Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

I call them Salander's Principles. One of them is that a bastard is always a bastard, and if I can hurt a bastard by digging up shit about him, then he deserves it.-Lisbeth Salander-The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

What do you think of when you think of Sweden?  I used to think of ABBA, Ikea, and blonde people frolicking in open fields.  Turns out, Sweden is bleak as hell according to Stieg Larsson’s
Millennium Trilogy.  However, these books are anything but depressing and are the type of novels that come along only once in a decade.  The series, which consists of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played with Fire, and The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest have become an integral part of pop culture selling millions of copies worldwide, spawning three films in Sweden, and now a U.S. remake of “Dragon Tattoo” is in the works.  Perhaps it is the fact that there will never be any more novels in the series which has jettisoned them to such an iconic status.
Stieg Larsson passed away unexpectedly before “Dragon Tattoo’s” Swedish release.  He apparently had begun work on a fourth book in the series, but it was never completed.  Larsson’s girlfriend of 30 years, Eva Gabriellson wants to finish the novel and publish it, but Swedish law will not allow her.  In my personal opinion, this blows, but now I’m just editorializing.  Onto the book itself.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo opens at a rather sluggish pace, detailing a cold case involving a supposedly murdered girl, Harriet Vanger, who’s body was never found.  We also meet a journalist, Mikael Blomkvist who’s career has been ruined after a piece he’s been working on falls apart.  It’s hard to see exactly where Larsson is going with all this, but once you get through the first couple of chapters, the pace picks up considerably.
Blomkvist finds himself in the employment of Harriet’s uncle, Martin Vanger, who has become virtually obsessed with his niece’s disappearance.  What starts out for Blomkvist as a job writing Vanger’s autobiography soon turns into an investigation as to what really happened to Harriet.  Blomkvist is met with countless roadblocks in his investigation in the form of the Vanger family who are secretive about their lives and Harriet’s past.
The story shifts point of view when we are finally introduced to the girl with the dragon tattoo, Lisbeth Salander.  A pierced, tattooed, spiky haired, sexually ambiguous waif, Salander will kill you as soon as look at you (sounds like my last date).  Salander has a knack for investigating and is hired by Vanger to investigate Blomkvist before Vanger hires him.  Even though Salander seems to know everything about everybody, we know virtually nothing about her.  What is known is that she is considered mentally unfit to run her own affairs, and is left at the mercy of an abusive guardian.  Don’t worry though--Salander always wins.
One thing Salander fails to recognize is that Blomkvist is also an investigator to some extent so it’s only a matter of time before he finds out of Salander’s investigation into his life.  When they eventually join forces, albeit unwillingly, the real fun begins.  Salander and Blomkvist’s investigation into Harriet’s disappearance is filled with action, suspense, and many pots of coffee (buy coffee before reading this book because you will always have a taste for it).  Although the ending of the book is fairly predictable, the journey is enthralling.
In short, the novel is fantastic.  Salander is sure to become one of the classic heroines in crime fiction.  I plan on reviewing the other two books in the future as well.  Hopefully, Swedish law will change and allow us one last adventure with Lisbeth Salander.


  1. Great review! I loved this book (and rest of trilogy too) and plan to re-read them - they're sufficiently dense and intricate to be worth reading more than once.

    Like many North Americans, this was my first introduction to Swedish crime fiction. Instant addiction. If you haven't read them yet, you might also like Henning Mankell's Wallander books - more bleak Sweden :)

  2. Thanks! I've heard of Mankell's series, but haven't read them yet. They're in the queue though.

  3. I wholeheartedly agree with this review. When I started reading 'Tatoo' I wondered why it had been so enthusiastically recommended to me. It didn't take long before I was under Larsson's spell. Salander is a fascinating character--an enigmatic savant of sorts. She is someone you would love to have on your side. And you would have to make sure that you always stayed on her good side--or you would be very very sorry--or dead.