by Terrance V. Mc Arthur
There’s something about the people of Scandinavia. Between the sleep deprivation of the summer days with no night and the cabin fever of the long, dark winters, they seem to be very depressed and depressing. The films of Ingmar Bergman and the plays of Ibsen and Strindberg are not known as jolly romps. The life of Stieg Larsson was not cheery (raised by grandparents in northern Sweden because his parents had to leave him to find work in Stockholm, targeted for death threats because of his anti-neo-Nazi crusading, and dead at 50 before his books could be published), and his books push relentlessly into dark territory.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (its Swedish title—Män som hatar kvinnor—translates as Men Who Hate Women), Larsson’s first book, follows two main characters. Mikael Blomkvist is a magazine publisher who winds up on the losing end of libel charges that were engineered by a billionaire who wants to ruin him and his magazine. Lisbeth Salander is the dragon-inked young woman of the English-language title, a resourceful Internet background researcher (hacker) whose withdrawn, combative attitudes in her childhood have made her a ward of the state.
While waiting to serve his three-month prison sentence, Blomkvist severs ties with his magazine and accepts an offer to write an industrialist’s family history…and look into a decades-old mystery: the disappearance and probable murder of 16-year-old Harriet Vanger. The girl disappeared from an island, yet a gift like the ones she used to make arrives at her great-uncle’s home each year, in time for his birthday.
Blomkvist’s investigation touches on dead Nazis, incest, corporate newsletters, international travel, serial murders, and clowns. He’s shot at, and he sleeps around a lot. Eventually, he recognizes Salander’s dirt-sniffing prowess that had been used to investigate his own background, and enlists the tattooed young lady’s help to get to the heart of the matter.
The mystery is an intricate piece of clockwork that allows you to think you have the solution figured out; however, it turns out that your solution is not the answer to the case, but the answer to another question, entirely. The solution of the murder mystery is not the end of the story, either.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is not a cheerful book, and the final revelations aren’t always pretty, but the journey is interesting and worth the trip.
Watch for a review of the new The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo movie soon!