Larsson, Stieg. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

NY: Knopf, 2008.

Scandinavian crime and mystery novels are somewhat different in style and approach from the Anglo-American versions and this first volume of a trilogy is no exception. For one thing, it progresses very slowly, especially at the beginning, and the back-stories of the principal characters are presented at very great length. But you should stick with it, because by the time you get eighty or a hundred pages in, you’ll be hooked.

Mikael Blomkvist is a financial reporter and part-owner of a well-regarded small investigative magazine who has just lost a libel action brought by a suspiciously-connected billionaire. He not only will have to pay a whopping settlement, he’ll also have to spend a few months in a minimum-security prison — quite a difference from the American system of civil litigation. Worse than that, of course, his professional credibility is now in serious question and the advertisers are beginning to pull out of the magazine. Meanwhile, we meet young Lisbeth Salander, a personal investigator for a security firm and of a rather tattooed and punkish persuasion — and perhaps a borderline psychopath, as she herself recognizes. She’s had a very hard life so far and the various predators whom she has had to survive have left their marks. But she never forgets. And she always gets even. On the other hand, she’s one of the best there is at her job. Blomkvist (whom Salander has just been assigned to compile a detailed background dossier on) is invited by Henrik Vanger, an aging industrialist, to take a one-year assignment ghosting his tell-all autobiography, which might be just the break Blomkvist needs, as well as a way to escape the limelight for awhile. But that’s just the cover story. In 1964, Vanger’s sixteen-year-old niece, Harriet, disappeared from the small northern coastal town where most of the Vanger family live (and which they practically own) under very suspicious circumstance. No trace at all ever was found of her, though Henrik assumes she’s long dead. But he’s getting old, he’s been systematically investigating the tragedy himself for decades, and he wants Blomkvist the investigative journalist to go over everything one last time. He just has to know what happened to Harriet. And at the end of the year, whether Blomkvist uncovers any new evidence or not, Henrik will let him in on the secret knowledge that will allow him to torpedo the suspicious billionaire once and for all. Can’t pass up an offer like that. Blomkvist thinks the whole think is a waste of time – he’s quite up-front about that — but he’s willing to give it a good-faith effort. And then, of course, certain details lead to certain reinterpretations of the mystery (the reader will be smacking himself on the forehead and thinking, “Yes, of course!”), and suddenly the case seems solvable. However, a different sort of investigative talent will be needed to really dig out certain information, and that’s where Salander comes in. And one of the best themes of the book is the way in which the two learn to deal with each other, and especially how Salander slowly finds she needs someone she can trust. There are a lot of minor cultural oddities in the story that American readers might raise an eyebrow at, but this is, by and large, a plot that could be set almost anywhere. (I know there’s a movie coming out and I’ll be curious to see how it handles the differences.) As I said, it’s a slow starter but it becomes engrossing soon enough, and it picks up speed in the last third, including a couple of truly horrific scenes. Highly recommended.

Published in: on 30 January 2011 at 7:26 am  Comments (1)  
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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Deandra Ritter, NightsEmbrace. NightsEmbrace said: Larsson, Stieg. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. « BookSmith: Scandinavian crime and mystery novels are somewhat… […]

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