Monday 12 January 2009

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first book in the late Stieg Larsson’s trilogy based around the ‘Millennium’ magazine, and featuring journalist Mikael Blomkvist and his mysterious sidekick Lisbeth Salander, has achieved massive sales and a huge amount of critical acclaim. I have been keen to discover what all the fuss is about and now I’ve reached the end of the story.

It’s a remarkable achievement for a debut novel, with a fascinating and innovative blend of story-lines. There is what is described as a ‘locked room mystery’ (the name of Dorothy L. Sayers is invoked, and there are various other references to notable crime writers, as well as other classic features, such as the inclusion of a family tree), involving the disappearance about 40 years earlier of young Harriet Vanger. In fact, it might be more correctly described in detective story jargon as a ‘closed circle’ mystery, i.e. where there is a limited, though in this case nonetheless large, number of suspects in the matter of Harriet’s suspected murder - they were confined, in effect, to a small Swedish island. A further question is who has been sending Henrik Vanger (brother of Harriet's grandfather) a pressed flower every year on his birthday. Another puzzle concerns the significance of a mysterious list of jottings that Harriet made not long before she vanished. And there is also the matter of the nasty business mogul who is trying to ruin Mikael, and ‘Millennium’.

I enjoyed some aspects of the novel more than others. The mystery of Harriet’s cryptic notes is satisfying; suffice to say that the series crimes to which they refer are horrific and memorable. The revelation of the identity of the principal culprit did not, though, come as much of a surprise. This was because, with so many suspects in the ‘closed circle’, only a few were given any real substance. I also found the financial shenanigans of the sub-plot pretty tedious. The book as a whole, I felt, could have been cut in length without any loss of pace. The translation by Reg Keeland seemed fine, but more extensive editing would have been justified.

I did, however, very much like both Mikael and Salander. They are first rate characters and I am really looking forward to reading the next book in the trilogy soon – I have a copy, and a glance at the early pages seems promising. It is a tragedy that Larsson did not live to reap the rewards of his success.


Kerrie said...

Most people have remarked on the length Marting but there is still an energy about it isn't there?
I haven't acquired the 2nd one yet, but I will.
My review is at if you have time to look

Anonymous said...

I found book 2 much more pacy and involving than book 1. (Though there is an extensive 200-page "prologue" which I hope is relevant to book 3!)
I read both books over successive Christmas breaks, and I'm glad I did as (1) they are both pretty weighty to carry back and forth to work every day ;-), and (2) they are quite hard to put down once you get into them!

Martin Edwards said...

I like your turducken comparison, Kerrie! Maxine, I'm further encouraged by your enthusiasm for book 2. Though I'm having a break from Scandinavian melancholy with a Golden Age mystery at the moment...