Book review: ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ |

Book review: ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’

Stephen Bedford
Vail CO, Colorado
Special to the Daily

VAIL, Colorado ” There are so many things worth savoring in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” the debut novel from Swedish author Stieg Larsson, that its hard to know where to start.

For beginners, there’s the stew of a plot that mixes several ingredients including family saga, corporate corruption, finance, journalism, sex, violence, love and hate. Larsson cooks an ambitious literary meal that never loses flavor.

Without fear of fulsome praise, it’s safe to declare that Stieg Larsson has raised the stakes in suspense/mystery writing like a European version of our own Richard Price. Larsson is a fresh voice in the genre, and an invitation for his somewhat stale, stagnant peers to break out of their predictable, cliched techniques.

Larsson crafts the story of Mikael Blomkvist, an embattled financial reporter staring at a prison term after being found guilty of libel. His solid standing forever sullied, Blomkvist believes he was deliberately fed bad information from a once-reliable source.

Soon after the verdict, Blomkvist is approach by wealthy industrialist Henrik Vanger to write the magnate’s life story, with a few catches. Vanger essentially offers Blomkvist a blank check to write the biography, and promises information that will liberate him in court and restore his reputation as well as save his fledgling financial magazine.

The biography is Vanger’s ulterior motive to have Blomkvist deploy his journalistic skills on the cold case of his missing niece. Vanishing without a trace more than 40 years ago, Harriet Vanger’s disappearance weighs heavily on octogenarian Henrik, who is searching for closure as his life nears an end.

Blomkvist begins investigating the tangled Vanger family tree, uncovering a clan with roots filled with deceit, contempt and pure hatred for one another.

As Blomkvist studies the Vangers, studying him is Lisbeth Salander, a scrawny, introverted private security agent capable of many wicked things. Deemed mentally unstable by the nation, Salander takes much pride in her unorthodox skills, making her an unlikely covert agent. Whether her cloak-and-dagger demeanor is for good or evil is for you to decide.

With fine writing and equal attention to his many plot lines, Larsson’s debut hits the ground running. It’s compulsively readable with an unlikely, yet strangely fitting conclusion.

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” was a breakout hit in Europe, selling millions of copies and a promise of two more novels to follow. Sadly, Larsson never got to see his book’s impact or enjoy its success.

Although a fresh voice in a genre desperate for one, Larsson will never be heard from again. He died of a heart attack at the age of 50, shortly after delivering the manuscript for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”

That grievance, however, makes the book worth savoring that much more.

Stephen Bedford works at The Bookworm.

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