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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

by Stieg Larsson


"Män som hatar kvinnor" (Swedish for "Men who hate women," renamed in the English translation as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) is an award-winning novel by the late Swedish author and journalist Stieg Larsson, the first in his "Millennium Trilogy".

At his death in November 2004 he left three unpublished novels that made up the trilogy. It became a posthumous best-seller in Europe.

Introduction

This novel supplies a sprawling genealogical table for keeping track of the vast number of characters.

An epic tale of serial murder and corporate trickery spanning several continents, the novel takes in complicated international financial fraud and the buried evil past of a wealthy Swedish industrial family. Through its main character, it also references classic forbears of the crime thriller genre while stylistically follows and mixes aspects of the sub-genres. There are mentions of Astrid Lindgren, Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers; as well as Sue Grafton, Val McDermid, Sara Paretsky and several other key figures in the history of the detective novel. As a journalist and magazine editor in Stockholm until his death, Larsson reveals a knowledge and enjoyment of both English and American crime fiction. He declared that he wrote his opus in the evening after work for his own pleasure.

The towns mentioned are real, with exception for Hedestad, and the Millennium magazine featured in the books parallels Larsson's own Expo magazine in the real world, which also had financial difficulties and where he was journalist and editor.

Plot summary

A middle-aged journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, publishes the magazine Millennium in Stockholm. He is hired one day by Henrik Vanger, the aged former CEO of a group of companies owned by a wealthy dynasty, in order to chronicle the family history. His real mission, however, is to solve a cold case - the disappearance, some forty years previously, of Vanger's great-niece when she was sixteen. Blomkvist encounters "the old Miss Marple closed-room scenario" with all the wealthy suspects marooned on the family estate on an island; a village we grow familiar with, full of hostile locals peering out from behind their curtains". The real main character of the story is Lisbeth Salander, an asocial punk who has been victimized by authorities throughout her whole life. By accident she meets Blomkvist and the unlikely couple become another classic detective pair where the hunters become the hunted.

The opening courtroom drama where Blomkvist as publisher loses a libel case brought by corrupt Swedish industrialist Hans-Erik Wennerström, has serious repercussions for his Millennium magazine's future.

Blomkvist reads crime novelists Sue Grafton, Val McDermid and Elizabeth George and enjoys amateur sleuthing and investigative journalism. Later, he is asked to investigate a family mystery by Henrik Vanger, the elderly scion of a wealthy but dysfunctional family. Henrik has questions about the disappearance of his 16-year-old great-niece Harriet 40 years before. Harriet had given Henrik a present of pressed flowers since she was eight years old. On Henrik's birthday the year after Harriet's death, he had received an unusual present of pressed flower. He continued to receive the present of pressed flowers every year thereafter on his birthday from various parts of the world, which he believes to be sent by the killer. Blomkvist is certain that he can discover nothing new, but delving into family secrets produces shocking results. When he teams up with Salander they shed disturbing light on the four decade long puzzle.

The historic scenario of a locked-room mystery applies since the island on that fateful day was cut-off due to a road-tanker crash on the only bridge that connects the inhabitants to the mainland. Henrik Vanger believes that Harriet (his brother's granddaughter) was murdered by one of his family members, as the island was sealed from the mainland when she vanished. In disgrace due to losing his libel defence, Blomkvist takes on the Vanger case when the old man offers him not only to help his financially strapped magazine, but also promises to give him information to prove Wennerström is corrupt. His cover is spending a year writing the Vanger family history.

Characters

  • Mikael Blomkvist, journalist, publisher of Millennium magazine, and amateur sleuth. (For more information on "Kalle Blomkvist" see Bill Bergson.)
  • Lisbeth Salander, violent and antisocial but extremely intelligent hacker and researcher, specialized in investigations of persons.
  • Henrik Vanger, retired industrialist and former CEO of Vanger Corporation.
  • Hans-Erik Wennerström, corrupt Swedish industrialist and Blomkvist's nemesis.
  • Harriet Vanger, great-niece of Henrik and vanished 40 years ago.
  • Martin Vanger, brother of Harriet and President of the Vanger Corporation.
  • Holger Palmgren, lawyer, and earlier guardian of Lisbeth Salander.
  • Nils Bjurman, corrupt lawyer and guardian of Lisbeth Salander after Holger Palmgren suffers a brain haemorrage.
  • Cecilia Vanger, banished daughter of Harald Vanger, one of Henrik's brothers.
  • Erika Berger, editor of Millenium, friend and lover of Blomkvist.
  • Dirch Frode, lawyer for Vanger Corporation, and main friend and assistant to Henrik Vanger.
  • Dragan Armanskij, director of Milton Security, boss and protector of Lisbeth Salander.

Sites

  • Hedestad and Hedeby Island (fictional places, the filming location was Gnesta), scene of the cold case murder.
  • Stockholm and Stockholm archipelago, where Mikael, Erika, and Lisbeth live.
  • Norsjö in Västerbotten, northern Sweden.

Major themes

As well as literary references to the genre's classic forerunners, Larsson comments on contemporary Swedish society. Reviewer Dessaix reports that "His favourite targets are violence against women, the incompetence and cowardice of investigative journalists, the moral bankruptcy of big capital and the virulent strain of Nazism still festering away ..." in Swedish society.

He further enters the debate as to how responsible a criminal is for his or her crimes and how much is blamed on upbringing or society. He has Salander say, "It's as if we no longer believe anyone has a will of their own." Salander has a strong will and assumes that everyone else does, too. She is portrayed as having suffered every kind of abuse in her young life, including sexual assault and time in a psychiatric clinic. Since she holds others responsible for their actions she takes revenge on those who behave badly – which moves the plot along. Salander, sullen, single-minded and sometimes vicious, is also incorruptible, a complete contrast to even the good guys in Larsson's world.

Reception and awards

As a tale of contemporary culture and corruption, the novel was released to great acclaim in Sweden and later, on its publication in many European countries. In the original language it won Sweden's Glass Key Award in 2006 for best crime novel of the year, and won the 2008 Boeke Prize.

Larsson was posthumously awarded the ITV3 Crime Thriller Award for International Author of the Year in 2008.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

The Swedish film production company Yellow Bird is producing a film version of the Millennium Trilogy –The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo along with the other novels in the trilogy, The Girl Who Played with Fire (Swedish title: "Flickan som lekte med elden") and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest (original title: "Luftslottet som sprängdes", "The Castle in the Sky that Blew Up"). It will be co-produced with Nordisk Film and TV company. with Danish filmmaker Niels Arden Oplev directing. Filming began in early 2008, with a premiere on Feb. 27, 2009 in Sweden.

Several rumours have been speculating on a Hollywood version of the book. Yellow Bird, executive producer Sören Staermose confirmed in an interview with Swedish newspaper Expressen that negotiations are taking place. This would not be a US remake of the Swedish films but rather new Hollywood films based on the books. In the interview he states that the possible US films might be produced in a similar way as the Yello Bird co-produced Wallander tv show starring Kenneth Branagh, shooting in Sweden using english speaking actors. He also states that it is up to the director and says that the story could just as well take place in another country, like Canada.

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Comments

This is the type of book and story that you never want to end, it's so will written as well, a classic crime thriller of good winning over evil, thank goodness there are other books in the series that follow up the story.

 


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