Book Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

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At any one time, have you ever wondered how many women disappear yearly? How many of the women around you have been sexually harassed or assaulted but have chosen to keep silent? These are not the kind of common questions that you would entertain over your morning cup of coffee.

Michael Blomkvist, a journalist for the Millennium Magazine, finds himself in deep trouble after a report he had published on Hans-Erik Wennerstrom legally backfires. For the first time in his career, he is charged with a crime, albeit small. To lick his wounds, he decides to take a backseat in the running of the magazine business and disappear from the scene for a while. This is also in an attempt to save Millennium as clients are pulling out fast. His plan is ready to go when he receives a mysterious call from a lawyer representing Henrik Vanger, an eighty-two-year-old tycoon of the renowned Vanger companies.

Harriet Vanger, Henrik’s grandniece, disappeared from Hedestad Island more than forty years ago when she was only fifteen. Despite Henrik’s search efforts, she has never resurfaced, dead or alive. It is as if she disappeared into thin air. Henrik is convinced beyond doubt that one of his family members murdered his grandniece. Taking advantage of Michael’s almost ‘joblessness’, Henrik hires him to uncover Harriet’s puzzling disappearance. He will do this secretly under the disguise of writing Vanger’s autobiography. In exchange, Henrik will supply Michael with exclusive information on Wennerstrom, and Michael, who is determined to have his revenge and restore his past glory, is sold on.

Michael hires Lisbeth Salander, a twenty-four-year-old computer geek with a particularly traumatic childhood, and works for a private security agency as an investigator. This is after Michael accidentally learns that Lisbeth had been hired by Henrik to do an investigative report on him, where she exposed secrets he wished had remained hidden. However, Lisbeth is not your ordinary girl. She is covered in tattoos and piercings. Her antisocial personality is such that you wouldn’t even notice her if you stepped into a room she was in.

Together, they unearth layers of unpleasant and truly shocking truths of the members of the Vanger family. Suddenly, the once-so-great family ceases to be great no more. When they finally pull a thread that could bring the whole fabric tumbling down, other strange events start happening. A mutilated dead cat is found outside Michael’s cottage at Hedestad. Michael also escapes targeted shooting while he is out on a walk. Someone is starting to have cold feet and is keen on ensuring they never solve the mystery.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larson is a fast-paced crime thriller that I could hardly put down. It is also the first book in the Millennium Series. From the beginning, I was gripped with suspense from the need to find the answers to the questions that kept arising from the various happenings. Is the person behind the murder attempt on Michael’s life responsible for Harriet’s death? Is there a possibility that Harriet could still be alive after missing for forty-three years? Who in the dysfunctional Vanger’s family could have had a motive in getting rid of the fifteen-year-old Harriet? Will Michael and Lisbeth succeed in unraveling Harriet’s killer? Moreover, will Michael fulfill his revenge on Wennerstrom and save Millennium from going to the ground?

The plot is superbly developed with unexpected twists and turns. At times I would think that I had figured out the mystery only to find that I had, once again, guessed wrong. This created the right amounts of tension throughout, making the book an enjoyable read. The other thing that I loved is the way events are grounded in reality. Although the discoveries that Michael and Lisbeth make while hunting for Harriet’s murderer will make your blood run cold, they are not beyond the earthly realm. Also, I liked how the characters evolve throughout the book. In particular, I came to love Lisbeth’s journey so much. From the moment she enters the scene, it’s not hard to tell why I was rooting for her through and through. If anything, she was my favorite character.

The only major conflict I had with the book is that it took quite a long time to connect the story to its given title. Lisbeth is the girl with the dragon tattoo but it is not until on page three-hundred when she finally meets with Michael to help with solving Harriet’s disappearance. Although she had been introduced earlier in the story, I kept questioning how she was essential to the story’s survival. I did not appreciate waiting that long to learn what her real purpose is. However, once she is on board, the story becomes more thrilling and incredibly enjoyable. I only wish that she had appeared in a few more scenes because I could not get enough her.

The other conflict albeit minor is how sexual violence and murder against the women in the book have been extensively detailed. These scenes are highly disturbing and overdone, and I hated that I had to endure through them. Also, it was infuriating how perpetrators of these heinous acts are given an easy way out. They are not held accountable or even made to suffer for their crimes.

Overall, it was quite an amazing read. I do not have any reservations in recommending it to everyone who enjoys psychological crime thrillers. I can almost say that it is among the best crime novels that I have read. It has a perfect balance of mystery, crime, family drama, and romance. Of course, the book is professionally edited such that not a single comma is out of place. I look forward to reading the remaining books in the series, starting with The Girl who Played with Fire and followed by The Girl who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest.

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