Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson

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This is the first book of the “Millennium Trilogy” by Steig Larsson, a Swedish Author and journalist. I believe this book was released in 2005 posthumously. He died at the age of 50 in 2004 from a heart attack whilst climbing 7 flights of stairs to his office since the lift was not working. A definite loss to the world of crime fiction ūüė¶

A movie with the same name was released in 2011 starring Daniel Craig. Just found out this bit of information so my next objective is to watch the movie and see if the director has done justice to the story. I have read the second book of the Trilogy – The Girl who Played with Fire and have ordered for the last one – The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Can’t wait to read it ūüôā

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo introduces us to Mikael Blomkvist, a well-known financial journalist and publisher who loses a libel case against Hans-Erik Wennerstr√∂m and is sentenced to deferred imprisonment of 3 months along with a huge fine for damages. At what seems to be the death knell for his career and credibility, Blomkvist is offered a lifeline by Henrik Vanger to work for him for one year and is promised a hefty payment and enough proof for him to get his revenge against Wennerstr√∂m in return. Under the pretext of writing his biography, Blomkvist’s actual mission is to unearth the real truth behind the mysterious disappearance (40 years ago) of Vanger’s niece, Harriet, who is presumed dead. Vanger’s decision to hire Blomkvist is based on the extensive background research conducted by a freelance researcher working for Dragan Armansky – Lisbeth Salander. Lisbeth Salander is a 24-year-old plagued by a highly turbulent¬†childhood which eventually resulted in her being institutionalised briefly. But a gifted researcher and computer hacker with a brilliant mind and an unpredictable violent streak. She has a photographic memory and is the girl with¬†the dragon tattoo.

Salander is initially under the legal guardianship of Holger Palmgren who suffers a stroke and is replaced by Nils Bjurman. Bjurman is a lawyer with no scruples and does not hesitate to misuse his power to completely curb her financial freedom and sexually abuses her. Salander plots her revenge against Bjurman which goes awry. She is brutally raped by Bjurman but Salander manages to turn the tables on him. She has the entire assault on her recorded on tape and after torturing him, brands him as a rapist with a tattoo machine. Salander uses the video tape to blackmail Bjurman and gets back control of her finances.

Vanger suspects that Harriet was murdered by one of the Vanger family members who do not see eye to eye with each other but have their sights set of the inheritance of the company. Blomkvist relinquishes his active role in Millennium, his publishing company, much to the chagrin of Erika Berger, Chief Editor of the company and Blomkvist’s lover and goes to Hedeby Island to take up his new assignment. Erika is in an open marriage and her husband has no objection to her long standing relationship with Blomkvist.

Blomkvist begins his investigations and comes across pieces of evidence which give some insight into Harriet’s¬†troubled¬†teenage years.¬† He interviews the key family members including Martin Vanger – current CEO of the Vanger empire, Isabella Vanger, Cecilia Vanger and Anita Vanger. He realizes that he needs a strong researcher and commissions Lisbeth Salander to help him. Lisbeth moves in with Blomkvist. With some help from Blomkvist’s daughter who drops in to visit her father, their research leads them to a series of gruesome¬†murders of women executed in biblical fashion. They zero in on Gottfried Vanger, father of Harriet and Martin Vanger as the prime suspect but the last murder was committed after Gottfried died which meant that there was more than one person responsible for the serial murders.

Meanwhile in the midst of all these leads, evidence and research, Blomkvist manages to find time to sleep with Erika Berger,¬†Cecilia¬†Vanger and Lisbeth Salander¬†and also serve his three months imprisonment (reduced to two months). The plot plods along. Blomkvist is convinced that Gottfried’s accomplice in crime was his son, Martin Vanger and goes to his house to confront him and gather evidence. Instead Blomkvist finds himself ambushed by Martin. Salander appears on the scene just in time to save Blomkvist from a certain death. This is followed by Martin fleeing with Blomkvist in pursuit. Martin Vanger dies when his speeding car collides with an oncoming truck.

The story then shifts to Harriet Vanger. Through some shrewd deductions helped by Salander’s hacking and research skills,¬† Blomkvist and Salander follow a trail to Anita¬†Vanger in London and then to Australia where they meet a very alive Harriet Vanger. The last part of the book unravels the mystery behind Harriet’s¬† disappearance, her subsequent migration to Australia, marriage to an Australian businessman and her reunion with Henrik Vanger and the Vanger empire. Henrik Vanger’s promise of proof against Wennerstr√∂m ends in disappointment¬†as the evidence is not substantial and is too old. But thanks to Salander’s brilliant hacking skills, Blomkvist pulls of a major coup de grace against Wennerstr√∂m. He publishes the expose of¬† Wennerstr√∂m and catapults his company to national glory.

The book ends with Salander wanting to profess her love for Blomkvist but backs off when she sees him with Erika Berger. A very upset Salander disappears from Blomkvist’s life. Alteast for now ūüôā

Whew! It was a long story with multiple characters and plots. The narration is long but strong enough to keep you engrossed till the end. Well, almost. The climax per se after Martin Vanger’s death is a bit of a let down. The pace of the book drops drastically the moment Harriet Vanger appears on the scene. It could have been handled better.

What I liked about the book – a clear plot with a complex and intriguing storyline. Teenage girl missing for nearly 40 years, presumed dead. Uncle is convinced she was murdered and wants the murderer to be brought to task. He commissions Blomkvist, an investigative journalist bogged down by a professional crisis, who takes up the assignment.

I liked the portrayal of Lisbeth Salander. Branded mentally unstable, under legal guardianship, protected from the harsh world by the fatherly Holger Palmgren. Behind the emotionless face is a razor-sharp mind with photographic memory and unmatched hacking skills. And a very troubled childhood and youth. The way she bounced back after the brutal assault by Nils Bjurman and turned the tables on him had me literally rooting for her. The author reveals the different layers of her complex personality creating a deep connection with the reader including her emotional albeit one sided relationship with her mother who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. She, for me, was the hero of the book.

The violence in the book is a little too overboard. Yes, the entire plot hinges on sexual assault/ sexual violence but there were quite a few portions which made me cringe and not very palatable. I read somewhere that the author was witness to the gang rape of a young girl in his early years and carried tha guilt of not helping the girl throughout his life. This perhaps has a very strong influence on his story lines and the depiction of Lisbeth Salander. The book almost seems to be a catharsis of some sort for Larsson. Lastly, at the risk of sounding prudish Рdid Blomkvist really have to sleep with every available woman he came across? I felt that the promiscuity bit was a little overdone.

To sum it up a good read but the ending leaves you with a few “fill in the blank”. A lot of these missing pieces fall into place in the second book.

More to come ūüôā

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