The Grocer’s Son, the Baker’s Daughter, and the Shoemaker’s Son.
Who is Kalle? He’s a detective. In the tradition of the Hardy Boys or Encyclopedia Brown, he spends much of his time trying to solve mysteries. Lindgren was briefly a secretary during WW II for Harry Soderman, head of Sweden’s National Library of Forensic Science, and used this experience as the basis for Kalle’s criminal investigations. Kalle would appear in three books Mästerdetektiven Blomkvist (1946), Mästerdetektiven Blomkvist lever farligt (1951), Kalle Blomkvist och Rasmus (1953). They came to America as Bill Bergson, Master Detective, Bill Bergson Lives Dangerously, & Bill Bergson and the White Rose Rescue. Despite being out of print, they are all available through libraries or Interlibrary Loan. It is too bad that despite Lindgren’s enduring popularity, it is so difficult to obtain them, but trust me, they’re worth it.
So who is Bill Bergson? He is a 13-year-old who lives in a small town in Sweden (it’s actually called “Littletown”). He desperately longs to be a detective, and spends much of his day investigating events and suspects. Sadly, there are few Master Criminals who seem to live in the town. Much of his time is spent with his best friends Anders and Eva-Lotta (the “White Roses”), whom both boys vow to someday marry. The trio does what any other thirteen year olds do in small towns, they try to keep from being bored. They put on a circus show for the town, they explore the abandoned castle, and they stage epic “mock” warfare with their rivals, the Red Roses.All this probably sounds old-fashioned, and it is old-fashioned in the same way Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys are. Unlike those mysteries, Lindgren is a much better writer. She’s not writing to formula here, and there are enough suspenseful elements to keep readers excited. Master Detective begins when Eva-Lotta’s mysterious uncle drops in unexpectedly, rousing Bill’s suspicions. Why does he have a lock pick? Why is he sneaking out at night? Why is he so interested in the local crime news? Although the ending is easy to guess, there are car chases, stolen jewels, shoot-outs, daring midnight raids, and crumbling ruins to be explored all before we get there. Lives Dangerouslyy continues the trio’s adventures. Bill is now older and a success after his last adventure. During one of their friendly battles with the Red Roses, Eva-Lotta finds a mysterious I.O.U., which leads the trio on another adventure. The White Rose Rescue beggins with the dramatic kidnapping of an important scientist and his son. Eva-Lota takes center stage as she bravely (and voluntarily) is kidnapped to, in a desperate attempt to save the boy. Larson may have been playing homage to Eva-Lotta Lissander’s courage when he named his protagonist “Salander;” the two characters are both brave, smart and tough.
I mentioned the old-fashioned quality of the books, and it’s worth mentioning that Bill walks around with a pipe (though he never smokes). they play games like “Injuns and Palefaces,” there is a “loveable town drunk,” all which seem strange to our modern ears. It’s interesting to think if those parts would/should be edited out if they were re-printed.
Despite their “Datedness,” they have lost none of their appeal to charm and thrill. Unlike Harry Potter, Bill and his friends are rather ordinary children without special powers. Unlike the Hardy’s, his dad is a Grocer, not a detective; Ander’s and Eva-Lotta’s parents are baker’s and shoemaker’s respectively. Bill’s situation is one that every teenager can still relate to. He has everyday frustrations, feels misunderstood both by his friends and adults. As Bill says, “No one wanted to believe that you could do anything when you were only thirteen years old” (Master Detective).
So who is Kalle Blomkvist? Who is Bill Bergson? He is that curious boy who Steig Larssen fondly remembers both reading and being. Mikael Blomkvist may appear insulted whenever he’s called “Kalle,” but I think both he and Steig think of it affectionately. Kalle/Bill was a young boy who had thrilling adventures in his small town because he wanted to find the truth. And finding the truth, learning about friendship, figuring out how you fit into the world, those are mysteries that should never go out of fashion.
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In two weeks the Looking Glass will be back, this time with an author who is a little easier to find. In fact you may have even read one of them….she’s from Wisconsin… and she tells Mysteries…