Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Stieg Larsson
translated by Reg Keeland

Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist for a progressive magazine who has just been convicted for libel, is hired by a wealthy businessman to find out what happened to his niece, Harriet Vanger, forty years ago.  Assumed long since to have been murdered, Harriet vanished from the town where her dysfunctional, eccentric family lived and worked; her uncle Henrik is convinced one of his family members did it.  Blomkvist takes the job reluctantly, seeing few options elsewhere; he is joined by tattooed, withdrawn hacker genius Lisbeth Salander, a freelance investigator who clearly is facing demons from her own past.  Together they uncover an evil that not only lurks within the family, as Henrik feared, but is still very much active.

This is an addictive page turner, with well-drawn, flawed characters who elicit sympathy by virtue of a stubborn desire to see justice done, as well as the sheer quality of being the underdog.  With a dozen or so suspects and a crime so long cold, the mystery gets a bit raveled, but Larsson shows Blomkvist’s careful reconstruction step by step, and it feels fairly natural that he should have uncovered something new after so much time.  On the other hand, Lisbeth’s hacker skills are treated a bit like magic – she gets everything they need, without any trouble; especially near the end when she helps wrap up the libel case, this is hard to swallow (a hunted man who deals in electronic funds would surely grow a bit more circumspect regarding his computer security?).  As for the main plot, it comes to a very satisfying (if easily guessed) conclusion – though this, too, has its flaws: the victim’s continued total silence on her tormentors seems improbable, given that Henrik might have been alerted with a single quick untraceable call assuring him all was well.  But despite these nitpicks, the book is engrossing and generally well-plotted.  Besides, as with most stories of this type, it’s the characters who matter, not so much the minutiae of the plot.  Worrying, womanizing Blomkvist, and sullent, taciturn, uncompromising Lisbeth, are the real draws of the book.

four stars

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