Monday, May 11, 2009

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Author: Stieg Larsson
Translated from Swedish by: Reg Keeland
Maclehose Press, 2005 (English translation 2008)
533 pages

This could very well be the greatest mystery novel ever written. Did that get your attention? I hope so, because I want everyone I know to read this amazing book. It's so . . . different . . . and extremely well-written. [To get an idea of what some "real" critics think, check out this short video from Amazon.com.]

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a multi-layered, formula-busting motorcycle ride of a book that was given to me by my Swedish friend "K" last summer on my last working day in Vienna. (I had not heard of the book or the author at the time, but "K" told me that it was a phenomenal success in Sweden, but had only recently been translated into English.) Released in the USA in late September of last year, it became an immediate bestseller here and even today is #250 on the Amazon.com bestseller list. Not bad at all for a Swedish mystery novel - especially considering it's been on the list for seven months now!

In Sweden, the title of the book was "Men Who Hate Women" . . . I really don't want to give too many spoilers out, but yes, there are a couple of those in this book. Fortunately, the book isn't so much about them as it is the other characters: Mikael Blomkvist is a journalist who was recently convicted of libel against a billionaire businessman. Lisbeth Salander is a top-notch investigator with some strange behaviors and several secrets. Mikael and Lisbeth make quite a team, but there are several interesting secondary characters, as well, such as Henrik Vanger, the octogenarian CEO of a prominent Swedish corporation, who longs to know the truth behind the disappearance of his favorite niece back in 1966. And that is the biggest mystery to be solved in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Or is it?

Things started out kind of slow, but for some reason I hung in there, and I'm really glad I did. There were so many twists and turns, so many interesting characters. There is definitely something very European - maybe Swedish, specifically - about the book. Certainly there is an aspect of the characters, the settings and locales that's very different from the usual "American" mystery novel. Some people call it "Scandinavian noir." 

Larsson's frequent references to other mystery writers (including Agatha Christie, Sue Grafton, and Sara Parestky) and formulae ("locked-room mystery") reveals him to be one who read his share of mystery novels. I say "read" in past-tense because sadly (and also ironically), Larsson died not long after delivering the manuscripts of this book and two others to his publisher. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (or "Men Who Hate Women") was supposed to be the first of up to ten books in a series. Three books were complete. The second book, The Girl Who Played with Fire is not yet available in the USA, but can be ordered from Amazon.co.uk - it's supposed to be even better than The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - I've already ordered it. 

I have to warn you that there are a couple of violent scenes. OK, you were warned. Now, go read the book. If you are over 21. 

Rating: 4.75 stars.