The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

May 8, 2010

Plot summary (with spoilers): Mikael Blomkvist is a disgraced journalist who has been found guilty of libel due to an erroneous exposé his financial magazine Millennium published about high-powered Swedish business magnate Hans-Erik Wennerström. The judgment has caused advertisers to pull out of Millennium, thereby endangering the magazine’s future survival, and has also resulted in a three-month jail term for Blomkvist himself. Blomkvist believes every word he printed about Wennerström, but won’t roll over on his source in order to prove the point.

After conferring with partner and on-again/off-again lover Erika Berger, Blomkvist decides to take a leave of absence from Millennium before serving his sentence in order to get his bearings. At this point, he is invited to meet the wealthy Henrik Vanger, the former CEO of the Vanger Corporation, who has a job offer for Blomkvist. Vanger then explains that he wants Blomkvist to write a history of the large Vanger family — all the while focusing on the mysterious 1966 disappearance of then 16-year-old granddaughter Harriet, whom Vanger believes was murdered, perhaps by someone in the family.

Blomkvist is staggered by the salary Vanger offers (close to $750,000 for a year’s work), but doesn’t believe he’ll be able to shed any light on Harriet’s disappearance. After all, he’s not a detective. But Vanger insists that Blomkvist is the right man for the job — and to sweeten the pot, Vanger tells Blomkvist that he’ll provide him with some hard proof of Wennerström’s illegal activities at the end of the year so Blomkvist can clear his name. Blomkvist accepts.

At first, Blomkvist’s investigation into what happened to Harriet mostly consists of reading through the copious amount of documents and photographs that Vanger himself has compiled on the subject. But after Blomkvist starts to make some real headway, he decides that he needs an assistant to keep things rolling. Enter Lisbeth Salander, a twenty-something pierced and tattooed “researcher” who is a skilled hacker and has a knack for uncovering people’s deepest, darkest secrets.

The rest of the novel then deals with various aspects of the investigation. These include a sexual relationship between Blomkvist and Salander; Salander’s quirky, antisocial behavior; the tracking down of witnesses and deciphering of clues that are several decades old; and a resolution to both the Harriet Vanger case and the Wennerström affair.

Liked:

  • Some parts of the book, particularly the ones dealing directly with the investigation into Harriet Vanger’s disappearance were highly engrossing. Lots of people have said that this novel is a page-turner, and that was certainly true in a few places.
  • The discovery that Harriet was onto a serial killer was a surprise. I expected this to be a straightforward murder of the girl, but it turned out to be a whole lot more.
  • The relationship between Blomkvist and Berger was different and sort of interesting. A 20-year sexual relationship in which both parties are great friends, yet don’t want to marry each other and don’t care if the other person marries or sleeps with someone else? Sounds like a pipe dream for sure, but as I said, it was definitely different!

Disliked:

  • Lisbeth Salander was a very annoying character that I only liked occasionally. Most of the time, I felt that she was described in extremes merely as a literary device (make your characters memorable!), and as a result she came off more like a cliché than a believable character. Oooh, she has tattoos and piercings — but she’s actually very smart and competent. I mean, bfd, right? Oooh, she’s so skinny you’ll think she pops apidexin for breakfast — but actually she eats like a horse. Wow, what an amazing contradiction…not. And her whole sitting in silence act or just walking away instead of answering a question…. wtf?? That got old after the first 20 times she did it. I wanted to scream at her, “Just grow the fuck up, already!”
  • I thought the author relied on far too much “luck” in the investigation. There just happens to be a photo of what Harriet was looking at on the other side of the street during the parade? Blomkvist just happens to be able to track down the person standing behind Harriet, taking said photo? Blomkvist’s daughter just happens to realize that some random numbers are Bible verses even though they have different names in front of them and aren’t written the way Bible verses usually are? I mean, this wasn’t your standard Jn 3:16, ya know?
  • Wow, did there really need to be that graphic description of anal rape? We already knew that Salander’s trustee Bjurman was a disgusting pig from the time he forced her to perform oral sex in his office. Remember that? Did Larsson really need to include an extended scene of Bjurman raping her too?
  • So Harriet was alive and well in Australia after all. Hmm, don’t you think she would have slipped a note or something to her grandfather to let him know she was doing fine? (Yes, she was sending those creepy flowers, but obviously the old man didn’t get the hint.) Was she still scared of Martin after all those years, despite being all the way in Australia with her big, strapping sons to protect her??
  • Martin Vanger, Harriet’s brother, turned out to be a serial killer preying on women (mostly illegal aliens) and keeping them in his basement torture chamber until he was done having his fun. All of this happened because father Gottfried, who was also a serial killer, groomed him to be this way. Gottfried forced both Martin and Harriet to have sex with him, and then allowed Martin to have his way with Harriet too. Disgusting all the way around. But seriously, is this something that could have effectively been hidden all those years? How could Harriet just run away and not tell anyone about Martin when she knew damn well he was killing people??? Ever heard of leaving an anonymous tip with the authorities?!
  • The Harriet mystery ended with a LOT of pages left in the book. I thought that should have been the proper place to leave things off, but Larsson goes on and on and on about the Wennerström affair, though I’d wager that few readers cared about that anymore.

Rating:

I was really looking forward to reading an excellent thriller, as so many people have been buzzing about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. But unfortunately, I found the book lacking in many respects and came away with the impression that it was pretty much the same as other books in the genre. There were some good parts, but the “yeah, right” eye-roll moments outnumbered those by a wide margin. I give this 3 stars out of 5.

4 Responses to “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson”

  1. Sorry this one wasn’t as good as you had hoped. I agree with the ending–it went on longer than it should have. I enjoyed The Girl that Played with Fire more than this one, so perhaps you’ll feel the same way if you decide to read it.

  2. Just downloaded The Girl That Played With Fire for my Kindle, and will be reading it in a few weeks. Thanks for the recommendation!

  3. Couldnt help thinking if Blonkqist had only met Lisbeth before he went of on his Vanger detour, he wouldve saved a lot of pages… for me the book ended with Harriet being found, lost interest after that. Not as good as the hype, but good one read.

  4. I’ve read two books from the trilogy, and both could have used a good editor to snip a hundred or so pages out!!

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