ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stieg Larsson was born in Vasterbotten in northern Sweden in 1954. At the time of his birth, his parents were too young and too poor to keep him. As a result, Larsson was raised by his grandparents in a small village in the north of Sweden. He is best known for writing the Millennium trilogy of crime novels, which was published posthumously, starting in 2005, after the author died of a heart attack. The trilogy was adapted as a three-motion-picture series in Sweden, and one in the U.S. Larsson had originally planned a ten-book series, and had completed two and most of the third one when he began looking for publishers.
At the time of his death in 2004, all three books had been accepted for publication, though none had yet been printed. He was the second-bestselling fiction author all over the world in 2008. Much controversy surrounds his death and inheritance, but it cannot cloud the fact that Larsson was a gifted writer whose work will be celebrated for several decades after his death.
Everyone has secrets. It’s just a matter of finding out what they are.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo opens with an intriguing mystery. Henrik Vanger, an octogenarian industrialist, hires Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist who has just lost a libel action under murky circumstances. Vanger would like Blomkvist to investigate the disappearance of his great-niece, Harriet. It has been almost 40 years since Harriet vanished from a small island mostly owned by the Vanger family, and Henrik has never gotten over it.
The book has a couple of distinct plots here, but there is a degree of verisimilitude to them. Having multiple incidents happening simultaneously makes a lot of sense, too. The search for Harriet Vanger is, by no means, hampered by the Wennerström drama, and vice versa. And it is actually quite refreshing to have a pair of mysteries solved in the same novel. Make no mistake, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a mind-blowing novel. Every page of the novel exudes passion, offers an evocative sense of place, and gives subtle insights into venal, corrupt minds.
The two central characters are well fleshed out, and their relationship is unique. Even the bizarre appearance and behavior of Lisbeth Salander becomes not only acceptable, but even understandable. Mikael Blomkvist, the ostensible protagonist, receives a great deal of attention from the author, but his role turns out to be nothing more than expository in nature. Lisbeth Salander pretty much hogs the limelight. And even though she is conspicuous by her absence in key scenes, her brooding presence never goes away entirely. The defunct Vanger family also provides endless surprises and secrets for the pair to explore. The book’s original Swedish title was Men Who Hate Women, a label that just about captures the subtlety of the novel’s sexual politics. Except for Blomkvist, nearly every man in the book under seventy years old is a violent misogynist.
As a girl, she was a legal prey, especially if she was dressed in a worn black leather jacket and had pierced eyebrows, tattoos, and zero social status.
The text does not grab the reader immediately with graphic descriptions of horrific events. It begins almost passively and in molten, free-flowing style, with a few moments of high tension scattered throughout the book. The tempo picks up toward the end as the protagonist is captured by the villain and escape seems all but impossible. The events that follow are as dark and cold as Sweden itself, but do not, even for a moment, bore or cease to surprise the readers. There is a lot of sexuality and violence, often interspersed in graphic prose. Even outside of the main plot, Salandar’s story is a dark and intriguing enigma in itself.
Even so, the book shifts gears in its final section, after the mystery of Harriet’s disappearance is worked out. Without any warning, the “Girl” metamorphoses into a boring account of Blomkvist’s effort to take down the executive, who had originally won the libel lawsuit mentioned at the start of the novel. The story of his revenge is unexciting and implausible, relying heavily on lazy email exchanges between the characters.
It is sad that a potentially great crime-writing career came to an abrupt end even before it actually began. Bagging 3.7 stars out of 5, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is highly recommended to the readers who like smart, complex puzzles and unusual characters.
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