Lisbeth Salander is a difficult young woman with rare gifts who earns a living working for Dragan Armansky's investigative agency. She is pierced, tattooed, sometimes violent, socially inadequate and protected as a ward of court by Sweden's guardianship laws.
When Henrik Vanger, elderly CEO of the Vanger Corporation, revives the hunt for his niece Harriet who disappeared 40 years ago from secluded Hedeby Island he asks Mikael to leave Milennium in the hands of his partner and part time lover Erika Berger and investigate the eccentric Vanger family.
Mikael will eventually team up with Lisbeth to uncover some very nasty secrets and an appalling family history.
You can read two excellent reviews of this book by very knowledgeable bloggers here and here.
I am still confused by my reaction to this book which has received both critical praise and been the beneficiary of an impressive marketing campaign. It seems that virtually everyone in Sweden has read the book and here the price has been heavily discounted by both Amazon and Sainsbury, with the result that it is the number one paperback best seller in Sainsbury's Exeter Pinhoe branch.
But interestingly The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo failed to win the CWA Duncan Lawrie International Dagger when the clear favourite being beaten by the Lorraine Connection written by Dominique Manotti which I reviewed here.
I must admit I find it difficult to be critical of an author who worked so hard against racism, violence against women and right wing extremism and who died so tragically young but to be honest I was slightly disappointed by the book. Of course after all the ballyhoo and build up perhaps this was inevitable.
Large parts of the first half of the book are very turgid and reading it is like struggling through a deep snowdrift. We are presented with large amount of information about the various members of the Vanger family who are card board cut out stereotypes with for example the Nazi lunatic, the spoilt rich bitch, the kind elderly uncle, the loyal family lawyer and so on.
Stieg Larsson takes fifty pages to give us information that more experienced authors would cover in one or two paragraphs. He revels in petty detail and description of financial dealings. We are told over and over by the each of extended Vanger clan that poor old Henrik is obsessed with finding Harriet's murderer.
The mystery is not that mysterious as we can work out the solution quite early in the proceedings as Mikael delves into the photographic evidence from the day of the disappearance which was also the day of an accident on the bridge isolating the island from the town of Hedestad. You did not need to be a super detective to know what is going on when the Swedish title is translated as Men Who Hate Women.
I am used to reading Swedish crime fiction with the slow detailed build ups and the systematic police procedural investigations but this novel took it to an extreme.
There was an excellent 400 page novel in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and it is a pity that no one dissected it out from the all the padding and extraneous detail. Stieg Larsson appeared to want to attack too many targets in one book, financial journalists, fascists, violent men, the wealthy and that lead to what was in my opinion the excessive length of the book.
Then why despite all my reservations did I finish reading this book with a feeling that I had enjoyed it and that I wanted to read the next book in the series The Girl Who Played With Fire.
Well the book did improve as it went along and Stieg Larsson for all my criticisms created in Lisbeth Salander one of the most interesting characters in modern crime fiction.
Lisbeth Salander the tattooed pierced truculent computer expert, who rides a motor bike, lives among chaos and is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
She is the reason I left feeling I had enjoyed this book and that I will return to this series to see how she copes with life's vicissitudes.
'......introverted, socially inhibited, lacking in empathy, ego-fixated, psychopathic and asocial behaviour.............."
'You didn't have to be a rocket scientist to see that these events were somehow were related. There had to be a skeleton in one of their cupboards, and Salander loved hunting skeletons.'..............
'She went into the living room and found an anorexically thin girl sitting on the sofa, wearing a worn jacket and with her feet propped up on the coffee table. At first she thought she was about fifteen, but that was before she looked into her eyes.'
The Girl Who Played With Fire is due to be published in English in January 2009.