Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

This is the first of three crime novels in the Millennium trilogy, published posthumously, selling more than 27 million copies world wide as of 2010. On the surface, this is a riveting book, a page turner. I had the same page-turner experience with Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which I read in Japan. I was motivated to tackle this book because I have read good things about the just-released movie. The first hundred pages lays out the exposition, at a very methodical pace, but then, all of a sudden, so much just starts to happen. And contrary to the title, the first book really centers around Blomkvist. The second book is really all about "the girl."

The plot is multi-layered, but revolves around the dynamic duo of Mikael Blomkvist, smeared editor of Millennium, an erudite magazine that acts as a watchdog to corporate misdeeds, and Lisbeth Salander, an incorruptible asocial punk, hacker non-pareil, and private investigator. Interestingly, Larsson himself edited a journal, Expo, as a founder of the Swedish Expo Foundation, established to counteract the growth of the extreme right and racist organizations. Lisbeth was modeled after Swedish children's author Astrid Lindgren's Pippi Longstalking. In fact, Michael Blomkvist's nickname (which he detests) Kalle Blomkvist derives from a detective in the Swedish-language version of Lindgren's book as well.

Blomkvist is hired by industrialist Henrik Vanger to solve the mystery of the disappearance of his great niece Harriet 40 years earlier. Conveniently, the author provides a handy genealogical tree for the Vanger clan at the outset of the book. Subsequent volumes M2 and M3 lack this nice little DNA cheat sheet, likely because such a tree would reveal blood relations that are carefully obscured until the end of M2, especially regarding Lisbeth. At the core, this book is rife with conflicts of interest, among so many parties, with more than a few unlikely couplings. The original title in Swedish was Men Who Hate Women. This line will appear in M2 near the end (p. 463). This is a resonating theme. Larsson also is consumed with the virulent strain of Nazism still evident in Swedish society.

Two films come immediately to mind when reading this book. The theme is well trodden -protagonists mastermind a con and end up with the crooks' money. Pam Grier is fabulous in Quentin Tarentino's Jackie Brown (1997), where she absconds with misplaced drug money, unbeknownst to anyone except her "Mikael Bomkvist," who in this film is a bail bondsman. Also Julia Roberts' corporate spy role in Duplicity (2009) has the same flavor in the end. And now we must add Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) in Salt (2010).


  1. can i borrow this please? Also, do you really write all of these reviews yourselves? Allusions to jackie brown and duplicity? These are really wonderful to read!