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Title & Author: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Genre: Mystery, Crime Fiction, Thriller
Synopsis (from Amazon):
A spellbinding amalgam of murder mystery, family saga, love story, and financial intrigue.
It’s about the disappearance forty years ago of Harriet Vanger, a young scion of one of the wealthiest families in Sweden . . . and about her octogenarian uncle, determined to know the truth about what he believes was her murder.
It’s about Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist recently at the wrong end of a libel case, hired to get to the bottom of Harriet’s disappearance . . . and about Lisbeth Salander, a twenty-four-year-old pierced and tattooed genius hacker possessed of the hard-earned wisdom of someone twice her age—and a terrifying capacity for ruthlessness to go with it—who assists Blomkvist with the investigation. This unlikely team discovers a vein of nearly unfathomable iniquity running through the Vanger family, astonishing corruption in the highest echelons of Swedish industrialism—and an unexpected connection between themselves.
It’s a contagiously exciting, stunningly intelligent novel about society at its most hidden, and about the intimate lives of a brilliantly realized cast of characters, all of them forced to face the darker aspects of their world and of their own lives.
I had never heard of Stieg Larsson before setting eyes on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The book lured me in by the cover art and back cover blurb. I enjoy mysteries and crime fiction so this was immediately of interest to me.
The book opens with Mikael Blomkvist, a writer who just lost a libel case after making allegations about billionaire Hans-Erik Wennerstrom. He’s sentenced to three months in jail, among other fines. Before he serves his time, he’s asked by Henrik Vanger, former CEO of the Vanger Corporation, to investigate a personal matter – the disappearance of his grandniece, Harriet. Despite the fact that she’s been missing nearly 40 years, Vanger hopes that Mikael can find out the truth. In return, he promises Mikael some information on Wennerstrom. Feeling like he has nothing to really lose, he accepts.
Lisbeth Salander is another character introduced early in the story. [She is the titular “girl with the dragon tattoo”.] She’s young, tattooed, wears heavy goth-style makeup, and has a huge chip on her shoulder; she’s also extremely intelligent but very troubled, with a particular bias against men. Lisbeth is also a hacker and can get into just about anybody’s digital files. She’s has perfect memory recall and possibly has Asperger’s syndrome [this was never confirmed by the author]. All these skills make her an excellent researched. At the beginning of the book she investigates Blomkvist for Henrik Vanger; later, Blomkvist asks her to help with the research into Harriet’s disappearance.
The reader also discovers that Lisbeth was declared legally incompetent as a child and is under the care of a state-appointed guardian. I wondered at the beginning (and even throughout TGWTDT) how someone so gifted could also be under guardianship. Her story is revealed throughout the trilogy; for now it sets the tone of her troubled youth and helps readers sympathize with her.
Upon starting the book I was a bit lost. Swedish names (both for people and towns) were confusing in some cases. Plus there’s a whole host of Vangers in that book who Mikael and Lisbeth are investigating so it took me a little while to get everyone straightened out in my brain. The names got easier but as for locations – I’ve never been to Sweden so I decided that it didn’t really matter if I remembered what happened in Hedestad versus Hedeby, etc. [This is a terrible view for events in real life but made things much less frustrating at the beginning of a well-written book.]
The original title for the book, Män som hatar kvinnor literally translates to Men Who Hate Women. After reading the book, I can understand how that would be an appropriate title even though TGWTDT is catchier. There are a number of characters who are very anti-women in the book, but that’s luckily outweighed by the badass-ness of Lisbeth and other “good” characters. There are some very graphic scenes of abuse/torture/rape against women in the book which were extremely difficult to power through – I almost quit after the first one – but it karma ultimately sorts things out…or Lisbeth does.
Larsson did an excellent job with pacing the book. Once I was past about 15% I was completely hooked! A lot happens in the plot – enough that this could almost have been split into another book, possibly – but he handled it artfully.
I also loved the characters in this book, especially Lisbeth. To have such a female character is rare: intelligent (particularly in computers) but possibly living with a mental disorder, independent in personality but reliant on her guardian for money, she lets few people behind the curtain. Mikael is intelligent in other areas, a talented writer and relentless in his research. Even though he doesn’t have to actually solve what happened to Vanger’s grandniece in order to get paid for his work, Mikael is determined to do so. He and Lisbeth form an unlikely bond. I assumed TGWTDT would be all about Mikael and was pleasantly surprised to discover that Lisbeth Salander plays an equal, or possibly greater, role in the series.
Recommended for: those who enjoy crime fiction but aren’t too squeamish. (Like I said, some of the scenes are very detailed or graphic – as a woman, they were difficult to read.)