I don’t know about you, but everybody in our immediate circle is raving about Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy. The abiding impression I’m being given is that a shining light in the genre of crime fiction wrote three amazing books, then died before he could see the impact of his work.
It’s perhaps arguable that Larsson’s trilogy shot to such heady heights because of his death and some smart marketing on the part of the publisher. Nevertheless, who are we to argue with the massive commercial success that the books have achieved recently?
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Some trivia: The novel was originally titled Men Who Hate Women.
The Plot: Mikael Blomkvist is a journalist and publisher recently convicted of libel. Blomlvist is part-owner of Millennium, a financial magazine that frequently exposes corporate malpractice. He withdraws from work to save the face of the publication, but receives a tempting offer from an industrialist called Henrik Vanger to write a history of his family. The real purpose of Vanger’s request is to have Blomkvist investigate a murder in the family that happened over 30 years ago.
Blomkvist begins investigating the events surrounding the girl’s disappearance – a collision on the bridge linking the nearby town to the island the Vanger family lived on. Midway through his investigation his story converges with that of Lisbeth Salander – a damaged young computer hacker whose story we’ve been following up to this point. The two begin working together to unravel the mystery and discover they’re a great team. However, there’s little room for rejoicing as it turns out that the murder may be linked to a still-active serial killer.
The review: It’s every bit as complex and gripping as the reviews suggest, but The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is actually quite slow to get started. Once the characters are established, however, things get a bit more interesting. But there’s a lot of ground to cover introducing us to Blomkvist, Millennium and Salander.
How could you not love a crusading journalist who eschews the sycophantic reporting style of his peers and instead prefers to expose corruption in industry? It’s clear form the outset that Blomkvist’s conviction is somewhat unjust, and Henrik Vanger plays on this when he makes his job offer – he promises Blomkvist that he’ll deliver the evidence against Hans Erik Wennerstrom that he needs to prove his original allegations.
The Vanger family is an extensive, mostly dislikeable bunch. There are plenty of suspects in the disappearance of young Harriet Vanger back in the 1960’s. And plenty of weird clues – like a framed pressed flower that arrives on Henrik Vanger’s birthday each year, and a series of telephone numbers that Harriet left behind.
Oh, there are flaws – I groaned when those cryptic telephone numbers turned out to be – yawn… – bible verses. Even the reveal was slightly contrived with Blomkvist’s daughter arriving for a visit, alone. She makes a throwaway comment about the verses and then disappears, not to be seen until a brief scene at the end of the novel. And as the novel goes on, it becomes increasingly obvious that the sender of the pressed flowers is Harriet Vanger herself.
Still, Larsson carries you through these slightly absurd passages and manages to put Blomkvist and Salander in believable danger. There’s a great twist at the end that sees Salander helping bring down Wennerstrom instead of Vanger, and though some critics have decried the extended ending, it was important to bookend the Vanger affair with Blomkvist regaining his journalistic credibility.
Salander remains an enigma – I found aspects of her character almost as self-destructive as the various abuses she has suffered. She seems to have an adverse reaction each time she finds herself being happy. It feels like this character has only started to unfold for us.
Perhaps not as perfect as you would be led to believe, but still a damned good read. Certainly one of those books that it’s almost impossible to put down. I found myself sitting up to 3am one morning, just to finish the book in one sitting. It was definitely worth the bags under my eyes the next day. No regrets. It’s a great read.