Monday, January 31, 2011

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" by Steig Larsson

I rarely read the biggies, at least, not while they're still popular. I wasn't very rebellious as a child, and I think this is my way of doing it now - refusing to read what everyone else is reading. I don't do a lot of the "popular" fiction authors (Grisham, Patterson, Cornwell, Roberts, etc). I've never picked up any of the Harry Potter books. I did finally give in and watch "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, totally prepared to hate it; yeah, Peter Jackson is a genius! I debated about this book for two reasons: I wanted to read it when it first came out, long before the American hoopla, and I had actually heard good things from fellow readers that I trust. But there was always the super-long reserve list at work, and I didn't want the pressure of trying to get through it in the 7 days that we allow for new/high-demand works. Forward to last month, just before the holidays, and the reserve list has finally dwindled to just a few names. Knowing I'd have quite a bit of time off due to the way the festivities fell, I threw caution to the wind and signed up.

Let me be the first to say that sometimes the hoopla is well-deserved. Larsson has written one hell of a book, one that has a little something for everyone. Usually that sort of writing is all over the place and doesn't work worth a darn. Larsson keeps his stories juggling until the very end, and you can almost see the story bubbles getting closer and closer to each other, until they start intersecting and becoming one big bubble. I'm just amazed at the talent here.

Mikael Blomkvist is a financial journalist; along with two friends, he's responsible for a fairly new and controversial magazine, Millenium. His troubles start when a friend invites him for a drink on his boat; the friend tells him a story about one of the biggest financiers in Sweden, one who has been suspected of being shady for quite a while. Millenium does some digging and fact checking, then runs the story. Unfortunately, things are not as they seem, and Blomkvist is convicted of libel and sentenced to three months in jail. Deciding that he needs to lay low for a while, he accepts a very-timely offer from Henrik Vanger; the now 80-something industrialist wants Mikael to investigate a cold case, one very near and dear to the old man's heart. His niece Harriet disappeared from a family gathering back in the 60s, and the old man wants to know the truth before he dies. He suspects that Harriet was killed by a family member, and he wants Mikael to bring that person to justice. Blomkvist is hesitant at first to get involved, but it would be good for him to get away from the libel debacle. Then there's the money that Vanger is offering him; it's basically an offer he can't refuse. Blomkvist gathers his belongings and moves to the island where the Vanger clan all seem to live.

Meanwhile, we've already met Lisabeth Salander, the tiny, almost fragile, Goth girl that is referenced in the book's title. She works for a security company, digging up dirt and doing extensive background checks on people. How she gets her info is pretty obvious, but it comes out later in the book. She's also considered not quite all there by the State, so she has an "advocate" assigned to her, a person that will make sure she's taking care of herself, help her with her finances, etc. The gentleman who has been her assigned to her case for several years has a stroke, and she's assigned a new advocate, one that has much different ideas about how "capable" Lisabeth is. This is where we first see her true grit, and it's not pretty.

Eventually the story lines intersect, and Lisabeth and Mikael meet and start working together. I think that's when things really take off. It's a very good book, but hard to describe: there is literally so much going on here. There are relationships, both sexual/romantic and familial, being explored in depth. There's also the weather, something that really plays a big part in the book. It was very interesting to see how Mikael coped with the sub-zero temps. And for those who enjoy true crime books, I'd put this right up against any of the big titles in that genre. (The original title of Larsson's book was "Men Who Hate Women", which probably would have been a much more appropriate title).

I'm anxious to read the second book in the trilogy, "The Girl Who Played with Fire", and eventually the final installment, "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest." Sadly, that will be it for Mikael and Lisabeth; Larsson died in 2004, not too long after submitting his work to his publisher. I guess this will make him a bit like others who have died too soon; a brilliant mind snuffed out before its time.

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