June 24, 2009

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was published in 2005. After translation from Swedish to English by Reg Keeland, it was published in the UK and the US in 2008 and has won several awards and much acclaim.

I finished it last night. It's quite a tale. It opens in a courtroom where a magazine publisher/journalist has just had a libel judgment go against him (QB VII, anyone?). He published a story which attempted to prove that a Swedish industrialist was guilty of corruption, but his evidence collapsed around him and he's been ordered to pay a large fine, lawyers' fees and court costs. At loose ends, he is approached by the attorney for a (different) wealthy retired Swedish tycoon who asks him to write an authorized biography of the tycoon and his huge family (there's a family tree provided in the front papers of the book, which should give you an idea of the size), with the promise that once the book is done the journalist will be paid well but will also be provided with ammunition to take down the man who sued him.

Journalist Blomkvist decides to do the job, and he quickly learns that what the industrialist really wants is a solution to a forty-year-old mystery: how and why did his then 16-year-old niece disappear? The family lived and still lives on an island, and on the day of the niece's disappearance all access to it was blocked by a fuel-truck accident. Blomkvist, a mystery fan, concludes this is similar to an Agatha Christie "locked-room" problem, and he sets out to solve it.

Unbeknownst to Blomkvist, prior to hiring him the attorney and the industrialist had begun investigating his background through a private security firm, and its principal investigator was a 25-year-old misanthropic woman (Lisbeth Salander, the girl of the title). Blomkvist sees the report she compiled on him and concludes he needs her talents to help him investigate.

Salander is by far the more compelling of the two characters. She's got a mother in a nursing home, a Goth look, a thoroughly-justified hatred of the Swedish welfare system as it pertains to guardianship of adult women, and a talent for computer hacking. If Blomkvist is a stock character, Salander is not. She's mean, tough, and vengeful.

There are horrific reasons for the niece's disappearance, as it turns out, and members of the family are the perps. That mystery is solved (not entirely satisfactorily, from my point of view), but it takes a lot of good investigation and legwork, all well told. The libel judgment remains to be avenged. At this point the book only has about fifty pages to go, and most of them are taken up with unraveling financial transactions. The industrialist, who is indeed a corrupt and criminal man, gets his comeuppance.

The book ends with a sudden, surprising and unwelcome burst of introspection on Lisbeth's part.

It's an excellent book. Larsson passed away from a heart attack in 2004, but he left behind two more manuscripts with Lisbeth as principal. The Girl Who Played with Fire will be published this summer, and the third is in the works. I look forward to reading them.

Posted by Linkmeister at June 24, 2009 10:48 AM | TrackBack

I had not known that Blomkvist was a mystery fan. That lends another element of interest.

The brevity of this review heightens the drama of clashing, competing, interlocking, overlapping investigations. Does this drama come through in the book? Is the reader invitied to contemplate this drama?
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Posted by: peter at June 24, 2009 12:54 PM

The investigations are serial, not parallel. Blomkvist gives very little thought to avenging himself until the family mystery is resolved. In fact, for me that section was almost anti-climactic. It was okay, but it didn't have the same thrill as the other principal investigation.

Posted by: Linkmeister at June 24, 2009 01:17 PM

This sounds really good. I'll add it to my TBR list.

Posted by: Juli Thompson at June 25, 2009 06:27 AM

I just reserved this one at my local library.

Posted by: cassie-b at June 28, 2009 05:15 AM

Sounds interesting - I'm a lifelong locked-room fiend - but since I just bought Carter Beats the Devil, which is quite massive, it may be awhile before I get to it.

Posted by: hedera at June 28, 2009 07:08 PM

Ooh, hedera, Carter Beats the Devil sounds interesting. Roaring 20s San Francisco, a magician, Pres. Harding?

I just requested it from the library.

Posted by: Linkmeister at June 28, 2009 08:19 PM