselves a farmer. Millions are fleeing the land to become city dwellers, to partake in the industrial revolution, to become richer. When I introduced myself people guffawed to each other. A foreign farmer has come to our China… !”

Oliver August is a sieve of a China in transformation from below. We get the language, the images, the words, the emotions, the slogans, the mixture of groundlessness and lawlessness, the sense that a Chinese being can rely neither on the earth nor on the sky for his limits. “Modern China was a magic mirror: you could see whatever you wanted to see…,” writes Oliver.

The country was both free and oppressed, at once anarchic and authoritarian, totally chaotic yet highly regulated.

Lai Changxing is an emblem of this new country; hence his is the story tracked by Oliver.
But alongside the story of the legendary Lai, a rogue reminiscent of America’s 19th century captains of industry, Oliver gives us the gossip, the rumours, the news. And the only way to report this news is “to get out and report what you saw yourself,” in sideways glances, from overnight trains, from hired cars driven by monks, from the streets and the restaurants…

But still more, Oliver gives us economics, politics, philosophy. Not cut and pasted out of wikipedia but lovely, incisive, pieces of thought, fresh from the sea, still smelling of fish.

The more China modernizes the more ravenous its appetite for the past becomes….

These wealthy Chinese who finally thought it safe to return from abroad “were known as sea-turtles who had finally brought home their nest eggs…”

A myo tan low is a building that scratches the sky…

A big-faced building iDam yam zi dasha is a building that gives the owner a lot of face…

The Chameleon’s Shadow by Minette Walters read by Simon Vance

Forget Harley Street. The latest design in shrinks is a six foot 250 pound lesbian weight lifter who runs a pub with her bosomy girlfriend, and offers bed, morning after breakfast, and laundry service. This is what the 21st century male patient wants: a powerful, intuitive M.D. who can hoist him effortlessly over her shoulder, tuck him into bed without sexual threat or expectation, wash the blood off his shirt and serve up bacon and egg for breakfast.

Such a shrink, and only such a shrink can handle what the Iraq, the national health service and the Metropolitan police have brewed in ex-Lieutenant Charles Acland, now of London, hateful and harijan: untouchable.