The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Product Details
In part situated in the Swedish capital just after the turn of the millennium, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, despite the fire breathing capacity of dragons, does little to lessen the coldness of Stockholm. The city built on 14 islands might not be as chilling as some of the characters who strut the stage of the late Stieg Larsson’s first novel from the Millennium trilogy, but for anyone who has walked its streets in winter, spring warmth is not something that leaps to mind.

Prior to Larsson my only familiarity with Swedish crime fiction, the TV variety, was through Wallander, and then the character was played by Kenneth Branagh. It was a while before I moved to subtitled versions which tend to be more authentic.

It was some time before I picked up the first of Larsson’s three books. All were in the house and my wife had spoken of their brilliance. I earmarked them for future reading but it was not until Mick Hall of Organised Rage said how impressed he had been with them that I decided to put my nose in for a rummage. Not a fan of Trotskyist writers Mick nevertheless thought Larsson, a Trot himself, had assembled an outstanding trilogy. My curiosity aroused, I ventured into Larsson and the literary world of the Scandinavian crime fiction genre. Now, with Larsson long behind, I have still to re-emerge.  Since completing his novels the discovery has been made that he has rivals, not least of all Jussi Adler Olsen with the outstanding Mercy or an equally impressive Sissel-Jo Gazan with The Dinosaur Feather.

Every year on his birthday Henrik Vanger receives a pressed flower from the person he believes to be the killer of his niece. Harriet Vanger vanished without trace from Hedeby Island almost forty years earlier. The flowers from Australia numbered 36. Harriet had begun giving them to him at the age of 8 and they continued to arrive after she disappeared at 16. He now had 44. Her killer seemingly knew the ritual and played it out throughout the years of Harriet’s absence, the cruellest of taunts most likely.  The cop Henrik Vanger calls in cannot bring closure so eventually, flush with wealth and after a complicated route, the Swedish business magnate approaches Michel Blomquist, an investigative journalist who runs Millennium Magazine.  Facing imprisonment and reputational ruin the offer is a life line to the initially reluctant Blomquist. In addition to the inflated retainer he is also offered the information vital if he is to clear his name in respect of the defamation charges against him, and with it demonstrate that the business executive he allegedly defamed is as crooked as a corkscrew. 

Venger fills Blomvquist in on the details of his family, many of whom could be suspects.   A mysterious complex loner with a dragon tattoo teams up with him. Some patience is required initially because of the character building. Enter Lisbeth Salander, computer hacker extraordinaire. As fiery in temperament as she is ferociously intelligent, Salander's ignition of the storyline is the big bang effect and the reader is introduced to a new universe.

Salander is a woman with a difficult past, having spent much of her time in institutions where she was abused and had come to nurture a hatred of the people that ran the places. With her old state ‘guardian’ ill, she has been given a new one, Nils Bjurman, best described as a scuzzbucket. In Sweden some adults for a variety of reasons are denied autonomy and find themsleves placed under the supervision of a guardian. While Salander drew the short stick, her means of lengthening it is tattooed into the memory long after the event.

Despite the slow but never tedious start the narrative is not allowed to go flat; the steady ascent is always there. Larsson thinking ahead was sketching out the contours of his characters before giving full throttle. He would not take his foot off the pedal until the last page of the third novel. Along the way he creates an impressive narratorial dialectic between the multilayered characters.

In what amounts to a critique of violence against women in Swedish society Larsson weaves in the activities of the Swedish far right, who in real life he wielded his pen against in a struggle to expose and defeat their prejudice, often informed by Nazi ideology. When the two sleuths in the employment of Henrik Vangar discover that a large number of women had been murdered between 1949 and 1966, the year Harriet disappeared, the notion of a serial killer enters the plot. The only family member he can rule out for certain is Martin Vangar who had been stranded on the other side of a bridge in Hedeby when Harriet had gone off the radar.

The first in the Millennium trilogy underscores the power of Scandinavian crime friction. If there is anything to rival it I have yet to find it.  Now I feel I am a naturalised citizen of the genre, having walked the cold but hardly mean streets of Stockholm on the Stieg Larsson guided tour accompanied by my wife.  We were enthralled in the narrative and confident enough to have a debate about meaning with the tour guide. It was a bright Saturday October morning a few years back. Along the route we sampled one of the excellent coffee shops that Stockholm is renowned for. Swedes, we learned on the tour, are, per head, the world’s second highest consumers of coffee. A blend of caffeine and Larsson is a surefire means of overcoming the notcturnal impulse to sleep. 

For those that worry about their computer being hacked this is not the book to read. Salander will amaze if not frighten you. If she really exists and is not a mere figment of the Larsson imagination it is to be hoped she is not in the employment of the NSA. Nothing is beyond her reach.


  1. AM-

    " It was some time before I picked up the first of Larssin's three books "

    Lol-I walked past them some times in book shops and only read them when you said how great they were-a great advice-and I thought I could never repay you-but-

    My brother had been on to me for a few years about 'Game of Thrones'
    but I never even watched a episode
    on tv-then I seen Alfie bragging about it-when I finished my last book I was going to read the new Stephen King one but instead I got the first game of throne books from my brother-and I have become an instant fan-its that good-I have a few more books of them to read and a few DVDs of that series
    to watch-

  2. Michaelhenry,

    Larsson is brilliant. But he now has rivals. I have never read the Game of Thrones books although Carrie has. I have watched the series up to now and love it. The characters are great.

  3. I have said before that I would acquire this book and read it in the Leitrim hills where its peaceful and no distractions,like Mickybroy I have read your reviews Anthony and for sure I am now ready to acquire this book,if its anywhere near as good as you paint it a cara then I shouldnt be disappointed. I never watched Game Of Thrones maybe because as a J RR Tolkien fan I dont believe Lord Of The Rings can be bettered ..

  4. Marty,

    it is agreat book. He holds your attention throughout not only this one but all three. Game of Thrones is great viewing. Never saw the Lord of the Rings.


    try also Lisa Marklund. She is one of the novelists who has seen her own work become more well known because of the interest in Scandinavian crime fiction. She is very good. Have read the first two.

  5. I have to say I didn't like them, any of them, at all. Not only did they come across as (slyly) misogynist, they were poorly written (or translated, I guess) and very, very manipulative.

    The plotting was...pedestrian, the 'evil twin' plot line derisable (was the second or third book? I forget. Nor do I really want to remember.)

    The characters were unconvincing, almost a heterosexual daydream of what otherness should be...and as for the tech, well, yes. Quite. Let's not go into that.


    But then again, I am not the target demographic, and if it floats your boat, that is all the counts. Me, I'll stick to arcane and obtuse literature than allows me to flounce and look into the middle distance... :)

  6. Stray Taoist,

    there you go. There is no one size fits all in anything. How did you manage to get to the 3rd if you didn't get any enjoyment from the get go?

    I loved all three. Read one here, one in Majorca and the third in Stockholm.

  7. Well, I think I was being trolled. A friend (whom usually has a somewhat similar taste in books to mine) said I should stick with it, then I'd finally 'get it'. (That should have been my first warning sign, to be honest. Always the mark of someone trying to compensate for something...)

    My usual rule is about 50-100 pages before I throw the book away. (Then again, I don't read much fiction, so this might play into it. But I do hear Pynchon has a new one out, and I'll make an exception for him...)

    And long may there never be one size fits all. What a dull world that would be.

  8. I always finish them if I start - habit from jail. But I would not read three of them if I disliked the first.

    Have never read Pynchon. I love fiction and my complaint is that I don't get the chance to read enough of it.

  9. When I was young (and not in jail) I always finished a book, which meant I read lots of really, really, boring, dull, disasterous stuff (Lord of the Rings, Hardy Boys, Tolstoy, the last of which I came to love when older, the others, not so much).

    No idea why I did read through the trilogy, I guess there must have been something in them to make me think they had promise and might get better. Then again, not the sharpest page in the papercut, me.

  10. I read a lot of boring stuff while a child. I could never seem to find the right book. In my teenage years I began to find ones that suited me better. Loved the Godfather which I read when I was about 15. Then when I hit jail, that was the place to find lots of good books. The first day in the Crum I read a full book because I was locked up for the day. I don't remember the name but it was a novel about the IRA and there was a bucket with bullets on the front of it.

    The only time I didn't read was during the Blanket protest years because there was nothing but the bible and I for sure was not going to read that.

  11. Stray Taoist you state that Lord Of The Rings is boring,dull and disastrous stuff, do you come from this viewpoint a cara from having read the books, if so I couldnt disagree more, I loved Tolkien,s tale and could,nt put it down when I was given it .

  12. Anthony the bible wasnt for reading a cara it was for smoking ..

  13. Just back from the library,they have ordered me a copy of the book,and I picked up Joseph Wambaugh,s Nocturne which I reckon will be superb in Wambaughs usual way, however it probably wont be up to Stray Taoist,s standards,but do I give a fuck...

  14. Marty,

    I could have given you a copy on Saturday had I thought! I know all about the bible and its uses! Definitely not for reading but has a range of uses

  15. Marty, from Mark Twain:

    “The mind that becomes soiled in youth can never again be washed clean. I know this by my own experience, & to this day I cherish an unappeased bitterness against the unfaithful guardians of my young life, who not only permitted but compelled me to read an unexpurgated Bible through before I was 15 years old. None can do that and ever draw a clean sweet breath again on this side of the grave.”

  16. Marty: yeah, the books. Didn't get on with his prose at all. I haven't seen the films, don't do moving imagery.

    (Similarly Harry Potter, though that prose was turgid, it was made worse as I read it to my children. It wasn't meant to be read out loud, dear God it just doesn't scan well a t all...)

    I am well aware my taste is somewhat...esoteric. I blame the rarified atmosphere of Cambridge. That, and I verge on disappearing up my own literary arse.

    Fluff, and woeful books, have their place. Just not on my bookshelf :D

    As my wife says about my mode of debating (in paraphrasing me, in a loving way, obviously):

  17. Stray Taoist a cara could it be that it has nothing to do with prose,the plot etc but a lacking of imagination ,your rarified Cambridge air has got stuck up your arse, my advice a cara open a bottle of plonk (plum Poteen my recommendation) pour yourself a glass and chill out and enjoy the journey those books take you on, dont let the fact that Tolkien was an Oxford prof put you of, failing that maybe a joint venture with the mrs reading Fifty Shades of Grey by Dulux...

  18. Marty, does " my advice a cara open a bottle of plonk (plum Poteen my recommendation) " taste better than this ?

  19. Frankie thats about it a cara lol

  20. marty: When I was a wee lad we used to put clove rock into our poteen, gave it a quare oul flavour, so it did.

    I think the only way I'd enjoy LotR is after thon stuff had rotted my optic nerves and I couldn't see the words any more...

  21. Stray Taoist a cara I remember people doing just that ,and brandy balls or honey, makes no difference to the outcome ,in my case wakening up on the chair at about 4.30 am, go on a cara give Lord Of The Rings a go ,I,m currently reading Joseph Wambaugh,s Nocturne ,about the LAPD perfect for a winters evening yarn and a glass of something with clove rock or other .

  22. just received notification that this book has arrived at my local library a cara,looking forward to reading it

  23. Marty,

    hope you enjoy it. I found it brilliant as you know.