Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson

2005; 644 pages. New Author?: Yes. Awards : 2006 Glass Key Award, 2008 Boeke Prize, 2009 Galaxy British Book Award, 2009 Anthony Award (Best First Novel). Genre : Crime Mystery. Overall Rating : 8*/10.
Mikhael Blomkvist has had better times. He's just been convicted of libel against a powerful Swedish industrialist. The scandal has caused him to resign his journalism job and he has a 6-month prison stint to look forward to.
So when an elderly gentleman, Henrik Vanger, offers him a year's salary to simply re-read the police reports about the murder of Henrik's niece 36 years earlier (to see if he can uncover any new angles), it's an opportunity he can't turn down.
What's To Like...
There's the complex character of Lisbeth Salander (the girl with the dragon tattoo), a semi-autistic hacker with a photographic memory. You do not want to do her wrong. It takes half the book for her to join up with Blomkvist in the investigation, but she brings valuable skills to the project.
The style is part police procedural, so you get red herrings and dead ends. But it's also part action story, so you get shootings, fights, sex, and a puzzle to solve. Blomkvist is a journalist who isn't even burnt-out, which is a nice change of pace.
It's set in Sweden, which is always a plus for me. And it's a page-turner, which is important when a book's 640+ pages long.
Larsson gives a chart of the Vanger family tree in the front of the book, which you'll end up using frequently. But it would have been nice to also have a map of the island on which most of the story takes place. The plenitude of details adds realism to the story, but Larsson occasionally goes overboard with this device. One gets the feeling the manuscript needed a stern editor's pen at places.
Kewl New Words...
Slussplan : a famous street in Stockholm. Scupper : to wait in ambush. Importunate : expressing earnest entreaty. Dogsbody : a worker who does all the unpleasant or boring jobs. Exiguous : very meager. Christmas Glogg : a Scandinavian punch that contains (at least in one recipe) red wine, sherry, brandy, almonds, raisins, and orange peel. (Yum, yum!) Gallimaufry : a jumble; a hodgepodge. Contretemps : an inopportune happening causing confusion or the disruption of the normal routine. Antipode : a polar opposite. Tunnelbana : the Stockholm subway system.
...it was not Lisbeth Salander's astonishing lack of emotional involvement that most upset him. Salander fitted into this picture about as well as a buffalo at a boat show. Armansky's star researcher was a pale, anorexic young woman who had hair as short as a fuse, and a pierced nose and eyebrows. She had a wasp tattoo about an inch long on her neck, a tattooed loop around the biceps of her left arm and another around her left ankle. On those occasions when she had been wearing a tank top, Armansky also saw that she had a dragon tattoo on her left shoulder blade. She was a natural redhead, but she dyed her hair raven black. She looked as though she had just emerged from a week-long orgy with a gang of hard rockers. (pgs 40-41)
Blomkvist put the photograph in his shoulder bag and walked to the park by the station. There he sat in a pavement café and ordered a latte. He suddenly felt shaken.
In English they call it "new evidence", which has a very different sound from the Swedish term, "new proof material." He had seen something entirely new, something no-one else had noticed in an investigation that had been marking time for thirty-seven years.
The problem was that he wasn't sure what value his new information had, if indeed it could have any at all. (pg. 326)
Armageddon was yesterday - today we have a serious problem. (pg. 360)
(a slogan on one of Lisbeth's t-shirts)
The Swedish title of this book is Men Who Hate Women, which is more apropos, but admittedly a lot less catchy. The interwoven plotlines are complex and the book quickly sucks you in. It is easy to see why The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was a smash bestseller. There are some technical flaws and some graphic sex scenes, but the engaging story more than compensates. Eight Stars.


Lula O said...

This one was good, but book two was a lot better. It took me about 100 pages or so to get into this one, too much business speak and Nazi stuff, the second starts off the gate quicker, at least for me. Love your kewl words, so many in the whole series, including the proper names. Just started book 3. So far it's really good and I'm on like page 25.

Hamilcar Barca said...

I agree, Lula. it seemed like there were 100 pages of a not-as-interesting business-oriented storyline needlessly tacked onto the beginning and end of a perfectly good crime mystery. a good editor would have fixed that.

and its good to know the books 2 and 3 are better. they haven't made it to my TBR shelf yet, but they will.

Julie said...

These books do seems popular but I'm completely torn about reading them. I don't think they are for me.
I do find it interesting learning about this author and that he has since passed away. Very sad yet morbidly, I wonder how this affected books 2 and 3 compared to the first one?

Hamilcar Barca said...

i don't recall you reading many gritty mysteries, so this may not be your type of book. still, you've surprised me a number of times with the breadth of the genres you read.