LauraD’s review of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (The Millennium Series, Book 1) by Stieg Larsson (translation by Reg Keeland)
Mystery Fiction hardcover released by Knopf 16 Sep 08
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has had major buzz for quite awhile. The story behind it could be a novel itself – Swedish reporter writes several mystery novels for fun at home after work, gets published, and then dies tragically young of a heart attack. TGWTDT has topped European bestseller lists, won an award at home in Sweden, and totally deserves the hype.
Author Stieg Larsson introduces one of the most compelling fictional characters I’ve read in a long time. The girl of the title, Lisbet Salander, is in her mid-twenties, a genius, an emotional cipher, and a legal ward of the state. She is also fiercely antisocial, a computer hacker, and is employed as an agent by an exclusive security firm. Lisbet is described as being “anorexically thin,” having multiple piercings, and has plenty of other tattoos in addition to the aforementioned dragon.
Mikael Blomkvist is an older reporter disgraced after publishing false information about a wealthy industrialist. Unable to work at his craft and in self-exile from the city, he is hired by the very rich and elderly Henrik Vanger. Ostensibly Blomkvist will write the history of the large and eccentric Vanger family, but in reality Henrik wants him to investigate the disappearance of Henrik’s niece Harriet some decades earlier. There is no body, but a young Harriet vanished from a private island and hasn’t been seen or heard from since.
The gracious reporter and sullen investigator meet, and form an unlikely alliance. Together they search for the truth about the Vanger family and Harriet’s disappearance. However, TGWTDT has several other mysteries taking place as well; don’t forget about the wealthy industrialist. There are many themes running through this book, including racism, corporate greed, personal accountability, and violence-especially violence against women. The original title in Swedish is “Men Who Hate Women”. This is a dark and at times very disturbing book; it’s a tribute to Larsson’s writing that while at times it is graphic, it never becomes gratuitous. While I do want to be honest about the book’s darker side, don’t be scared off-this is also a very thoughtfully written mystery.
I have to come back to Lisbet, a character that will probably inspire more than a few young female readers to get dragons tattooed on their backs. A brilliant character, because she is sympathetic and heroic, even as she repels you and breaks your heart.
I am already counting the days until The Girl Who Played With Fire comes out January 2009, because I cannot wait to find out where these characters will go next. In the meantime, I’ll end up reading this again just to keep trying to figure Lisbet out. Can I give an extra + after the A+?
Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger disappeared off the secluded island owned and inhabited by the powerful Vanger family. There was no corpse, no witnesses, no evidence. But her uncle, Henrik, is convinced that she was murdered by someone from her own deeply dysfunctional Vanger clan. Disgraced journalist Mikael Blomqvist is hired to investigate.
Read an excerpt by going to the Knopf page and navigating to the widget on the right side of the screen.
[Ed.: The author died in 2004 of a sudden heart attack. There are two more books in this series coming out that were written before he died.]