Saturday, September 22, 2012


Beating Up on the Dead

I just finished the late Stieg Larson's The Girl Who Played with Fire which I was eager to read after finishing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo last week, which I was eager to read because I so liked the American movie version of it (especially the part from when she borrows the money from Daniel Craig until she pays him back--that is film-making of the highest order). I haven't seen the Swedish versions but I hear they are good too. Some say better.

Brief criticism of the first book ... Dragon Tattoo: If someone is sending you the same framed pressed flowers that your missing niece sent you before she went missing, it's much more rational to think that she's alive than to think her uncaught killer is torturing you psychologically. Rational and right. The book starts off with a stumble but doesn't seem to miss a step afterwards.

...with Fire is not quite as good but it certainly was a more compelling read as I had not seen it as a faithfully rendered movie. Here's the rub:

Stieg doesn't seem to know sh*t about guns and bullets. Let's start with the first firearm stumble, shall we.

He writes in Chapter 11 (on page 218 of my paperback) that:

"Bloomkvist thought it looked like a Colt .45 Magnum--the  kind of weapon used to murder Olof Palme.*"

First, there is no such thing as a Colt .45 Magnum. There is a Colt .45 (the 1911), but saying a Colt .45 is often shorthand for a number of pistols using .45 APC (Automatic Colt Pistol), a round designed in 1904 by gun genius John Moses Browning. It's a cartridge with a big heavy bullet with lots of powder behind it, a real man-stopper. There was no need to make it a Magnum and it's not. The .357 Magnum, developed in the 30's, is a more powerful round actually, in foot pounds, but it's not thought to be as deadly (because the diameter of the bullet is not as wide as Browning's bullet and so the transfer of the foot pounds to flesh and bone, and the resulting wound channel, is not as bad in the .357 Magnum). You don't want to get hit by either round.

Second, no one knows what sort of weapon was used to kill Prime Minister Palme in 1986. The gun was never recovered, nor were any shell casings. The bullets were determined to be .357 Magnums, but a lot of guns shoot .357 Magnum, not just a Colt not-a-.45 Magnum, like the Python. They assume it was a revolver and not an automatic because no casings were recovered and no one who witnessed it talked about the gunman reaching down to recover shell casings. The case remains unsolved because after convicting someone for the assassination, the appeals court freed him in that goofy appeal/second trial European jurists seem to be so fond of. Moving on.

On my page 239 (Chapter 13) the otherwise admirable Inspector Bublanski says:

"A Colt Magnum is a damned cowboy pistol that ought to be banned outright."


Then there's the interminable misinformation about "hunting ammunition." Larson writes, starting on page 240:

There are two types of ammunition: Hard, full-metal jacketed bullets that go straight through the body and cause comparatively modest damage, and soft ammunition that expands in the body on impact and does enormous damage...The latter type is called hunting ammunition, and its objective is to cause massive bleeding. It is considered more humane when hunting moose, since the aim is to put the prey down as quickly and as painlessly as possible. But hunting ammunition is forbidden for use in war by international law...

The real problem here is the switch from pistol rounds to hunting moose (which we would call elk, don't ask) which would almost never be done with pistol rounds. Of course military rounds are supposed to be full metal jacket for supposedly humane reasons (see here) but we use soft point or hollow point rifle rounds to kill game humanely (the opposite of what is considered humane for humans, don't ask).  We use hollow point pistol rounds to kill people quickly (for self defense) but we don't hunt people and we don't call hollow point ammunition "hunting ammunition." We don't hunt with pistol rounds (at least not the smaller caliber ones Stieg mentions in the ellipsis of the quote above). We American gun nuts do not call hollow point pistol bullets "hunting ammunition." I don't believe anyone actually does.

Near the start of Chapter 24, beginning on page 451, Lisbeth is torturing someone for information and has found the victim's (a bad guy) Colt 1911 Government. Better. But then the she menaces him with it and "... she took out the magazine and filled it with rounds. She shoved it back in and cocked the weapon."

OK. He's talking not about a revolver but an automatic. Once the cartridges are in the removable box magazine, and the magazine is inserted into the handle of the pistol, the slide must be pulled back manually and released to seat the top round of the magazine into the chamber, ready to fire. Racking back the slide automatically cocks the weapon (pushes back the hammer to the firing position). We call that "chambering a round" and it is different from cocking the hammer, that is, pulling it back to click into ready-to-fire full cock. (We needn't get into half cock here). Lisabeth does not create a pistol she could fire with the described actions. I doubt that was her intention.

It's a small mis-step but we in the know notice and wonder, what else did he get wrong?

Later, near the climax, on page 593, Larson gets it exactly right,

...she took out Nieminen's Polish P-83 Wanad. She ejected the magazine and checked that nothing was blocking the bolt or the bore. She did a blind fire. She had six rounds of 9 mm Makarov. That should be enough. She shoved the magazine back in place and chambered a round. (Emphasis added).

See, that wasn't so hard, was it? We call pulling the trigger on an empty chamber a "dry fire" but I don't know what they say in Sweden. She should have made sure the chamber was empty with a visual inspection before she dry fired. Removing the magazine does nothing to any round already in the chamber, as Terry Kath found out.

There's a minor mistake about the number of rounds the rare and useless 1911 chambered in 9 mm carries, but I'll stop quibbling.

I'll finish with her reaction to her wounds. She is hit three times--the first hits her in the hip and spins her off balance but she feels no pain. OK. The second causes her paralyzing pain and the third round hits her in the head and takes her out (sorry for the spoiler--get over it). But she's shot with a .22. I've been shot with a .22 and there is no spinning and no pain. Bobby Kennedy was shot with a .22 in the head and he spoke for a while and died almost a full day later.

I'm just saying, I'm not buying it.

Really sorry for the spoiler.

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