My rating: 4 of 5 stars
My two previous attempts to read this book ended in my tossing the book aside in frustration. “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” should come with some kind of label saying that the first 50 or so pages are pretty tedious, but necessary to set up some things for later in the story, but once you get past them, the novel opens up pretty well and becomes a real page turner and an interesting mystery.
Disgraced financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist is hired by the reclusive industrialist Henrik Vanger to spend a year writing a history of his family. And also to solve the mystery of who killed his niece Harriet 40 years earlier. As Blomkvists unpeels each layer of the family’s long and sordid history, he rumples some feathers and soon teams up with Lisbeth Salander, a 24-year old private investigator and hacker who is the girl of the title. As the two close in on the truth of what happened one fateful afternoon, the stakes get higher and higher for the two–Vanger has promised Blomkvist that if he solves the mystery, Vanger will provide him with details to ruin the financial company that disgraced him in a libel trial.
Reading up on the background of author Stieg Larsson (who passed away before the publication of “Tattoo”), it’s interesting to see the parallels between himself and his character of Blomkvist. Both are men who had complicated relationships with a particular woman, both ran successful financial magazines in Sweden and both seemed to like mysteries. Larsson includes a lot of Easter eggs to classic and popular mystery writers and even throws in a bit of a critical assessment of Val McDermid’s “The Mermaids Chair” along the way.
It’s been reported that Larsson wrote these books in his spare time and that he wrote them to entertain himself. That becomes apparently as several points in the story whree Larsson is clearly inserting himself into the story as Blomkvist. It’s not quite a Mary Sue, but it does come dangerous close.
It’s also apparent when we get product placement moments for Apple products. These come repeatedly throughout the book and feel like the moments satirizing product placement in the “Austin Powers” films.
Luckily these moments aren’t enough to detract fully from the mystery unfolding and the story Larsson is telling. But they do serve to take the book from a possible five star read down to a four in my mind.
The central mystery plays out well enough and while the ending won’t come as a huge shock to anyone, Larsson does a nice enough job of putting all the pieces into play that the resolution doesn’t feel forced or come out of left field. He does have a huge cast of characters–especially the Vanger family and keeping up with them could be a bit confusing, if not for a family tree included in the front of the book.
And while Blomkvist may be a stand-in for Larsson, the more interesting character in this book is that of Salander. The very reserved girl is a fascinating character study and one that kept me interested in what we find out about her next and what she’d do next. Larsson limits the amount of time we are able to be inside Salander’s head and that benefits the story greatly. We see how others react to her and what they think of her more than we see inside of her, making her all the more compelling and interesting. It also helps keep us guessing what she will do next and make us scratch our heads at certain decisions she makes over the course of the story (devotion to Apple products aside).
There’s been a lot of buzz for this book and deservedly so. It’s a fun thriller that’s trying to be a literary masterpiece. I don’t think it’s quite the masterpiece that many feel it is, but it’s a better piece of popular entertainment than the “Twilight” novels. (Of course watching paint dry is a better bit of popular entertainment than the “Twilight” novels.) The story is a clear homage to the Agatha Christie locked-room mysteries with a bit of the modern character emphasis that drive current mystery series. It’s an interesting hybrid and one that has me curious to see where the characters will go in the next installment.