Book Review - The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

By Steven Leventhal

I had never even heard of this book until I was at the cinema.  That's right, I say cinema, because a "cinema" shows avant garde or foreign films while a "movie theater" features typical Hollywood fare.  Anyhow, while waiting for the start of "The Ghost Writer," (skip it, or at least wait until the DVD comes out, ) I caught a trailer for the movie version of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo."  It looked intriguing, but I sort of forgot about it until I was at the airport returning from Phoenix.  Looking for a good book to read on the flight back to Chicago, I scanned the rows of bestsellers.  I had already read #1 - "First Family" by David Baldacci on the way out to Arizona.  Sitting about three rows below it was the "Tattoo" book at #17 on the list.  On a lark I decided to buy it.  I finished it three days later at 3 AM on a Sunday morning.  It was that good.   It had the kind of non stop excitement that reminded me of the 2001 World Series Game Seven between Arizona and the New York Yankees.

The story behind the books themselves is just as intriguing as the novels.  Author Stieg Larsson was a Swedish graphic designer turned journalist who became an expert on right wing extremism. He died suddenly of a heart attack in 2004 after having completed three manuscripts for the books in his "Millenium" series. Due to his writings and lectures on neo-Nazi activity, Larsson and his partner Eva Gabrielsson faced constant threats from right-wing violence.

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” takes place in Sweden and begins with journalist Mikael Blomkvist in a court of law.  He has just been found guilty of libel against one of the country leading businessman, Hans-Erik Wennerstrom.  As Blomkvist is pondering his future, he receives a call on behalf of Henrik Vanger, an 82-year old former CEO of another leading Swedish company.  Vanger contracts Blomkvist to write a biography of his family, but confides in Mikael his real reason for engaging him is to try to solve the mysterious disappearance of his grandniece.  Sixteen year-old Harriet vanished at a family reunion in 1966 and her body was never found.  Vanger has obsessed about this tragedy ever since.  He believes that one of the members of his very dysfunctional family may be involved.

Blomkvist doesn’t have many options at this point in his career, and there certainly hasn’t been any new evidence in the intervening decades.  However, Vanger offers him a great deal of money for the task. He also promises to support Blomkvist’s financially struggling magazine, “Millenium,” and offers to provide proof that Wennerstrom was in fact a corrupt businessman.

At the same time the readers are introduced to Lisbeth Salander, a twenty-four year old misfit, whose photographic memory and computer hacking skills have made her a top investigator for a private security firm.  Salander also has a few skeletons in her past, and we learn about those events as well as her run in with a state appointed legal guardian that contributes mightily to her anti social attitudes, and her contempt for authority figures.  She has some piercings, wears punk rock clothes, and bears several tattoos, including the dragon in the book's title.

Salander meets Blomkvist when Vanger’s lawyer recommends her to help Mikael with his research on Harriet Vanger’s disappearance.  Blomkvist’s journalistic approach has led him to uncover some clues that [surprise] the police overlooked.  Every living member of the Vanger family becomes a suspect.  Living in a small isolated island, everyone becomes aware of Blomkvist’s project, so Mikael and Lisbeth have to watch their backs as their every move seems to be scrutinized.  Mikael also faces the pressures of his floundering magazine, while trying to solve the murder, and dealing with his estranged wife and daughter.

This book is an absolute page turner.  Larsson has crafted a stylish murder mystery that reads like a film noir. It has a good deal of lurid sex and some gruesome violence, so it’s not for the squeamish. Credit needs to also be given to Reg Keeland for his fine translation from the original Swedish text.  Salander is a fascinating character with her brilliant mind, unorthodox behavior, and casual attitudes towards sex and relationships.  She is at the same time both salacious and shocking; someone you can’t wait to meet, and scares the hell out of you of you double cross her.

In addition to everything surround him, Blomkvist seems to be in the throws of a mid-life crisis, juggling his affair with his married co-publisher, a romance with Vanger’s niece Cecilia, and suddenly his newfound attraction for the mysterious Salander, who seduces him one night.

I enjoyed this book so much, I went out and got the next book in the series, “The Girl Who Played with Fire” in hard cover, something I almost never do.  Run, don’t walk to the bookstore, or use the link above and order this book. My rating - a grand slam - four stars.  Read it before the film comes out.

Below you will find the video for the USA trailer.  Be sure to check out some of the UK and European versions on You Tube as well.{jcomments on}



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