First published on 11 Mar 2008. Updated on 23 Sep 2011.
Scandinavians love their crime writing, and it seems the Europeans love Scandinavian crime writers. The Girl With A Dragon Tattoo by Swedish writer Stieg Larsson has already sold four million copies in the continent. The first in a trilogy (Larsson died after completing the third book), the allure is the pacing of at least three seperate plots and their crafted convergence to climactic effect.
Disgraced magazine owner and journalist Mikael Blomkvist is facing criminal charges, following the botched publication of an investigative piece on a business tycoon called Wennerstrom. Meanwhile, Henrik Vanger, the 82-year-old patriarch of the Vanger Corporation, is living out his days surrounded by duplicitous family members, and dwelling on the unsolved murder of his 16-year-old granddaughter, Harriet. Lisbeth Salander, a private investigator, is hired by Vanger to assess Blomkvist as a potential researcher into his family’s 40 year old mystery.
Under the assumption Vanger will provide him with dirt on Wennerstrom, Blomkvist takes the bait, and moves to the idle and rustic town of Hedeby, Vanger Corporation heartland.
Larsson hooks the reader with deft interchanges between these plots, buoyed by his intimate understanding of corporate and private investigation worlds.
Yet the book strikes an oddly preachy note for crime fiction. Each of the four parts open with a haunting statistic about women and violence in Sweden, but the narrative offers little explanation for them.
Larsson also fails to resist indulging the reader’s suspension of belief. Salander’s remark that “People always have secrets. It´s only a question of finding them out,” is damnable in light of her own intellect and stamina: at the age of 24, her career would be the envy of most decorated CIA agents. Blomkvist’s amorous exploits – he beds every leading female character – also add unnecessary (and unlikely) immorality to an otherwise gently repenting character.