A 24-year-old computer hacker sporting an assortment of tattoos and body piercings and afflicted with Asperger Syndrome or something of the like has been under state guardianship in her native Sweden since she was thirteen. She supports herself by doing deep background investigations for Dragan Armansky, who, in turn, worries the anorexic-looking Lisbeth Salander is "the perfect victim for anyone who wished her ill." Salander may look fourteen and stubbornly shun social norms, but she possesses the inner strength of a determined survivor. She sees more than her word processor page in black and white and despises the users and abusers of this world. She won't hesitate to exact her own unique brand of retribution against small-potatoes bullies, sick predators, and corrupt magnates alike.
Financial journalist Carl Mikael Blomkvist has just been convicted of libeling a financier and is facing a fine and three months in jail. Blomkvist, after a Salander-completed background check, is summoned to a meeting with semi-retired industrialist Henrik Vanger whose far-flung but shrinking corporate empire is wholly family owned. Vanger has brooded for 36 years about the fate of his great niece, Harriet. Blomkvist is expected to live for a year on the island where many Vanger family members still reside and where Harriet was last seen. Under the cover story that he is writing a family history, Blomkvist is to investigate which family member might have done away with the teenager.
So, the stage is set. The reader easily guesses early that somehow Blomkvist and Salander will pool their talents to probe the Vanger mystery. However,Swede Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is no humdrum, formulaic whodunit. It is fascinating and very difficult to put down. Nor is it without some really suspenseful and chillingly ugly scenes....
The issue most saturating The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is that of shocking sexual violence primarily against women but not excluding men. Salander and Blomkvist both confront prima facie evidence of such crimes. Larsson's other major constituent elements are corporate malfeasance that threatens complete collapse of stock markets and anarchistic distrust of officialdom to the point of endorsing (at least, almost) vigilantism. He also deals with racism as he spins a complex web from strands of real and imagined history concerning mid-twentieth century Vanger affiliations with Sweden's fascist groups.
But Larsson's carefully calibrated tale is more than a grisly, cynical world view of his country and the modern world at large. At its core, it is an fascinating character study of a young woman who easily masters computer code but for whom human interaction is almost always more trouble than it is worth, of an investigative reporter who chooses a path of less resistance than Salander but whose humanity reaches out to many including her, and of peripheral characters -- such as Armansky -- who need more of their story told.
Fortunately, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in English translation will be followed by two more in the Millennium series: The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Air Castle that Blew Up. I can't wait. Larsson also made a 200-page start on a fourth book, but sadly he succumbed to a heart attack in 2004 and his father decided the unfinished work will remain unpublished.
I recommend this international bestseller to all who eagerly sift new books for challenging intellectual crime thrillers, who luxuriate in immersing themselves in the ambience of a compellingly created world and memorable characters, who soak up financial and investigative minutiae as well as computer hacking tidbits, and who want to share Larsson's crusade against violence and racism.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a masterwork of fine craftsmanhip. When I reached the final page I was disappointed that there was no more to read. I did not want the story to end. The characters are too intriguing for this to be the end. Apparently this was the first novel in a trilogy by the brillant writer, Stieg Larsson, who unfortunately died in 2004: the book contains a tribute to him and his career. I cannot wait to read the sequels scheduled for release in the USA in 2009.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an international best seller and is set in Sweden. It takes a little effort to get accustomed to all the Swedish names and places but then the story moves with lightening speed. There are two key plots happening simultaneously. In one, a Swedish financial investigative journalist publishes a libelous attack about a powerful industrialist and is sentenced to jail, fined a ruinous sum, and has his career torn to shreds. Another industrialist, Vanger, hires the journalist to investigate the 36 year old disappearnace of his then 14 year old grand niece. There has been no trace of her in all these years and she is assumed dead. Yet, every year on his birthday, he receives a mysterious gift of a pressed flower, mimicking a gift his missing grandniece used to give him when she lived there. Vanger, an old man, is tormented by the flower gifts, and wants one more chance to find out what happened to her and who killed her. What the journalist uncovers about the Vanger family's hitherto unknown secrets and connections to the Nazis, will have you hanging on the edge of your seat.
The book is titled after yet another character, Lisabeth Salander, a societal outcast and social ward of the State, uncivilized without any desire to obey societal norms, and replete with piercings, tattoos, and a goth/biker appearance. In short, at first glance a totally undesirable and unsympathetic person. She is a researcher with a corporate security firm and ends up working with the journalist. In truth, she is a survivor of abuse in all forms with low self esteem, and an inablity to trust. She is a genius with Asberger's Syndrome, a form of autism, who sees patterns in things ordinary mortals miss and uses incredible computer hacking skills to accomplish her goals. She is fascinating: ruthless and tough to a fault, yet internally vulnerable, struggling to comprehend her own feelings. She has an appeal that draws you to her, rooting for her, and wanting to understand her. Lisabeth is unforgettable, unlike most characters that populate mystery thrillers. There is such depth here.
The book is a thriller on many levels: The story about the Vanger family itself, the journalist's crusade to redeem his reputation, Lisabeth's vendettas and development, and of course, the truth about what actually happened to the missing Vanger heiresss. This is a superb novel and impossible to put down. Utterly stunning. Probably the year's best book. SUMMER 2009: SEE MY REVIEW OF THE SEQUEL, "THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE", ANOTHER OUTSTANDING BOOK.
The novel is really rich in detail and quick paced -- And incredibly moving in depicting the struggles faced by its female protagonist. This novel somehow brings off having two really well drawn protagonists, one male, one female that one can empathize with. A middle aged journalist, and a troubled but incredibly talented young woman who works as a PI intersect to solve a labyrinthine plot. Lisbet's story would have made an incredible novel on its own. She has Aspergers and is trapped in an awful school /social system with no advocates and non-existent mental health services. It is really dark in its themes somewhat like the Kite Runner. The complex mystery, thriller aspects are really good, and then the whole other aspects of the novel which is also a social comment on society in Sweden, journalistic ethics, misogyny, and gut-wrenching sexual violence. So prepare to be disturbed by the darkness it depicts.
The only thing that bothered me a little, though the incredible characterizations and plotting made up for it totally was the out of time technology -- It seemed like the novel was set in the 90s, but all of the technology action seemed to be happening in the late 2000s. So the technology used in the plot time lines seemed a decade out of whack sometimes. I will go back and read it and see if its something I misunderstood.
All in all, its one of the best mystery /thrillers I've read from the last decade. In fact comparing it to the Da Vinci Code, the characters are not simplistic one dimensional cut outs at all. The rich characterizations and explorations of dark behaviour remind me of Elizabeth George. I'm waiting for the two final books of this trilogy. It is so sad that the author has passed away and we won't be meeting the characters for more than just 3 books.
on July 18, 2009
In this absorbing, intricately plotted mystery, I felt like I was right beside our journalist-turned-detective as he works to solve the mystery of a girl who disappeared some 40 years ago. Mikael Blomkvist, a disgraced journalist found guilty of libel, agrees to take on the assignment offered to him by the head of one of Sweden's wealthiest families. And why not? The job will provide a hefty paycheck and he has little to do anyway as he awaits a prison sentence. It turns out that Blomkvist's experience as an investigative journalist makes him the right man for the job. Larsson immerses us in Blomkvist's routine as he hunkers down in a cabin in the remote lake country of Sweden and methodically sifts through reams of old police reports, family photos and other materials, and slowly learns about the family's dark history through his explorations of the small island community.
Some reviewers have complained that it takes too long for Larsson to tell us what happened. And, true, it is well past the half-way point of this lengthy tale before we even know the nature of the crime involved (Then again, we do have a good idea, thanks to an idiotic blurb on the back cover from USA Today that tells us more than we need to know by comparing the story to an infamous thriller that I won't name). But for me, the charm of the story is in how the mystery slowly unwinds and in Larsson's ability to make us feel like we're participating in the investigation right along with Blomkvist and the sidekick who joins him - a tattooed social misfit who has some very handy computer skills. Yes, Larsson is methodical in providing the smallest details - how many sandwiches Blomkvist eats, whether the sandwich is liverwurst or roast beef, how many cups of coffee he drinks at 2 a.m. while doing his research, etc. Again, this wasn't a shortcoming for me - instead these details helped set the scene and involve me in the story. Stylistically, Larsson might not measure up to Graham Greene or Raymond Chandler, but he proves to be a tale-spinner extraordinaire.
Patience is required, but the resolution of the mystery is satisfying and very dark, although I must admit I had to suspend my disbelief somewhat. And if the central mystery wasn't enough, the last 90 or so pages wrap up the side story involving our hero's attempt to exact revenge on the corrupt businessman who framed him at the start of the novel. This section is also incredibly detailed, and it was a bit exhausting to read-- almost too much after we find out the solution of the core mystery following 500 densely plotted pages. But it's here that Larsson gets to show his in-depth knowledge of the financial world, and some of his comments seem to predict the global financial meltdown that occurred four years after he wrote the book. His character Blomkvist (who probably shares a lot in common with Larsson) offers some scathing observations on the corporate world.
I'm definitely on board for the final two installments of the trilogy. It's downright heartbreaking that Larsson passed away before he could enjoy the international success of these books, and sad too that we won't be able to read more stories from him after the third is released. I heard he planned to write a series of 10... that would have been something.
I read many, many nonfiction books as part of my own work, so it often doesn't feel very relaxing to pick up a novel in my free time. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo broke through my burnout and really helped reconnect with my love of fiction. It is the first book in a long time that completely pulled me in with its characters, setting and mystery.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is highly intelligent, and earns its volatile climax. The novel progressed to a level of violence that surprised me, but again, it made sense within the context of the story, which is as much social critique as it is Agatha-Christie-like murder mystery--as updated for the era of The Silence of the Lambs. For me it brings to mind Kate Atkinson's Case Histories: A Novel, amped up a notch. (I enjoyed The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo even more.)
Disgraced journalist turned reluctant detective Mikael Blomkvist and brilliant, damaged researcher Lisbeth Salander are worthy characters whom I'll definitely follow through two sequels. Larsson hints at his characters' depths (of their life stories and pain) and their shallowness (in some quarters, when it comes to human relationships). For instance, when you find out why Lisbeth gets a tattoo, it will make you re-evaluate all that you know, or don't know, about her life history. In fact, after reading this book and finding out what goes on behind closed doors, and beneath respectable facades, you may wonder how well you really know anyone.
The cold-case mystery of the missing girl from the Vanger family completely engrossed me. My one criticism of the book is that the subplot about "The Wennerstrom Affair," which indirectly sets the main story in motion, and comes back at the end of the book, didn't really work for me. It seemed like it would ultimately have much more of a connection to the Vanger story. Was Wennerstrom just a distraction, or an element of social satire that didn't translate well, or is there more there than meets the eye on first read? The actual "payoff" of the Wennerstrom subplot was the one aspect of the story I found unsatisfying. I wonder if those events and characters will come back in Larsson's subsequent books to finally create a logical, full-circle moment.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo takes a while to get going. It took an effort to get to know the main characters and sort out the plot, and I wasn't fully invested until page 83, after the Vanger mystery was laid out. But once Mikael and Lisbeth really got going on the case, it became one of those books that kept me up until one in the morning on a roller coaster ride, trying futilely to find a place to pull over, because I knew I still had 100 pages to go and I didn't want to pull a true all-nighter.
Highly recommended for those hungry for a smart, complex and grown-up thriller.
on January 29, 2008
I bought this book because of its good reviews, because I love Sweden, and because I'd read about the sad and premature death of its author.
I don't often read mysteries, but this one had me hooked pretty quickly. You can't help being sorry that there will be no more new books from Larsson, but it's a relief to know there are two more books to come in this trilogy, because the characters he created are strong enough to carry that many and more. It's like having a wonderful first course and knowing there are still two to go.
Mikael Blomqvist is a complex protagonist, dogged, humane, flawed and sometimes insecure. His sidekick, the resourceful Lisbeth Salander, who hates to be compared to Pippi Longstocking (thereby making the comparison for us), is even more complicated. Personally, I liked her, and I'm intrigued to know more about her, which will hopefully happen in the next two books.
Plot-wise, this kept me guessing right to the end, with many satisfying twists and surprises. The writing is plain and unadorned, but with a story like this you really don't need lyricism.
All I can say is, I hope the translator is working fast on the sequels!
on December 27, 2012
I am on my second round of reading the Millennium Trilogy. I have seen all three Swedish movies and David Fincher's American movie of this title and greatly enjoyed them all. "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" is a first-rate mystery plus a social commentary on the victimization of many women in Sweden that doesn't interfere with the story at all (the original title in Swedish is "Men Who Hate Women").
Lisbeth Salander is one of the most unique characters in fiction. She has been victimized since childhood but refuses to play the role of a victim. She is the perfect foil of the protagonist Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative journalist hired to look into the disappearance of a young woman 30-some years before. Salander is a Goth, a loner, a hacker, and a supremely talented researcher. Blomkvist takes her on as his research assistant when the job he is hired for starts to get complicated and dangerous.
This is a long book (over 650 pages) and a wild ride. You will be glad it is that long as you don't want it to be over once you've started it. I can't recall a modern work of fiction I have enjoyed more than the Millennium Trilogy. All 2000 pages of it. However, this book works fine as a stand-alone novel. There are no loose ends at the end.
on November 17, 2011
After hearing David Fincher was doing a movie based on this book, I decided to give it a try and I wasn't disappointed. It is a well-written mystery about a girl's disappearance many years ago which turns into a present-day terror. While the mystery itself drives much of the plot, the fascinating characters are what really drives the novel. The "girl with the dragon tattoo" is Lisbeth Salander, an introverted, anorexic, expert hacker who gets categorized as troubled and sent to a children's psychiatric hospital. Even as a young adult she is considered legally incompetent; one of her appointed guardians takes advantage of her sexually. Lisbeth is no weakling though and can be dangerous in self-defense. Despite some of her methods, it's easy to empathize with Lisbeth and cheer her on - in many ways she's a victim herself but she refuses to act like one.
In some ways, the main character in the novel is actually Mikael Blomkvist, a financial journalist facing libel charges related to an article written for his magazine "Millennium". Just like Lisbeth, Mikael has his own flaws which helps make him feel real. Mikael receives an odd job offer from Henrik Vanger, the aged former CEO of a large corporation. Henrik wants Mikael to look into the decades old disappearance of his niece Harriet, whom Henrik believes was murdered by a family member. At first Mikael dismisses Henrik's suspicions, but before long he too gets wrapped up in the case. Discovering a number of new leads, eventually he enlists the help of Lisbeth after learning of how she was able to research Mikael's background for Henrik before he was hired. The story picks up a lot of steam with the new developments and includes some interesting twists. Overall I found the novel very enjoyable, even after I was able to predict part of the ending. There was more than enough to maintain my interest with the varied characters and plot twists.
on January 7, 2012
You do not need to read the second and third volumes of Stieg Larsson's bestselling international trilogy. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is a complete story with a satisfying ending.
What genre does this novel belong to? Before reading it, I was unsure. I supposed it was a high-tech action-suspense-thriller, like the Bourne trilogy. There is some tech: mobile phones and a good amount of laptop computer activity, though that's not HIGH tech. There's some sex and some action, but not a lot of either. As I read it, I learned that this novel most appropriately belongs to the genre of mystery. Its prose reminded me of Rex Stout or Agatha Christie, with background details about the setting and background details about members of a large family, from which the reader tries to identify the killer.
What made this book a bestseller? The plot is not the answer. It is hackneyed. An investigator is hired to learn about the events of a murder, question family members, and solve the mystery. The setting is Sweden, a bit refreshing for me, but I'm sure the setting alone did not make this a bestseller. Nor did the unremarkable tech or action. No, what made it a bestseller is the charm of the heroine. As I absorbed myself in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, my best moments came as I learned about her.
I won't go so far as to say that I ADORED her, but I guess my feelings were along that direction. At least for me--though other reviewers don't think so--she was bright, shiny, new, and original. But I don't want to describe WHY she was so. A description would spoil your own moments of discovery, which await your own reading.
on September 25, 2015
Oh what a treat for anyone who hasn't yet read this first rate book. The story starts with Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist, being convicted of publishing false information about a wealthy industrialist. He is unable to defend himself because of not wanting to reveal his source. Elsewhere in Stockholm is Lisbeth Salander, a most unusual young woman who works for a security company and is an adept computer hacker. We are also introduced to Henrik Vanger, an old man whose young niece disappeared many years ago, presumed murdered, and yet every year on his birthday he is reminded of her when a mysterious present arrives. These characters all come together to make a most exciting and unusual story.
This is a great story with unusual but credible characters. The best bit is that there are so far another 3 equally good books which follow on from it. The only negative is the Swedish names which can be hard to get ones tongue around and hard to remember. Well worth the effort though.