Post Title: Spoilers! The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Stieg Larsson. Published 2008.
Opening Statement: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson does not lend itself to being pigeonholed into just one genre. To be sure, it’s a murder mystery, and a thirty-six-year-old one at that. In addition, it’s a thriller, a love story, a story of redemption, and the history of a family. And there is indeed a subgenre—a dose of X-Rated sadism.
Brief Synopsis: Stockholm. Dead of snowy Winter. Mikael Blomkvist, a disgraced journalist recently convicted of defaming industrialist Hans-Erik Wennerstrom, is hired by wealthy industrialist Henrik Vanger to investigate the disappearance, thirty-six years ago, of his beloved sixteen-year-old grand-niece, Harriet, from secluded Hedeby Island in northern Sweden. Vanger and his extended family are virtually the only inhabitants of the small island. Vanger assumes Harriet was murdered, and due to the isolated nature of the Island at the time of her disappearance (the bridge to the mainland was impassable), the perpetrator had to have been an inhabitant of the Island, which would preclude almost anyone but a family member. To say this family was dysfunctional is an understatement of cosmic proportions.
Blomkvist is reluctant to take on the job at first, but is finally convinced to do so by a generous financial offer, and incriminating evidence against Hans-Eric Wennerstrom, which he can use to redeem his reputation. When he moves into a cabin on the Island to begin his investigation, he is soon joined by a bohemian young woman hired by Vanger to assist him. The young woman, Lisbeth Salander, is anti-social, gothic in the extreme, and a crack computer hacker.
As this is a brief synopsis of a very long and convoluted novel (Oy, there’s so much going on!) which has mysteries within mysteries, I’ll cut to the chase. Oddly, buttoned down Blomkvist and dragon-tattooed Salander have an affair, albeit a doomed one, as they are both staying in the confines of the small, chilly cabin. Yada Yada, they manage, largely through the use of Salander’s hacking skills to solve the mystery of Harriet’s disappearance and so much more. It turns out that Harriet’s father, and eventually her older brother, Martin Vanger, were sexually abusing her. She ultimately killed her drunken father by pushing him into the lake—it was thought to be an accidental drowning by all but her brother, who witnessed it. Because her brother continued the abuse, she escaped from the Island by hiding in the trunk of a cousin’s car and waiting for the bridge to reopen. The next day, she is driven to London by the cousin.
So, it turns out Harriet was not murdered. Blomkvist, with the help of Salander’s ability to tap phone lines, locates Harriet in Australia and reunites her with her grand-uncle, Henrik Vanger. That is the good news. The bad news is that Blomkvist discovers that Harriet’s brother was a sadistic mass murderer with a dungeon in his basement. The discovery was a painful one for Blomkvist, as Martin renders him unconscious and begins to slowly and sadistically hang him. Fortunately, Salander discovers the dungeon just in time to cut Blomkvist down and bash Martin over the head. Martin flees the scene and almost immediately dies in a fiery car crash. With the money and evidence against Wennerstrom, Blomkvist writes an expose of Wennerstrom’s corruption and is redeemed. Salander, meanwhile, has hacked Wennerstrom’s bank accounts and makes off with a fortune. Sadly, she has fallen in love with Blomkvist, but it’s unrequited. Blomkvist has another love interest. Wennerstrom is found dead in Spain with three bullet wounds to his head.
Overall Impression: The book was a page turner, and there were 588 of them. That said, I think there was perhaps too much going on. In some ways, the incidental matters, such as the legal case involving Blomkvist and Wennerstrom, detracted from the central plot—what the heck happened to Harriet?
The book challenged more than one genre because it had so many of them. As a mystery, it was quite good. However, often the mystery took second place to other matters. As a thriller, it was good, but only near the end when Blomkvist discovers Martin Vanger’s dungeon. It was not a good love story because the match between Blomkvist and Salander always seemed doomed. As for the sadism, it wasn’t Fifty Shades of Grey; there was nothing at all erotic about it.
I would definitely recommend the book. The characters are well wrought, especially Salander and Blomkvist; and the plot, although mired in extraneous twists and turns, is ultimately compelling. I think anyone who likes a thriller or a mystery novel would like this book.
Quotation: I like this description of Lisbeth Salander (38 – 39).
…She had simply been born thin, with slender bones that made her look girlish and fine-limbed with small hands, narrow wrists, and childlike breasts. She was twenty-four, but she sometimes looked fourteen. She had a wide mouth, a small nose, and high cheekbones that gave her an almost Asian look. Her movements were quick and spidery, and when she was working at the computer her fingers flew over the keys.