The girl with the dragon tattoo
(Stieg Larsson, 2005/2008)

This is the first book of the best-selling Millennium series by Stieg Larsson, who died in 2004, at the age of 50, of a heart attack. It was published in Swedish in 2005 and in English in 2008. The Swedish title is Män som hatar kvinnor (Men who hate women), which is more descriptive of the story but perhaps less appealing to potential readers.

It's a long but engrossing book about the mysterious disappearance of a teenage girl and the deaths of a series of other women, which a journalist (Mikael Blomkvist) is paid to investigate, although the events took place in the fairly distant past and were long ago dropped by the police.

Blomkvist accepts the help of an eccentric young tattoed woman (Lisbeth Salander) who happens to be an expert at infiltrating computer systems, and the two of them are the main characters of the story. There's an unrelated subplot about a crooked businessman (Hans-Erik Wennerström), who at the start of the book has just won a libel action against Blomkvist.

The story takes place partly in Stockholm and partly in and around the fictional town of Hedestad, on the coast “a little more than an hour north of Gävle”.

As I've lived in Stockholm myself, I was amused to recognize a number of the street names and a restaurant (Kvarnen) referred to in the text. Familiarity with Sweden in general and with Stockholm in particular isn't necessary when reading this book, but it adds a little something.

The book gives a distinctly unflattering portrait of Swedish society. Readers may come away with the impression that most Swedish men are evil or unpleasant, and that Swedish women are eager to jump into bed with the first non-evil man they can find, but are touchy, unpredictable, and hard to cope with.

My own impression of real-life Swedish men and women has been completely different. However, our hero Blomkvist is relatively normal, and similar in personality to some Swedish men I've known.

There's some unpleasant violence in this book, most of it in the past and so not described vividly, but some of it happens in the present in the course of the story.

On two occasions in the book, Salander (who is unusually small and thin) physically attacks evil men and gets away with it. Although in both cases she has a weapon of some kind and her opponent hasn't, at close quarters a weapon can be countered by an unarmed man with quick reactions, so I reckon that some goddess must give her luck when she needs it.

This book has an interesting story to tell, and it's a page-turner once it gets going, but it's not really my kind of novel (it was given to me as a present). The best thing about it is the character of Lisbeth Salander, who's eccentric, touchy, unpredictable, and aggressive, but intelligent and courageous and somehow likeable underneath. I don't feel an active desire to meet any of the other characters again. Blomkvist is amiable but, as a hero, not particularly interesting.

Written in July 2009