The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson and Reg Keeland (translator)

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson and Reg Keeland (translator)
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Genre: Crime
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Paul Curd
Reviewed by Paul Curd
Summary: A disgraced financial journalist and a legally incompetent computer hacker join forces to solve a forty-year-old mystery. An atmospheric and enthralling crime novel with a cast of strong characters. Recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 542 Date: January 2008
Publisher: Quercus
ISBN: 978-1847242532

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A Times Educational Supplement Teachers' Top 100 Book

The hero of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Mikael Blomkvist, is a financial journalist and Editor-in-Chief of his own magazine, Millennium. He has built a strong reputation campaigning against corruption and the crooked practices of some of Stockholm's leading businessmen. However, the novel opens just as Blomkvist's latest exposé has ended in a disastrous court case and the journalist's reputation is in tatters.

He is given the opportunity to get out of Stockholm when he is offered a job by Henrik Vanger, a wealthy and powerful businessman. Ostensibly, the work involves writing the Vanger family history, but in reality Blomkvist has been commissioned to investigate the mysterious disappearance of Henrik's niece. Harriet Vanger disappeared forty years ago during a family gathering on secluded Hedeby Island. No one saw her leave the island, and no body was ever found, but Henrik is convinced Harriet was murdered by a member of his own dysfunctional family.

Running parallel to this scenario is the story of Lisbeth Salander, the eponymous Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, who is a surveillance agent for Milton Security and expert computer hacker. She is also legally incompetent, a vulnerable young person with a history of being abused by men in positions of power over her. Eventually, Salander's story meets Blomkvist's story and the unlikely pair join forces to solve the mystery of Harriet Vanger's disappearance.

There was a lot of pre-publication hype about this book, the first in a trilogy about the Editor-in Chief of a Swedish magazine (Millennium) written by the real-life Editor-in Chief of a real-life Swedish magazine. Stieg Larsson died shortly after delivering The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the other two books in the Millennium series to his publisher. The books became hugely popular in Scandinavia and the publication of the first instalment here in the UK was heralded as the arrival of a masterpiece of crime writing.

Well, for once the hype is not entirely unwarranted. It may not be a masterpiece, but The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a very good read. Despite the sometimes dodgy translation this is a really well-written, well-structured novel that was a real pleasure to read. As with many Scandinavian crime novels, there is an atmospheric sense of place, which Larsson achieves with ease. The characterisation, though, is strong and particularly well handled. I sometimes feel that the people who live in crime novels do things for no other reason than because the plot dictates it. That is not the case in this novel, where all the key players are drawn with skill and some deftness. One or two of the characters (not least Lisbeth Salander, the Tattooed Girl herself) could so easily have become caricatures or worse. But Larsson gives them a multi-layered depth that not only makes them real but also makes the reader care about them. Even though it is over 500 pages long, I was pretty much gripped throughout this novel. Recommended.

Further reading suggestion: Depths by Henning Mankell.

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Booklists.jpg The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson and Reg Keeland (translator) is in the Top Ten Crime Novels.


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