Name: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Author: Stieg Larsson
Genre: Crime, Thriller, Murder-Mystery
For this months review I will be taking a look at The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the first in the original Millenium Trilogy written by Stieg Larsson. I had read the novel a few years ago but decided to revisit it in recent months.
Note the plot summary below does contain some spoilers though I have kept it to a minimum in the opening paragraphs. If you would like to know a little bit more, I have added a hidden section – however the ending is not revealed.
The novel begins in a mysterious circumstance, an old man with the name of Henrik Vanger is on the phone to a policeman. He has received a flower pressed into a frame as a birthday present, one that he has received for the last 36 years and he puts them on his wall. Together they wonder who sent them and why.
In the meantime, we meet journalist Mikael Blomkvist who has just been left disgraced in court for libel after publishing a report on the Swedish industrialist Hans-Erik Wennerström. He is sentenced to prison for three months and is forced to pay heavy damages to Wennerström. He is then contacted by Henrik Vanger’s lawyer, Dirch Frode, unaware they they have paid a researcher to look into his personal and professional life. This researcher is a young woman called Lisbeth Salander.
When he meets Vanger, he offers Blomkvist an opportunity. It turns out the pressed flowers are similar to a present that he received from his niece, Harriet, who went missing in 1966.
Henrik believes she was murdered by a member of his family and the murderer is taunting him by sending these pictures every year on his birthday. Henrik tells Blmokvist the events of the day she disappeared – there was a parade in Hedestad which Harriet attended with friends, after which she returned to the Vanger mansion for a party Henrik was hosting with the rest of the family.
Harriet wanted to tell Henrik something but he was busy with family, then a sudden car accident happens on the bridge which connects the Vanger mansion to the mainland. At the time no one could pass through apart from via boat though all boats were accounted for.
It is during this time that everyone was on the bridge rescuing the drivers that Harriet went missing, though a photograph of the scene does show her window was opened by somebody around the time she disappeared.
If he can work out who did it, using the cover of writing a family chronicle, then Henrik will give Blomkvist evidence that he can use against Wennerström as he worked for the Vanger’s in the 60’s. Blomkvist reluctantly agrees to the arrangement…
From here the plot summary contains spoilers, click below to read the rest or continue with the review.
At the same time, we learn Frode commissioned Salander to do another investigation into Wennerström which they decide is no longer required.
We also learn more about Salander, she is a social outcast and in Sweden’s care system as someone under guardianship, very similar to someone having power of attorney over someone. Her guardian, Holger Palmgren, allows her to live her life relatively freely and even got her the job doing personal investigations for Milton Security. However, he suffers a stoke and he is replaced by Nils Bjurman, who extorts sexual acts from Salander and eventually rapes her.
After secretly recording the rape, Salander takes her revenge, torturing Bjurman and threatening to ruin him by making the video public unless he gives her control of her finances and life. She then uses a tattoo machine to brand him a rapist.
As Blomkvist investigates what happened to Harriet and interviews the Vanger family., against all odds he makes a series of breakthroughs: Whilst reviewing photographs taken at the parade he notices Harriet actually reacts to something on the other side of the street, meaning the sequence of events around her disappearance may have started earlier that first thought. He also notices that a couple in the photograph were taking a picture and standing next to her, meaning they may have seen what Harriet saw and photographed it.
Blomkvist also finds in Harriet’s journal a list of what appears to be names and phone numbers, though no one in the Vanger family could work out who they were. However, when Mikael’s daughter visits him she has become interested in religion and identifies the numbers as Bible verses from the Book of Leviticus.
From this Blomkvist makes a connection to an old case mentioned by the policeman Henrik was talking to at the beginning of the novel, the Rebeka case of 1949 and realises he may have a serial killer on his hands and Harriet may have found out who it was.
He eventually learns about Salander’s investigation that was commission by Dirch Frode. He reads the report and realises her secret that she is a computer hacker as her report contains a manuscript of a press release for Millennium that at the time was a first draft which only existed on his computer. However he asks Salander to be a research assistant.
She agrees and is tasked to investigate the remaining numbers where she identifies a series of murders as well as some extra ones where it appears the murderer might’ve used a similar calling card, including one from after Harriet went missing.
As Salander and Blomkvist get closer to the truth, they realise that someone near them knows what happens and begins to threaten them with their lives, from killing a cat on their doorstep to firing a shotgun at Blomkvist in the distance whilst he is on a run, will they uncover who and what happened to Harriet? Also will Blomkvist find out what Vanger has on Wennerström and be able to clear his name from the libel charge?
I have read the book quite a number of times and it is still a very exciting read.
The book does begin with a number of different plot strands as we are introduced to the characters of Blomkvist and Salander. Both characters are well realised and imagined and feel like real people. Larsson also does very well to move between the various plot strands without losing tension which pulls you through to the end.
The central mystery is deceptively simple, a locked-door mystery of who was on the island and who could’ve committed a murder and initially the book suggests it is someone with enough greed as Harriet was in line to take over the Vanger Corporation. However the family has a complex history including far-right Nazi sympathizers and active supporters and as more details get revealed about what Harriet was doing at the time, the end result is terrifying and shocking.
The novel has some very interesting themes. It’s central theme is misogyny against women within modern Sweden. This is shown with the novel being divided into parts and each part of the novel mentions statistics about violence against women within Sweden (even the Swedish title of the novel translates to Men Who Hate Women).
The novel does have some violent scenes of acts committed against women which can at times be quite graphic to read as Larsson doesn’t flinch away from making it as horrendous as possible. The book also does contain some bad language though this is usually to highlight the characters frustrations.
The misogyny is also highlighted in the character of Salander who is frequently underestimated by many characters in the novel, from being judge by her appearance, to even being seen as a victim to be taken advantage of. She is very enigmatic and Larsson sets up some aspects of her character which are left unresolved, unassumingly for the trilogy – for instance he makes reference to “All The Evil” happening to her when she was thirteen. However she is also a very intelligent and capable young woman who helps Blomkvist to resolve the mystery.
The novel also talks about financial crime with the secondary plot line involving Wennerström and how in many ways journalists don’t lift their head above the parapet when doing investigative reporting of financiers and even condone the behaviour by not questioning anything.
In the opening chapters however we do learn why Blomkvist was charged with libel and what went wrong in the investigation of Wennerström and here the financial jargon can be a little complicated to understand on the first read through but once past this the novel is very exciting and worth a read.