Eighteen percent of the women in Sweden have at one time been threatened by a man.
These statistics about violence and brutality against women sets the tone of the trilogy’s theme and are preludes to each section. In fact, the original Swedish title is Men who Hate Women. The first in the Millennium trilogy, this is one ripper of a book. The two central characters are introduced: Mickael Blomkvist, an independent and high profile journalist who is also co-owner of the Millennium magazine and Lisbeth Salander, a punky, anti-social, rather ruthless and resourceful genius hacker. And yes, it is Salander with the titular dragon tattoo.
Blomkvist and Salander have their own independent storyline until their paths meet much further into the book. Blomkvist finds himself in a disgraced position and takes a sabbatical when he is offered a one year contract by old Henrick Vangar to write a biography on the immensely wealthy and noted Vangar family. This is a cover for Blomkvist who is primarily there to investigate the mysterious disappearance of Harriet Vangar, the beloved granddaughter of the elder Henrik. The case has haunted Henrik for over 35 years since Harriet’s disappearance one eventful day in the 1960s. Henrik is adamant that she had been murdered by one the numerous members of the Vangar family, a mix of eccentrics, manipulative and dangerous people although the body has never been found.
And so Blomkvist moves to the relatively isolated Hedeby Island where the the majority of the Vangar family lives to try and solve the cold case. It is this section of the novel that becomes very reminiscent of Agatha Christie: an improbable murder, very little clues, impossible environment, a huge cast of suspects and an isolated scene of murder.
The twists in the plot are incredible and one can’t help but think if this is the sort of mysteries Agatha Christie would write if she was alive today. I’ll repeat my assessment of the book – “It’s like Agatha Christie on steroids and crystal meth”. The plot is unique but very very disturbing and rather violent and sheds quite a new light on the clean cut image of Sweden. Blomkvist and Salander are two quite unique characters, particularly Salander, although Blomkvist do at times appear to be the typical heroic journalist. One slight criticism of the novel would be that the ending ties up a little too neatly.
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo takes you on one hell of a ride. While I suspect that some things are probably lost in translation, it is still one ripping read. It’s quite a tragedy that Larsson died before he could see the success of his books and also without the opportunity to write more.