by MacKenzie Phillips
Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is an up-close and personal thriller that dives into human nature, combining murder mystery with romance and financial corruption, while simultaneously exploring the way Swedish men treat Swedish women. The original title of the novel was the much more direct Män som hatar kvinnor— or ‘Men who hated women.’ Originally published in Sweden in 2005, the novel instantly became an international best seller. Fresh Air (NPR) calls it “A super- smart amalgam of the corporate corruption tale, legal thriller and dysfunctional family psychological suspense story.”
The story opens with a compelling mystery. Henrik Vanger, the patriarch of a Swedish family with huge business holdings, hires Mikael Blomkvist to investigate the sudden disappearance of his beloved great- niece, Harriet, who vanished nearly forty years ago. Henrik has yet to forget the day that his niece disappeared from the small island, in Hedestead, owned mostly by the Vanger family. That day, there was an accident on the island that cut the family off from the mainland. Harriet has been gone ever since, without a trace. Despite serious doubts and speculations, Blomkvist takes the challenge.
Blomkvist is a financial journalist who is a partner in a small magazine, Millennium. He takes the case after Henrik promises to give him 2.4 million kronor (about $372,000) for a year’s work. This appeals to Blomkvist since he has just lost a major libel case to mega industrialist, Hans-Erik Wennerström.
Henrik is certain that someone in his family murdered Harriet. He tells Blomkvist that he despises most of the members of his family. The girl in the title of the novel is Lisbeth Salander, a 24- year- old super- hacker who becomes Blomkvist’s immediate side kick. Lisbeth is a problem child who has a violent temper, photographic memory, and major intimacy issues.
The novel’s investigation perks up when it turns out that Harriet’s case is connected to a serial killer who committed a series of murders in the 1950s and ‘60s. Larsson invents a murderer of complexity and insane evil. When a cat is killed and its tortured corpse is left outside the cottage where Blomkvist stays on the island, he and his partner suddenly realize that this case is far from cold.
In the end, Blomkvist solves the mystery that has been haunting Henrik for forty years. This thrilling plot line effectively exploits a dark and unknown Swedish society. In my opinion, Larsson’s masterpiece is a must read. I am currently reading his sequel, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and it is just as thrilling and exciting. Larsson’s third novel, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, will be published in the Spring of 2010. I plan to read all three, and am confident that if you are looking for a thrilling sensation you will enjoy Larsson’s first novel.