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Stunning debut for Swedish novelist

  • Sep 16, 2008
The first of a trilogy (Millennium), Swedish author and journalist Larsson's debut thriller succeeds on so many levels it's hard to know where to begin.

First off, it's an absolute page-turner. But the characters are so fascinating and the clear, understated writing so graceful, you are going to want to savor it. A dilemma.

The plot is complex, involving corrosive family secrets, gruesome serial killings, business chicanery on a grand scale, journalistic ethics and government paternalism. All of it seamlessly interwoven through the characters of the two protagonists.

As the book opens Mikael Blomqvist, an investigative business journalist and co-owner of the business magazine "Millennium," has just been convicted of libeling powerful financier Hans-Erik Wennerstrom, sentenced to a few months jail time and fined a crippling sum. His struggling magazine has lost its credibility and Blomqvist will likely lose his lovely apartment as well as his livelihood.

Meanwhile, Lisbeth Salander, a fierce, tiny, anorexic-looking, punk-dressing, tattooed genius investigator whose ferocious independence belies her fragile appearance, has just completed a report on Blomqvist for the security firm that employs her. She's filleted his life - ethics, sex life, finances, prospects - and delivered a suspicion of her own on the libel case.

The report goes to childless Henrik Vanger, wealthy patriarch of an insular, squabbling family dynasty, a decayed giant in steel, mining, textiles and more. Henrik wants to hire Blomqvist to write the Vanger family history - a tale rife with Nazis, batterers and drunks - as a pretext to investigating the disappearance of his beloved niece Harriet in 1966 at age 16.

It's a "locked island" mystery. The Hedeby Island family compound in the remote north of Sweden connects to the mainland by one bridge. It was blocked by an accident. All boats were accounted for. Which leaves about 40 suspects, most of them family, most of them cleared or deceased. But each year on his birthday Vanger receives a pressed flower - a taunting, macabre reminder of the pressed flowers Harriet used to give him. The murderer - Vanger is convinced she has been murdered - is still alive.

So why does Blomqvist take this hopeless case? The money and quiet isolation are attractive but Vanger sweetens the deal by promising to deliver incontrovertible proof of Wennerstrom's criminality.

Blomqvist, shocked by the intense cold and meager winter light of Hedeby, moves into a guesthouse and begins to meet the family. He falls into a dalliance with one of Harriet's contemporaries, daughter of the last Vanger Nazi, a 90-plus recluse who still lives on the island, sidesteps Harriet's ancient viper of a mother - her father died in a drunken accident the year before Harriet disappeared - and has a congenial dinner with Martin Vanger, current CEO of the Vanger companies and Harriet's brother.

Meanwhile, Salander needs all her considerable skills to reclaim her life from an abusive state-appointed guardian. The narrative swings between Blomqvist and Salander and while the Blomqvist part is absorbing and intricate, the Salander part is violent, scary, and sharply humorous.

Eventually Blomqvist makes an unexpected breakthrough and needs a researcher. Who better than the person who put together such an expert dossier on him? And here the book really comes together. Apart, Blomqvist and Salander are fine individuals, quite capable of engaging our attention (well, Salander is electrifying), together they are fascinating.

Blomqvist's perceptiveness blooms and Salander's edgy brilliance shines. Where others are baffled by Salander or tend to underestimate her, Blomqvist recognizes Aspergers and spots talents that Salander has kept secret all her life. As Salander lets some of her defenses fall, a partnership develops that allows leaps of deduction and intuition, working up to a nail-biting conclusion and a denouement that kick-starts a new set of problems - to be faced in the second book, "The Girl Who Played with Fire," which, sadly, will not be available until next year.

More sadly, Larsson did not live to see the success of his trilogy - which is already a bestseller in non-English speaking Europe. (Why the English translations are being published so much later than German, French, Norwegian, Italian, etc. is a mystery). An anti-right-wing activist and journalist (perhaps a bit like Blomqvist), he died in 2004 of a heart attack at age 50, just after delivering all three manuscripts.

With its Swedish sensibilities, northern atmosphere (especially in below frigid winter), and riveting characters, this book is for anyone who has ever read a crime story.

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review by . April 04, 2012
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review by . January 01, 2010
Book Review: Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
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review by . March 16, 2010
When I finished reading this book, it was hard to imagine it being the same book that I began a month before. In fact, reading the last third of the book was like reading a completely different book from the first third.  The first third of this book was so slow and boring that I had significant problems even wanting to pick it up off my nightstand to read it. It was great for sleeping but not so good for reading!       Everywhere I went, people were raving about how fantastic …
review by . August 01, 2010
Mikael Blomkvist, investigative journalist and owner of Millennium magazine, is on top of his world. He's just published a hard hitting series of sensational financial articles exposing the staggering corruption of Swedish banker, Hans Wennerstrom, and his star is in the ascendant until Wennerstrom drags him into the courtroom and wins a devastating criminal suit for libel. Blomkvist's world looks bleak as he faces three months in prison and a fine that threatens to take down everything …
review by . December 28, 2011
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review by . October 07, 2010
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review by . February 25, 2011
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review by . September 26, 2010
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review by . June 25, 2010
I was initially drawn to Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo after reading about the movie, which, to be honest, is a crying shame.  When I started looking for it (this was before it started turning up in big box stores, following the release of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest - which is, by the way, a great way to pick it up on the cheap), no one I knew had ever heard of it.      Two things really stood out in Larsson's story: the characters …
review by . July 19, 2010
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Lynn Harnett ()
I love to read, always have, and have been writing reviews for more years than I care to say. Early on, i realized there are more books than there is time to read, so I read only books I like and mostly … more
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Amazon Best of the Month, September 2008: Once you startThe Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, there's no turning back. This debut thriller--the first in a trilogy from the late Stieg Larsson--is a serious page-turner rivaling the best of Charlie Huston and Michael Connelly. Mikael Blomkvist, a once-respected financial journalist, watches his professional life rapidly crumble around him. Prospects appear bleak until an unexpected (and unsettling) offer to resurrect his name is extended by an old-school titan of Swedish industry. The catch--and there's always a catch--is that Blomkvist must first spend a year researching a mysterious disappearance that has remained unsolved for nearly four decades. With few other options, he accepts and enlists the help of investigator Lisbeth Salander, a misunderstood genius with a cache of authority issues. Little is as it seems in Larsson's novel, but there is at least one constant: you reallydon'twant to mess with the girl with the dragon tattoo. --Dave Callanan

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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ISBN-10: 0307269752
ISBN-13: 9780307269751
Author: Stieg Larsson
Genre: Mystery & Thrillers
Publisher: Vintage
Date Published: September 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover
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