Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Steig Larsson

Investigative journalist Mikael Blomqvist is hired by aging businessman Henrik Vanger to discover what happened to his niece, Harriet, over 40 years ago. Aided by hacker Lisbeth Salander, Blomqvist uncovers more family secrets than he bargained for.

Steig Larsson's Millennium Trilogy has been both praised and pilloried ever since the books were published.  I tend to agree with both camps (how's that for taking a stand?).  Salander is an interesting character and the book is written at a breakneck pace.  The central mystery of the disappearance of Harriet Vanger is compelling and I couldn't wait to find out more.  But the book was in need of a good editor.

The Vanger story is bookended by Blomqvist's attempt to bring down a corrupt financier named Wennerström. The first 100 pages set up how Blomqvist is put in a position to accept Vanger's generous offer to investigate the mystery. This section could have easily been shortened or revealed later on as it is solely backstory. The final 100 pages deal with Blomqvist getting his revenge on Wennerström, but after the harrowing climax and resolution of Harriet's disappearance, this felt a bit of a let down.

I didn't notice many clunky sentences like I've seen quoted in reviews of the other two Millennium books. There were some jarring POV shifts (which I tuned out after a while) and parts where Larsson tipped his hand too early. Chapter 16 starts with "In the first week of June, Blomqvist uncovered three totally new pieces of hte puzzle.  Two of them he found himself.  The third he had help with."  This is an example of something that could be excised because telling the reader "something Big is coming" lessens the impact because the reader is expecting it.  The old writing saw applies:  show, don't tell.

Does this mean I didn't like the book? No.  I really enjoyed the middle 300 pages where Blomqvist and Salander piece together the pieces of a 40-year-old puzzle.  It was fascinating to watch their relationship grow and to see Salander mature as a person.  The last chapter of the book (after the Wennerström mess ended) where Salander deals with her emotions toward Blomqvist is heartbreaking and an example of something Larsson got spot on.

Would I recommend it?  That's hard to say.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was an entertaining read and the pages kept flying by.  Does it have flaws?  Yes.  Do they ultimately sink the book?  For me, no.

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