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More Than Just A Tattoo
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson
Member Name: cazkins
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson
Advantages: Original & complex plot, an intelligent & vivid read, some interesting characters
Disadvantages: Tad disappointed by the ending, quite convoluted in parts
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is actually the first novel within the 'Millennium' series. This introduces us to Mikael Blomvist, a disgraced publisher of the Millennium magazine in Sweden after losing a libel case following his accusations about a rich industrialist, Hans-Erik Wennerstrom. Forced to make some tough decisions, Blomvist knows Wennerstrom is going to do whatever he can to bring the paper down so he finds himself needing to get away for a while to wait the storm out. The allegations were seemingly unfounded legally, but it's Blomvist's conviction, and that of the editor-in-chief and on-off lover, Erik Burger that he's a shady character who they will eventually bring down. But for now, he needs to go away to let the newspaper repair itself and prepare himself to launch at Wennerstrom again in the near future.
Enter Henrik Vanger, an old man but head of the prolific Vanger Corporation. Through his lawyer he gets in touch with Blomvist to make him a proposal, and a strange one at that. He wants Blomvist to spend a year living with him on the island that houses much of the Vanger family and employees. During this time he wants him to investigate the disappearance of a young female relative, Harriet, 36 years earlier. He also wants him to write a book on the Vanger family history, which will be used as a cover story should suspicions be raised as to why Blomvist is there and digging up old dirst. He's not a private investigator, but he is a journalist with a nose, even though the concept of solving an unsolved disappearance so long after the fact seems almost impossible.
What could tempt Blomvist to do such a thing, move his life elsewhere for a whole year and attempt to solve this mystery? Vanger offers a hefty lump sum in addition to his accommodation, as well as promising to give some dirt on Blomvists' arch nemesis, Wennerstrom, at the completion of the 1 year assignment. It doesn't matter if the case isn't solved, Vanger just wants one last try before it's too late.
In helping Henrik decide Blomvist was suitable for the role, not just based on the fact he played with his current vulnerabilities after the libel case, he hired a young woman to do a thorough background investigation on him. Lisbeth Salander gets her orders to do the search from her boss, Armansky, where she works at Milton Security. Although a strange creature, Salander obviously has a talent, and it's this talent that Blomvist also discovers when he finds it was her who conducted a secret background search on him. He later enlists her help on this mammoth case, a mystery with no leads at first that soon spirals.
Throughout the book we learn of Blomvist's efforts to meet and greet the Vanger family, to learn about the day of the disappearance, about Harriet, about the potential witnesses and purpetrators. Vanger is convinced the disappearance was a murder, carried out by one of the Vanger clan. Bear in mind the clan is huge, including Gottfried (Harriet's deceased father), Birger, Cecilia, Isabella (Harriet's mum) amongst many others, related and otherwise. Why was it one of those? Because on that day the island was closed off, so it's a bit like a locked room mystery; only certain people could be responsible. But who, and why? As he digs deeper, Blomvist discovers the intricacies and darkness that lies within the Vanger corporation and family, and gradually it appears that perhaps there is a chance he could get Henrik some answers he has hoped for for the last 36 years since the day she went missing. The question is can Blomvist crack the mystery, or will his presence be unwanted? And will he ever be able to knock down Wennerstrom?
We also learn a lot about various individuals and their relationships to each other, along with some background history to fill out the gaps and flesh out the characters. I liked that there was a web of characters as this made it feel more detailed and varied, but it did get quite confusing at times trying to remember who's who and how they're related. For instance, a great focus of the novel is on the Vanger family, which is huge, and I'm not great at remembering how relations are, well, related. Luckily, Larsson is quite clear with his descriptions and recaps characters and ties along the way without overdoing it, just enough so that you don't get too lost or left behind with what's happening.
As for the characters themselves, most that were of importance in the novel were covered with enough depth that you could imagine them and try to empathise with their situation. However, I wouldn't say that they were as three dimensional as they could have been to create the maximum sense of empathy. For me, the vivid descriptions and background history on Salander was the most predominant, giving us an idea of her both visually and emotionally. I liked her as a character and she seemed quite quirky, adding a different slant to the novel because we don't have the Hollywood teeth and bodies and suburban houses in this book.
That leads me on to the setting itself in Sweden. Reading about the areas was like a breath of fresh air from the crime thrillers I'm used to, transporting the reader out of the box and in to what really is a different life. The descriptions were vivid and colourful, painting a picture of brutally cold weather, scenic landscapes, small coffee shops, a large island set out of the way of anything Hollywood. I wasn't sure how easy such a scenario would be to imagine, but Larsson does it well by bringing the situation to the fore and breathing life in to it.
The book on the whole was fairly easy to pick up and read, with chapters also being split up slightly by a star or a double space in parts. It does require commitment and attention to get to grips with the plot and the characters as it is an intelligent read, but one that feels fulfilling and makes sense.
There were a few key themes that ran through the book which added a sense of authenticity and meaningfulness to the premise and some background on the author and situation at the time of writing. For instance, the themes of sexual abuse, moral decay, investigative journalism needing to unconver financial scoundrels, and the hidden darkness of Nazism. Such themes gave greater depth to the book and added another overlay to the main premise. What I also found interesting, and what ties in to the underlying themes, is the small blurb I read about the author. He witnessed a gang rape when he was 15 of a girl called Lisbeth, who he couldn't help at the time but has transformed in to a key character within his books. Interestingly enough, the original title in Sweden translated to 'Men who hate women'; his themes and motivations come across well through his writing without being too blatant or too melodramatic so as to detract from the main premise or characters.
What I found a tad disappointing was actually the ending. The book is strung out over several months as the protagonist does his investigating for both his paper and for Henrik, but I found the conclusion to be somewhat vague in a sense. I was glad to see there was again no 'Hollywood' finish, nothing sickly sweet as could have been expected given the romantic / sexual themes that were developing, but at the same time I could see why Larsson was leaving it where he did. This book is just the start, so it left doors open for the next instalments. At times I also thought it dragged a little, but on the whole the pace was fairly consistent and active, making it interesting to read, always wondering where things could go next.
Further praise for the book includes: "A publishing sensation who seemingly came from nowhere ... crime fiction has seldom needed to salute and mourn such a stellar talent as Larsson s in the same breath" - Sunday Times, and "Just when I was thinking there wasn't anything new on the horizon, along comes Stieg Larsson with this wonderfully unique story. I was completely absorbed" - Michael Connelly. It has also won awards, including the Glass Key Award of 2006 in Sweden and the 2009 Galaxy Book Awards, so it's obviously doing something right.
Overall, I would say that this book was intelligent and absorbing, creating a space for the reader to get lost in outside of our seemingly 'routine' Western lives. It's gripping, however, for me, this didn't quite have the same appeal as some of my favourite novelists partly because I wanted to be more engrossed by other characters, such as Blomvist. Having said that, it is one I'd recommend, even just to see for yourself what the hype is all about.
554 pages (newer paperback release with the US film cover) over 29 chapters plus epilogue
RRP £7.99, selling on Amazon for £3.86
Summary: A strong crime thriller contender with a difference