The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger disappeared from a family gathering on the island owned and inhabited by the powerful Vanger clan. Her body was never found, yet her uncle is convinced it was murder - and that the killer is a member of his own tightly knit but dysfunctional family. He employs disgraced financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist and the tattooed, truculent computer hacker Lisbeth Salander to investigate. When the pair link Harriet's disappearance to a number of grotesque murders from forty years ago, they begin to unravel a dark and appalling family history. But the Vangers are a secretive clan, and Blomkvist and Salander are about to find out just how far they are prepared to go to protect themselves.
Here’s another series which has been burning its way through my bookshelves for years after recommendations from friends. Yet again, all of these glowing reviews had made me excited to read it. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed this as a page-turner mystery novel. I'm just not sure it lived up to the hype entirely.
This book was originally written in Swedish, and the title translates to Men Who Hate Women. This is an apt title for the sadistic atrocities that occur in the pages, and it's a far more tantalising title than the, quite frankly, dull and vague The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Some of the scenes are very violent and upsetting, but are issues I feel Larsson wanted to bring to the forefront of people's minds. He attacks misogyny quite viciously and his opinions on the matter filter through his characters clearly.
The mystery was excellent as it was a locked-room murder mystery, meaning the perpetrator had to be a member of the family. I couldn't guess at all who was to blame, or how events had unfolded, and I was kept guessing for a long time. There weren’t many clues scattered through the pages, which is why the eventual conclusion astounded me.
Larsson's characters are all very exciting and believable. Most of these were over the age of 30, so they had plenty of back-story to carry with them, and lots and lots of secrets too. I thought Blomkvist was a bit exaggerated. He was a disgraced journalist with a bit of a James Bond edge; he gets all the ladies into bed (three sexual partners in 500 pages, ladies and gentlemen), he's a bit bad ass, and he isn't afraid of what others think of him. I expected him to have a few more insecurities, and found him a bit of an exaggerated alpha-male with good-guy sprinklings. I’m not sure what Larsson was trying to achieve with him.
There was a lot of narrative around business, politics, financial scams, journalism, computers, and boring things of that ilk. I was either completely disenchanted, or quite simply confused, when all of this was thrown at me. It did nothing to help me understand what was going on, and although I do have a business degree, I didn't care, or understand, at all. This happened mostly at the beginning of the novel, but unfortunately occurred again in the last fifty pages or so, after the murder mystery had been cleared up. It was a total anti-climax.
Another incredibly dull aspect of the novel was Larsson's desire to describe everything in the smallest detail. Salander's laptop is run over at one point, and we are taken through her process of buying a new one. Make, model, specifications, configurations, and even its colour. It was enough to make my eyes bleed. Then we are given unique descriptions of everyone's clothes, particularly Salander's because Larsson didn't want us to forget she was a very different kind of girl. Every day she was wearing something black, something ripped, and something with an amazingly insolent slogan branded on to it. There were far too many unnecessary details.
All in all, it was definitely an engaging and compelling read, and I certainly was hesitant stop reading in some places. That said, I still have two of the series to get through, and I feel Larsson may expand his story and characters further, and more satisfactorily. Watch this space.