The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first in the late Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy and was one of the best-selling books of the past couple of years. Larsson was from Sweden and I just went there on holiday so I bought it at the airport. Why not?
It is a cracking page-turner of a thriller that has edge, pace, character, plot twists and some genuine tension. The writing is good (as is the translation) and it’s easy to see why it has sold so many copies and why it has already been made into a film and is now getting the full Hollywood treatment.
Set in Sweden the action shifts between Stockholm and Hedeby (a fictional town) in the north of Sweden as journalist Mikael Blomkvist and security hacker Lisbeth Salander set out to solve the murder of Harriet Vanger, a favoured relative of a rich Swedish industrialist. En route they discover that a serial killer has been at work.
Notwithstanding this being a high quality murder mystery and thriller, there are a few concerns worth raising. The murders are brutal and involve sexual violence against the murdered women. The murders are described in the discovery years after the event but the description was enough for me. The murders are inspired by bizarre Old Testament texts.
There is also one scene of rape, and one of torture which made me uncomfortable. When you read about the author Stieg Larsson you discover he witnessed a gang rape and it deeply affected him and disgusted him. Even though the perpetrators get their comeuppance and there is no sense in which those acts are there for voyeuristic reasons but are there to disgust you, I’d still have concerns about recommending this as a read for entertainment or pleasure.
The lead character Blomkvist is also decidedly immoral in many respects. A good journalist, a seeker of truth, friendly, caring and funny. But he’s a rubbish father and an unrepentant womaniser. His marriage fell apart due to his continued affair with a married colleague and during the course of the book he gets into bed with at least two other characters.
Interestingly Blomkvist’s teenage daughter is a Christian (but not state church Lutheran) and is portrayed as joining a cult and something of a fanatic. But she is a minor character in the book.
Salander is an equally complex character, bisexual, damaged by abuse and by institutions with no sense of law and order, she is a law unto herself. There are no role models in this book.
So will I read the sequels? Probably, they are gripping stories but with a due note of caution sounded.