Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Review of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo"

The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (Alfred A. Knopf, ISBN 978-0-307-26975-1)

Our story opens with one of the two main characters of the book, the Swedish investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist, enmeshed in perhaps the low point of his professional career. After writing what was to be an expose of the financier Hans-Erik Wennerstrom, Blomkvist instead finds himself in court, convicted of libel. The conviction may mean the collapse of the magazine Millennium of which he is a co-owner, the fines will take every kronor of his savings and may force him to sell the apartment that he loves and will also send him to jail for several months. But into his nightmare steps an unlikely savior.

He receives a request to meet with the elderly, rather reclusive and very wealthy industrialist Henrik Vanger. Vanger offers him a job. The official story will be that Blomkvist is spending the coming year on the small island where Vanger lives, writing the history of Vanger's family and the once very large and very powerful family owned business that they run. In reality, Vanger want him to investigate a 40 year old mystery, the disappearance of his then 16 year old grand niece Harriet. It is a sort of locked room mystery, since the girl disappeared from the island when the only way in or out, a bridge, was blocked by an accident and most of the suspects, those on the island that day, were members of the Vanger family. That most of the suspects are his relatives does not surprise Vanger, because he has a very low opinion of most of them, both past and present. As we will see in the course of the book, he is totally justified in that feeling. He tell Blomkvist "...I want you to take me at my word when I say I detest most of the members of my family. They are for the most part thieves, misers, bullies and incompetents." As we will find out, that opinion is very valid and he doesn't even know the half of it.

Blomkvist is not really interested in what he thinks is a hopeless investigation of the girls disappearance but two things sway him. First is the very large sum of money Vanger is offering for the job, whether he succeeds or not in finding out what happened to Harriet. But most of all, it is because Vanger promises at the end of the year, to give him information that will enable him to prove Wennerstrom is really a thief as his expose said and that will allow Blomkvist to get back his credibility as a journalist.

As he starts the investigation into the history of the family and specifically the disappearance of Harriet, going through vast amounts of material, he realizes that he is going to need some assistance. Vanger's lawyer suggests they hire someone from the agency that he had check into Blomkvist himself before they hired him, and specifically a young woman who works for that security firm, she of the Dragon Tattoo. And so we meet the second main character of the book, the very interesting Lisbeth Salander. Her short, almost anorexic built that often has her mistaken for a teenager, her multiple piercings and tattoos and her almost total lack of any social skills makes the 24 year old woman seem an unlikely choice. She is prone to violence, has a history of abuse and was declared a ward of the state as a child and still has a state appointed guardian that handle all her financial affairs. But things are not quite as they seem, as we will find out in the course of the book, and Salander has a variety of skills that make her an extraordinary investigator and not someone who you want to get on the wrong side of. As her present guardian finds out when uses his position to take advantage of her and is treated to a punishment he will not ever forget. In some ways she brings to mind someone who could be the imaginary love child of Lara Croft and the Rainman.
I think without question the strongest part of the book is the Salander character as she is slowly revealed to us and as she assist Blomkvist in solving what turns out to be several truly horrible mysteries. Mysteries that have taken place over a period of decades and will only be resolved in the present.

This is a very good book that I very much enjoyed and would certainly recommend. But that being said, it is not a perfect book. For one thing it gets off to a very slow and rather confusing start that might have had me closing the book if I had not heard so many good things about it. I say this to urge you to persevere and I can assure you that after the first 40 pages or so, things will take off. Just about the time Salander shows up...

The book also takes a fairly significant number of pages at the end to wrap up a number of story lines. Necessary perhaps but a bit of a let down after the huge climax of the story has taken place. Also, there are a great many characters in the book, both in the present and in the past, and of course the fact that they all have Swedish names that are unfamiliar to my linguistically challenged American ears doesn't help. Nor do I want to admit how many time I had to go online to convert the often mentioned sums of kronors to a currency whose value I could have some sense of.

Not totally insignificant points as you are reading, but ones that ultimately will recede as you get caught up in this compelling and very interesting first book in the late Stieg Larsson's Millennium series.


  1. I think I am one of the 20 people in this world that hasn't read the book. I was reminded by Jennifer @ Literate Housewife and her review earlier today. I now have it on order on audio from my library. We'll see how the Swedish names fly through my ears. I may just have to raise myself up a notch and worry about them later!

  2. hmmm...I would be a little concerned with those Swedish name in an audio book..but I have NO ear for languages at all, as I readily admit.
    good luck!! lol

  3. I'm one of the 20 who haven't read it too! I got the book for Christmas last year and just haven't gotten to it yet. That darn real life just gets in the way of my pleasurable reading time. Great review.

  4. I've heard this title all over the place and have yet to read it! Thanks for your honest review- I'm going to be on the lookout for it.

  5. I have been wanting to read this book for awhile...just havent had a chance. Great review! Hopefully I get to read it in the near future.

  6. I agree, it's not perfect, but I did enjoy it. I'm looking forward to reading the next, The Girl who Played with Fird.

  7. I tried the audio version of this book, but after just one disc, I decided this was one book I would need the print copy to follow.

    Perhaps at another time. Thanks for the great review.

  8. no, it is not perfect, but it is very, very good.
    as I said to Sandy I'm not too sure about audio on this one. those names...eeeek!
    this is one book I think I would go with print.


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