Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Book review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium, #1) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In 1966 Harriet Vanger, daughter of the CEO of the large family-run Vanger Corporation, goes missing from her family's island community and is never seen again. Not even a body is found, and her great uncle, Henrik Vanger, has explored every possible lead to discover what happened to his one and only favourite family member.

Over the last forty years her disappearance has become Henrik's obsession, and he's positive someone in the family murdered her - but they never found a motive, and without one he doesn't know who to suspect. Now, in 2005, Henrik has little time left as he grows old and plenty of money to indulge in his obsession one last time.

Mikael Blomkvist is a forty-something financial journalist and editor of Millennium magazine, a magazine he co-founded which prides itself on investigative journalism. But Blomkvist and the magazine have just suffered their first big blow: he's been convicted of libel against one of the biggest business entrepreneurs in Sweden, Hans-Erik Wennerström.

Wanting to keep a low profile and pretend he's been fired from the magazine in order to try and save it from further attack by Wennerström, Henrik Vanger's proposition comes at an ideal time. Mikael's father once worked for the Vanger Corporation, and Harriet herself had babysat little Mikael a few times. Henrik offers Blomkvist a year-long contract with the pretext of writing a history of the family - an autobiography of Henrik - while his real mission is to discover what happened to Harriet.

After some convincing, Blomkvist takes the job - but when he discovers the first new evidence since the tragedy occurred, he realises he needs help - and who better to go to than the private investigator who did such a good job on Blomkvist when Henrik hired her?

Lisbeth Salander is a quiet, secretive young woman who excels at what she does because she's also a genius hacker. With a troubled past and a dicey present, her trust in Blomkvist takes her by surprise. The two team up to discover the truth about Harriet, and to take Wennerström down.

It is a mystery, and a thriller at times, and a detective book - but it's also a political and economic commentary, has one of the more original and daring heroines of the genre, and is invigorating in its details. I don't read many mystery novels, because (ironically), I find them boring. Aside from a quiet patch at about the two-quarter mark, I never found this book boring, even though not a whole lot happens until the last third.

Both Blomkvist and Salander are engaging protagonists, for very different reasons. Things happen to them that will make you upset and angry, especially Salander, whose side story holds you enthralled and revolted at the same time, as does the truth about Harriet - but there's nothing gratuitous here, or unnecessarily included or described: it's all relevant.

The cold of Sweden - at times down to -35F was vividly realised - as was the setting of Hedeby Island. I would have liked to "see" more of Sweden - everything was terribly familiar - but a mystery book isn't really the place for that.

This is a very mature book, with themes that make you despair yet are handled so compassionately that you are never alienated. I also enjoyed the economic side of the other plot line, and Blomkvist's words towards the end were very apt considering the recent problems with the American stock exchange and subsequent recession, when he's asked by a TV host about "the fact that Sweden's economy was now headed for a crash." He calls it nonsense, which I couldn't agree with more.

The other side of the commentary that's strong and interesting is the issue of journalistic responsibility, and ethics. Decisions are made at the end that are highly questionable, but there are no easy answers - Blomkvist is the voice of our conscience here, and yet you can see the other side too. I don't envy him his position!

I love the story of this author and I'm looking forward to reading the second and third installment in this trilogy. Despite the lenght of the book and the unusual pacing (which slows to a stop more than once) I loved it!

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