Long before Salander and Blomkvist, another pair of eccentric sleuths came to life in Dorothy Dunnett’s series about the seagoing, bifocal-wearing British painter-spy Johnson Johnson and his yacht, Dolly.
His undercover adventures are chronicled in seven books that have the energy of swinging London even in their titles. From Dolly and the Cookie Bird to Dolly and the Doctor Bird, the “birds” are sometimes villains, sometimes victims, and all as quirky as Jay himself.
But it is in Dolly and the Bird of Paradise (1984) that she created a co-detective who’s a precourser to Larsen’s hacker, Lisbeth.
Rita Geddes is “small, tough, Scotch.” She wears a Mohawk, tiger stripes her face, is tiny and thin, and was rejected as stupid by her father and teachers because she’s dyslexic, though she’s in fact more savvy than most. Sound familiar?
The word-blind Rita has become a world-class makeup artist who works both in special effects and for famous clients. It is her skill with makeup that entangles her with Johnson as he recovers from mysterious injuries in his London flat.
When her mentor dies, everyone but Rita believes it’s suicide, and her quest to catch the killer takes her onboard Dolly in the Caribbean for a finale involving a hurricane and an active volcano.
In a final parallel, the resolution reveals a giant family secret that changes how everyone sees her.
Just read it.