Review: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson

I enjoy reading the occasional thriller/crime novel and with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo being so highly reviewed I thought I would give it a try (especially having watched the BBC series “Wallander” based on novels by another Swedish writer, Henning Mankell).

Many readers will already know that the author, Stieg Larsoon,  delivered the manuscripts for the three crime novels forming his Millennium Trilogy (this one is the first) to his publisher and then died suddenly and unexpectedly soon afterwards.  This was a sad loss for despite their failings (at least in my opinion) this is a unique set of novels, the second. The Girl Who Played With Fire having now been published in the UK.

The book’s main theme is about the wealthy Vanger family, who over several generations have built up an industrial empire.  However, despite their vast wealth, the family are dysfunctional to say the least, and have many skeletons in their cupboards.  Journalist Mikael Blomkvist is recruited by the elderly Henrik Vanger to investigate the disappearance of Harriet Vanger who went missing thirty years ago.

In a parallel thread we read of Lisbeth Salander who is a troubled security specialist who spends her time free-lancing on special investigations using her skills in computer hacking and network-busting.  Salander’s story runs parallel to Blomkvist for the first 250 pages or so, and it is not easy to see the connection between the two until they eventually meet up and work together on the Vanger case.

While I appreciate the complexity and thoroughness of this book, I would say its a four-star read rather than a five.  For one thing, quite a number of its 538 pages are full of rather mind-numbing detail.  The book gets off to a slow start, with a couple of hundred pages of scene-setting.  In fact, I didn’t find myself really getting into the novel until I was half-way through it, when eventually Blomkvist and Salander get together.  The book is a strange mixture of highly complex detail with intermittent sections of extreme violence of the Thomas Harris variety (think serial killers/sadist and Hannibal Lector).

I am not sure about the relationships between the characters.  Blomkvist has sex with three women during the book, all three of whom are hurt in various ways by their encounters with him.  The “nice guy “image of the author’s hero is somewhat tarnished by these – could someone so “nice” also be so unthinking about the effects he has on his serial partners?

Finally, I tend not to like books which begin with a diagram of a family tree – this usually means that their are so many characters that a diagram is required and this book is no exception.  Admittedly by the end of the novel the reader is well-acquainted with most of them, and the family tree is no longer necessary but there were times when I was flipping back and forth to find even the particular Vanger whose first name begins with a “G” (OK, only five of them but you get my point).

For this book to work better, I would have liked it to be edited down to about 300 pages.  I like long books, but not where their length is due to un-necessary complexity and detail which does not serve the story.  I would also have reduced the number of characters (were all those Vanger’s really necessary?) and would have cut out much of the detail about the two reasearchers trolling through endless archives of family documents and photographs – I could feel the tedium of this activity rather more than I needed to.  I think a shorter and more focused approach would have been much more successful and would have persuaded me to buy the next two volumes of the trilogy.

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