BookBrowse Reviews The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

by Stieg Larsson

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2008, 480 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2009, 480 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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A spellbinding amalgam of murder mystery, family saga, love story, and financial intrigue

On one level, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson is a traditional "closed-room" mystery, albeit an exceptionally well-written one. It compares favorably with the works of Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers. The characters are well-drawn, there is a profusion of suspects, and the reader is presented with lots of logical, thorough detective work. Additionally, there are enough twists and turns to prevent the story from becoming dull or predictable. Simply viewed as a mystery novel, the book is a fine addition to the genre.

Like an onion, though, it has other layers beneath its surface. The reader finds a complex commentary on Swedish society underlying the main plot. The criticisms Larsson levels at the Swedes can be easily applied to other Western cultures, making the book relevant to a wide audience. He takes on topics such as violence against women, corporate corruption, and the unwillingness of journalists to tackle controversial issues. He also discusses the individual's responsibility for his or her own actions, regardless of circumstances, as well as what it means to be "moral" or "ethical." The author manages to integrate his observations in a way that prevents these themes from becoming overbearing or preachy; he doesn't whack the reader over the head with his views.

The highlights mentioned in the previous paragraphs would be enough to make The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo a winner, but what really makes the novel an over-the-top, must-read book is Larsson's creation of an utterly unique character: a young female hacker named Lisbeth Salander. All of Larsson's characters are well-drawn and multidimensional; his other protagonist, Mikael Blomkvist, has exceptional depth and measures up to the likes of Hercule Poirot and Lord Peter Wimsey. Salander, though, is far from your typical investigator. She's not even your typical hacker-chick. She's dark, anti-social, and completely ethical, but by a standard few people would espouse. She believes that the punishment should fit the crime, but feels it's detrimental to justice – at least her idea of justice – to involve the authorities. The reader finds this character's attitudes and actions simultaneously shocking and admirable. Remarkably, Larsson is able to imbue Salander with a huge amount of personality without allowing her to become a caricature. He achieves an ideal balance here, and the result is a completely unforgettable heroine.

Larsson's locale descriptions are meticulous and more than adequate for the reader to develop detailed mental images of the places discussed in the book. They are, however, not integral to the story but merely the backdrop - the book could as easily have been set in upstate New York as Sweden. This does not detract from the novel in any way, instead it broadens its appeal.

Sometimes when reading a novel, awkward phrasing or pacing of sentences signals too clearly that it has been translated from another language. Such is not the case with Steven Murray and Reg Keeland's excellent translation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - readers who may be apprehensive about tackling a book in translation need not be concerned.

While the mystery at the center of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo wraps up very satisfactorily, the novel itself does not. That's not to say that the book's ending is poor; it is, in fact, one of the most appropriate endings this reviewer has encountered. The problem is that it will without doubt leave the reader wanting more. Fortunately for his fans, Stieg Larsson completed two more books in the Millenium series before his untimely death. This is one book that lives up to its hype. Highly recommended.

First Impressions
Twenty-two BookBrowse members have reviewed this book rating it an overall 4.5 on a 5 point scale. Read their comments here.


The Millennium Series
The initial entry in the series, Män som hatar kvinnor ("Men Who Hate Women"), was awarded the prestigious Glass Key award as the best Nordic crime novel in 2005. It was published in hardcover in the UK in early 2008 as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. USA publication in hardcover followed in September 2008, with the paperback publishing this week (July 2009).

The second book in the trilogy, Flickan som lekte med elden (The Girl Who Played with Fire), won the Swedish Crime Fiction Academy Award as the year's best Swedish crime novel of 2006. It was released in the UK in January 2009 and will be available in hardcover in the USA and Canada later this month (July 2009).

Luftslottet som sprängdes
("The Aircastle that Blew Up"), is scheduled for UK publication in October 2009 with the title The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest Presumably it will be released in the USA in the summer of 2010.

A movie of the first book has already been released in Scandinavia (Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland); and the second will be released in September 2009, with Michael Nyqvist as Blomkvist and Noomi Noren (aka Noomi Rapace) as Lisbeth Salander. It is not clear when or if these films will be available in English speaking markets.

On his death, Larsson left behind a 200 page manuscript for a fourth book but, while his heirs and Eva Gabrielsson, his partner of more than 30 years, are in a long-running dispute over his estate, as of last week it seems they are agreed that there will be no fourth book.  According to the supporteva.com website, Larsson and Eva had planned that there would be ten books in the series.

Reviewed by Kim Kovacs

This review was originally published in October 2008, and has been updated for the June 2009 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.



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