Just like the Nobel Prize, Dolph Lundgren and a certain variety of delicious red fish, the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the latest Swedish phenomenon to capture the hearts of Americans. Flying off book shelves at a rapid pace and quickly surpassing the degenerates from “The Jersey Shore” as the primary topic of water cooler conversation, Stiegg Larsson’s debut novel is a captivating tale loaded with financial intrigue and family drama with a healthy dose of European sexuality peppered in for good measure.
Larsson’s story centers around the decades old disappearance of a member of the powerful but fading Vanger family. The patriarch of the Vanger clan, Henrik, enlists the help of disgraced financial journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, to solve the mystery of his missing niece, Harriet Vanger. Henrik uses the carrot on the stick approach to lure Mikael with the promise of clearing his sullied name.
As the plot thickens, Mikael realizes that he will not be able to solve the mystery by himself. He then enlists the help of the unusual albeit brilliant Lisbeth Salander. Together the pair dig deeper into the mysterious disappearance of Harriet Vanger and unravel the deep dark secrets of the Vanger clan.
This book easily surpasses The Da Vinci Code as the best thriller of the 21st century with its fast pacing, sharp writing and interesting characters. Larsson does a great job here keeping the reader glued to the pages until the final act. While there are obvious suspects, the writer keeps you guessing up until the very end as far as who the culprits are and what is the ultimate outcome.
One of my gripes with the book is that the characters are a bit flat. This could be because the intent was to draw out the development over a string of ten books, but the characters remain pretty stoic throughout this volume. Mikael remains righteous, moral and extra resoursceful; Lisbeth is always strange, cold and jaded; and Henry is always rich and old. None of the characters really grow or change in any way.
The only other problem I had with the book is the huge amount of sexual ambiguity in the story. While sex, sexuality and rape are a huge part of the plot, I feel like there was plenty of intercourse that was just plain unnecessary – particularly that of the two main characters. I sort of felt their sexual relationship was misplaced and illadvised, especially considering Mikael has an ex-wife, a best friend/lover AND a concubine on the grounds of the Vanger compound by the quarter point of the story. I expected the two to have more of a mentor/mentee, father/daughter type relationship rather than one that gets convoluted with intimacy.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a great book for anyone looking for a fast entertaining read. Don’t expect James Joyce, but then again, don’t expect James Joyce.