Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

by Rebeca on March 19, 2009

As I mentioned in another post, I recently discovered Scandinavian Crime fiction. One book that caught my attention after reading the review on Book a Week was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first book of the Millennium series, written by Stieg Larsson, the former editor in chief of the magazine Expo and a leading expert on antidemocratic right-wing extremist and Nazi organizations. 
I was lucky to acquire it via a free credit I had on Audible and when I was sick with the flu, I listened to it and I was hooked. Afterwards I had to read more of Stieg Larsson’s books. However, I found out Mr. Larsson passed away in 2004 of a sudden heart attack and there were two other books within the series, now known as the Millennium trilogy. Below is the review for the first book of the series, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Stieg Larsson (translated from the Swedish by Reg Keeland)
Alfred A. Knopf
465 pages
$24.95
The first volume of the Millennium trilogy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo introduces readers to investigative journalist and publisher of Millennium magazine Mikael Blomquist and the enigmatic, genius hacker Lisbeth Salandar.  
Titled in Sweden as Men who Hate Women, Larsson weaves themes of misogyny and violence against women within the novel’s primary plot. The story opens with Blomquist’s conviction for libeling a major Swedish financier, and then moves quickly to  Blomquist’s investigation of the 40 year-old disappearance and possible murder of Harrier Vanger, favorite great-niece to Swedish industrialist Henrik Vanger.  
After Blomquist is hired by Henrik Vanger to write a family history and investigate what happened to Harriet, Blomquist hires Lisbeth Salandar, the actual girl with the dragon tattoo to help him research all the twists and turns in the cold case. Salandar is a 24 year-old hacker who has photographic memory and serious relationship and trust issues that were caused by numerous incidents during her childhood. Larsson alludes to these issues, but doesn’t go into detail. What readers learn is that Lisbeth is under a government sponsored guardianship. Her well-being and finances are managed by a creepy lawyer who takes advantage of her and later pays the price–a tattoo that brands him as a sadist. 
As Blomquist’s and Salandar’s investigation moves forward, readers learn that there’s much more to the Vanger family and that Harriet’s fate was somehow connected to a series of grisly and sexually-motivated murders that occurred in the 1950s and 1960s. 
Once the mystery of Harrier Vanger is solved, Larsson switches back to Blomquist’s libel case and his attempts to bring down the financier. At this juncture, the novel’s quick pace slows down as Blomquist tries to get his reputation back.
The heart and soul of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is Lisbeth Salandar who hides beneath a very tough exterior of assorted tattoos and piercings and who doesn’t hesitate to use her hacking skills to speed up justice. In spite of her personal issues and her tendency to violent outbursts–usually provoked by someone else– Salander is a very sympathetic character and makes the reader want to know what haunts this young woman.
Blomquist shines through the Harriet Vanger investigation, but as a character he’s not as fully-developed as Lisbeth. He’s a likeable sort, but with little meat to his bones. Apparently, Larsson seemed more enamored by his Salandar creation who has the nuances of a actual living being. 
Despite some pacing failures and secondary characters who are not fully-developed, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a stunning and suspenseful mystery with an unforgettable heroine who leaves readers waiting anxiously for her next escapade. 
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