Over the holidays, I stumbled upon a book called The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in my brother-in-law’s library. After gobbling it down in a few days (if eyeballs can swallow, that is), I was glad I read it on break when I didn’t have much to do. As it was, I was angry at myself every time I had to stop to eat, bathe or sleep.
At first, Stieg Larsson’s novel seems like two stories in one book—a financial journalist hired to investigate a 40-year-old mystery surrounding the disappearance of a teenaged girl from an island (very “Ten Little Indians”-ish), and a waif with possible Asperger’s Syndrome who works part-time at a security firm while trying to get out from under an abusive legal guardian. These two plotlines eventually converge when the titular girl gets hired by the journalist to help him with his investigation, which starts out as just a front for him to get back at a greedy and powerful businessman who put him in jail, but turns out to be a very dangerous task which puts the journalist’s life at risk.
If all that sounds confusing, don’t worry. Larsson explains everything to you in 465 pages and even includes a helpful chart of the missing teenager’s family (relatives who were on the island the day she disappeared are suspects). There’s a lot of story to tell, a lot of themes and characters to juggle but Larsson does it masterfully. He makes it clear how he feels about misogynists, sadists, cowards, and corrupt bastards. The book is smart, unflinching, twisty in its mystery and—the most obvious sign it’s a notable tale—haunting. Lisbeth Salander, the girl with said tattoo, is a singular creation. She’s difficult, brilliant, aloof, tough, scary and I can’t stop thinking about her long after I finished the book.
It’s a good thing I’ll get to see more of her since Tattoo is only the first book in Larsson’s Millenium trilogy. Luckily, he turned in all three manuscripts to his publisher at the same time so the wait between books won’t be long (the second installment, The Girl Who Played with Fire, will be available in the U.S. this July and is already out in the UK). Tragically, Larsson died of a heart attack before the first book could be published and become an international bestseller (the books were translated from Swedish to English by “Reg Keeland,” a pseudonym of Steven T. Murray). Larsson the man may be gone but his compelling, searing voice resonates in the work he left behind.
(UPDATE: Read my review of the Tattoo movie here.)