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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

By Teabelly | Books | March 25, 2010 |

By Teabelly | Books | March 25, 2010 |

This is the first in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, and weaves several plot points together. On the one hand we have a disgraced financial journalist looking to take down a powerful businessman, and on the other a ‘locked room’ mystery where the disappearance of a girl some forty years ago remains unsolved.

Mikael Blomkvist is said journalist. He is the publisher of Millennium magazine and has just been convicted of libel and sentenced to three months in prison, and a hefty fine, for a story he wrote about Hans-Erik Wennerström, a prominent Swedish businessman. Before going to prison he is invited by Henrik Vanger, the aging CEO of Vanger industries, to work for him and discover what happened to his niece Harriet all those years ago. Harriet vanished on the day a tanker crashed on the bridge to their island, meaning no one could come and go for hours. Vanger believes she was murdered, but an extensive search did not turn up the body, and he has spent the years since going over and over his family’s movements that day, hoping to find an answer. Every year on his birthday he receives a framed, dried flower, like the ones Harriet used to send him. He sees this as the murderer taunting him, and proof that the person is still alive. Blomkvist is at first uninterested, until Vanger dangles the chance to take down Wennerström once and for all, and help keep Millennium, which has since been struggling, afloat.

Into this twisty story comes Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo, among others. She works for Milton Security as a researcher and investigator, but is also a genius computer hacker with a photographic memory. She’s also a ward of the state after being deemed mentally deficient, and her new guardian controls her bank accounts. She’s antisocial and finds it hard to trust people, but she takes an interest in the Vanger case, and eventually joins forces with Blomkvist.

I struggled with this book a little in the beginning. After a decent opening section it goes into a lengthy exposition about the libel case, and why Blomkvist published the story, where he got the details, and how it all went wrong. I was totally uninterested in this, not having the slightest knowledge about big businesses or really wanting to. I didn’t really follow what was going on, other than Wennerström was a bad guy but Blomkvist had blown his chance to prove it. But once that was out of the way and it moved on to the Vanger mystery and what happened to Harriet, I was totally engrossed. There are many characters to keep up with, and this can be difficult, especially within the Vanger family (I suspect this is why there is a family tree at the beginning of the book, and I did refer to it more than once). It was an excellent mystery and I desperately wanted to know what the answer was. Unfortunately once it is solved the book does continue with the libel case and Blomkvist getting to the truth there, which I could have done without, but I was happy to stay with the characters a little longer and see where the ended up.

It’s interesting that they chose to change the title to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, as I wouldn’t say she’s the main character. She’s one of them, but she’s equal with Blomkvist, and they are both extremely intriguing and well written, vivid characters. I liked Lisbeth. She’s prickly and violent, but she also kicks ass and has a vulnerable side. Horrible things happen to her but she uses them to push her on, and to get revenge. I liked that she wasn’t just a sidekick, that she brought a lot to the story, and ultimately saved the day. She says and does things that are hard to like, but in the end, I was on her side.

As far as the writing goes, it’s decent, and absorbing, with the occasional strangely structured sentence that I assume comes from the translation. The book reminded me a little of ones by Harlan Coben, with the same kind of sprawling, intertwined mysteries that keep you guessing and bringing on surprises and twists. This one was more violent and graphic than I was expecting, and some of it was difficult to read, but that didn’t overshadow how good it was, or how enjoyable. It’s definitely one I didn’t want to put down, and I’m very much looking forward to the next installment.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of teabelly’s reviews, check out her blog.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.