February 11, 2014

Book: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 4:22 pm

imageThis author started a trend that made Swedish crime fiction the hottest commodity for a while. It also created a huge buzz, along with the two sequels in the Millenium Trilogy.


I think, having read this, the hype is justified. The investigator and the main character, Lisbeth, is unlike any detective I have ever come across. The kind of things she does are at the edge of what is possible, I think, but makes for exhilarating story. The Swedish names and places were difficult for me to follow at first, but then once I got used to it, gave the story a nice Swedish flavour. It also has a political backdrop of the Palme scandal that rocked Sweden quite a few years ago.


The other thing that is interesting is that the manuscript was unknown until the author’s death (at a relatively young age, by a heart attack) and the trilogy was discovered, fully written, among his personal effects. If only he had lived to see his books become such bestsellers.


The American edition also cleverly changed the titles to start like ‘The Girl… ‘. The original title for this book translates to ‘Men Who Hate Women’. Not as good as the current one for the North American market, in my view.


It also appears that he planned this as a series and not a trilogy and also found among his personal effects were outlines for further stories. His wife had announced that she plans to develop these and publish them, I heard, but nothing has come out of it so far.


Now, on to the review of the book.


The introduction does not make sense initially, but is intriguing. An old eighty year old retired detective receives flowers every year. No letters, no address, he talks to Morrell, an equally old detective Superintendent, also retired. “Case of the pressed flowers” bothers him, his last, unsolved case. Out of the forty four cases he has left unsolved in his career, this seems to bother him the most.


The story is about Michel Blomkvist. He is a publisher who published a story about Wonnestrom, an industrialist. Being not as careful as he usually is, he opened himself up for a libel suit by Wonnestrorm, and rather than reveal the source of his stories, chose to go to prison. The affair cost him his financial success too and he lost lucrative contracts and also had to step away from his post as the editor of the Millenium magazine.  Wonnerstorm, who he knew was a crook, got away scot free.


He employs Armansky, the boss of an investigative agency, who assigns  Lisbeth Salander, a maverick, non-conformist girl with tattoos, nose rings, punk style to his case. Despite the appearance of being a tramp, Lisbeth is a brilliant investigator, as Armansky, who employed her initially as a mail girl discovered, and as Blomkvist also discovers.

Lisbeth is socially awkward, does not open up to anyone, is very difficult to get along with, until you get to know her. Her rebellious and wayward past has not endeared her to most people, and so she is surprised when someone understands her or shows kindness to her.


When Blomkvist is out on his own, he is invited by Frode, a retired lawyer of a retired millionaire Henrik Vanger, for an investigation. He is worried about the disappearance of his niece Herriet decades ago, and unlike almost everyone else even in his family, refuses to believe that she is dead. To his family, there is an overwhelming circumstantial evidence that she has been murdered.

Salander, due to her criminal, juvenile past, is deemed unfit to manage her affairs and is assigned a caretaker, who is one of the people who understand her and is kind to her. In fact, he is the one who placed her with Armansky, thereby enabling her career to take off. But when he gets a stroke and is paralyzed, she is assigned to another lawyer, Burjman,  who is an asshole. Bjurman, knowing that she is fully vulnerable and her credibility is low, takes advantage of her and sadistically rapes her. She turns the tables on him the next time, recording the whole thing and then humiliates him with a deep carving on his stomach that will last for his life that says “I am a pervert”.

This promiscuous book – is it the Swedish relaxed attitude to sex? – has everyone having sex with everyone else, in the vein of the soap operas like The Bold and The Beautiful. Blomkvist has sex with his business partner Erika Berger at the Millenium though she is married to someone else. The husband knows it and “does not mind”. He has sex with Henrik’s  daughter Cecillia Vangar, both before and after his prison sentence and is found out by Erika Berger who “does not mind”.

Then he has sex with Lisbeth too. Go figure.


Harriet case opens up when Blomkvist finds more pictures of Harriet in the newspaper office microfische and discovers what the list of names and “phone numbers” mean with the help of his Bible thumping daughter who visits him briefly. But Henrik is out of action due to a heart attack and he reports to the lawyer Frode in the meanwhile.


A bit dry at first, I thought, and then, when it takes off, and you get you used to it, it sweeps you off your feet and you get hooked. There are plenty of surprising twists. How Blomkvist finds out about Salandar and comes to her house and how he confronts her, for instance, is good.


The killer those many years ago is a very interesting twist and how he reveals himself and even captures Blomkvist is captivating. The rescue of Blomkvist by Lisbeth is beautifully told. The interesting thing is that the murders years ago when the killer was a child is also linked to this in a believable way. (I am trying not to spoil the story for you, in case you have not read the book).


What happened to Herriet Vanger who disappeared and presumably murdered all those years ago and how Blomkvist finds out the truth with Lisbeth is well told. Above all, the skills of Lisbeth and the cat and mouse games that she plays with various people, outwitting people who are much richer, more experienced and stronger than her is the best aspect of the book. Her detective skills are legendary and are described without stating the obvious.


The ending is also believable and kind of real.


Now, Blomkvist and Herriet turn their attention on Wonstrom to redeem Blomkvist’s reputation and bring their awesome skills to bear on this matter. The results are equally fascinating to read.


The subsequent expose is the biggest in Swedish history and makes a celebrity out of the Millennium publications and Erika / Mikael pair.


The ending, the plots and the counterplots are all brilliant.

Salander’s financial revenge on Wonnestrom is brilliant and well told too.


A great read, thoroughly enjoyable, I would say a 8/10


–       – Krishna


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