Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson - Book Review

When I started reading Stieg Larsson's fine mystery thriller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I feared I would be diving into a dark and depressing world of Scandinavian angst and dark loneliness. All that is there, along with searing violence, perverted evil, and deep bonds of friendship and understanding. What I wasn't expecting and received in quite satisfying chunks was a cyber mystery cloaking generations of family discord, characters who were interesting enough to evoke care and concern for their welfare, and one of the most convoluted plots I've encountered in several years.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo takes a little while to get going, but it's a leisurely novel that takes its time while at the same time strongly drawing the reader along. It's always hard to tell when a novel is read in translation, how much of the reader's experience reflects the translation and how much can be directly attributable to the author. The extended opening of this book presents some challenges to a reader. Before really diving into the story, it's necessary to become acclimated to cultural differences between the American experience and life in Sweden. The intrusiveness of the most complete welfare state in the democratic world pervades elements of the novel, as one of the two central characters, Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading business journalist specializing in writing exposés of business corruption is sentenced to a brief stint in prison for writing a libelous article. At roughly the same time we meet Lisbeth Salander, a brilliant but so damaged young woman she has been placed under guardianship by the state. Salander, despite her social ineptness and strange behavior, is the ace investigator for a large Swedish security firm. We soon learn that she is a preternatural cyber sleuth. The third leg in this engrossing mystery is introduced when Henrik Vanger, the aging former CEO of Swedish industrial giant Vanger Industries, receives the forty-fourth framed pressed flower from an unknown source, an annual gift that has fueled his obsession. Soon, Vanger hires Blomqvist, who has been forced to resign from his magazine job, to solve the mystery in return for a promise to reveal information to him that would exonerate him of the libel for which he has been punished. To tell anything more about the plot would only serve up spoilers. Suffice it to say that once I got past the strange names and cultural differences, I found the novel to be thoroughly engrossing, at times so excruciatingly tension filled I had to lay it down from time to time to reduce my own anxiety.

Stieg Larsson, who unfortunately died in 2004, having completed two other novels focused on the Lisbeth Salander and her twisted journey through a difficult and often scary life, has produced a novel well worth the reader's attention. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is published by Vintage Crime, a division of Random House. It's available from all the usual sources, including your local independent bookstore, which I urge you to support.

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