Stieg Larsson ( 1950-2004) was a Swedish investigative journalist and the author of three phenomenally successful mysteries ,The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. He submitted them to his publisher shortly before his sudden death of a heart attack in 2004. In the years since, the novels have sold close to 25 million copies , been made into a series of movies in Sweden and are in the process of being brought to the silver screen by Hollywood.
I’m fond of Scandinavian mysteries and I’ve read my more than my share of them . Starting with Maj Sowall and Per Wahloo and on thru Henning Mankell, Arthur Idridasson, Jo Nesbo , Ake Edwardsson and others I’ve enjoyed them all. I hadn’t read any of Larsson’s books , however, until I went on a cruise last month and came across the middle volume of Larsson’s trilogy in the ship’s library. Ten pages into The Girl Who Played With Fire and I was hooked . I finished it before we reached the halfway point of our cruise and could hardly wait to get my hands on the other two volumes. I’ve since devoured The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and am about to begin the third volume in the series.The two volumes I’ve finished were absolutely fantastic – they are like no other mystery I’ve read before- and I’m sure the third will be as good or better.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the first book in the series , begins with an 82-year-old man receiving a, a dried flower in the mail . He has been getting these flowers annually for the last 40 years and he has no idea who’s sending them to him.
Cut: to a courtroom in Stockholm where Mikael Blomqvist , a crusading journalist , has just been found guilty of the libel and defamation of industrialist Hans- Erik Wennerstrom. For having published unsubstantiated stories about Wennerstron’s shady business deals , Blomkvist has been sentenced to pay a hefty fine and serve three months in jail.
Cut: to the offices of Milton Security which has been hired by a representative of the industrialist Henrik Vanger to do a background check on Blomkvist. There , 30 pages into the novel, we meet for the first time Lisbeth Salander, Milton Security’s ace researcher and the novel’s chief protagonist.She has got to be one of the most distinctive characters in crime fiction. A pale, anorexic, heavily tattooed young woman who dresses like a Goth and is a chain smoker, she is an emotionally scarred woman who has previously been institutionalized .She also has a photographic memory and is a master computer hacker. She turns in a report attesting to Blomkvist’s honesty and upright character and shortly afterwards Vanger contacts Blomkvist to ask him to look into the murder of his niece Harriet 40 years ago on the island of Hedeby. Vanger, it turns out, is the 82-year-old man we were introduced to in the beginning of the novel. Harriet had been in the habit of giving him dried flowers on his birthday ; now her killer seems to be taunting him by continuing to send him dried flowers year after year.
Blomkvist is not inclined to take the job but is prevailed upon to do so when Vanger sweetens the pot by promising him conclusive proof of Wennerstrom’s nefarious activities.With time to spare before he begins his prison sentence, Blomkvist moves to a cottage near Venger’s mansion and begins to look into the mystery of Harriet’s murder. The murder had taken place on Hedeby Island one summer when a bridge, the only means of access to the island , was blocked by a traffic accident. Thus there are a limited number of suspects , most of them members of the extended Vanger family. Though not at all hopeful of success, Blomkvist begins his investigations . As he delves into the history of the Vangers, Blomkvist unearths all sorts of skeletons…. Nazi sympathizers, drunks, corruption in high places, incest and murder.
Meanwhile Salander, who is cursed with an insatiable curiosity, has not forgotten Blomkvist . She hacks into his computer and follows his attempts to get to the bottom of the mystery.Blomkvist realizes that someone has been hacking his computer files , tracks her down and hires her to help him in his search for Harriet’s murderer. Pernilla, Blomkvist’s daughter who is visiting him , provides a key break in the case and Blomkvist and Salander working together at last begin to make headway. They unearth a string of grisly murders going back to the forties and find themselves in mortal danger before they finally crack the case.
This book and the others in the series have been best sellers for years and it is easy to see why. The characters are well drawn and have real depth, none more so than Lisbeth Salander. On the face of it, an anorexic looking ,anti-social , chainsmoking girl who dresses like a punk should not be an object of fascination but she is. More than one man in the novel is attracted to her and readers too will be intrigued by her intelligence, her fearlessness in the face of danger and the ferocity with which she defends herself. In this novel , we only get some hints of her traumatic childhood ( they are fully revealed in the second novel) but they are enough to make us sympathize with and root for her.But , it’s not just Salander’s character that is sharply etched . The same is true of Blomqvist , Vanger , Dragan Armansky( Salander’s boss at Milton Security) and even the minor characters. Their back stories make for absorbing reading and the richness of detail makes the novel’s setting come to life. There is only a short portion of the book , when Larsson is introducing us to the other members of the Vanger family , that is a little tedious. The suspense builds up to a satisfying climax with a sudden snd shocking explosion of violence .The ending in which Blomkvist and Salander … but no, I’ll let you read it for yourself.
All three novels of the trilogy have been made into movies in Sweden and this , the first of them , The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is available on Netflix both as a rental DVD and in the streaming version.I’ve watched it already and it is excellent . Of course , it cannot hope to match the richness of detail and the internal monologues of the book but it is does a commendable job in translating the novel to the screen. I understand the movie has already racked up over $ 100 million in box office receipts Down Under and I’m not surprised. I suggest you read the book first and then see the movie since otherwise the latter might be a little difficult to follow.