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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Reviewed: June 1, 2010
By: Stieg Larson
Publisher: Penguin Books
841 pages, $13.50

This is the first book in what is being called the Millennium Trilogy. I assume that’s because some of the action swirls around an investigative magazine called Millennium which, when we first enter the story, is in big trouble. Its top journalist, publisher and co-owner, Mikael Blomkvist, has just been found guilty of aggravated libel by the Swedish courts. He will eventually have to serve 90 days in gaol (that’s jail to us) and both his and the magazine’s reputations have sustained an enormous blow.

Mikael and his business partner (and lover), Erika Berger, know that he was suckered into the story which they published, and that they have an actual story about industrialist Hans-Erik Wennerström which will make it clear to everyone exactly what happened. But they don’t have ironclad sources for everything that they know and, after having lost one court case, they need that before they can proceed.

Mikael steps away from the magazine in a way that makes it look like he was fired, and is preparing to go it alone for a time when he receives a mysterious offer from another Swedish industrialist, the aging Henrik Vanger. Vanger has two propositions for him, and offers him a large sum of money (more than enough to cover his court appointed fines) to carry them through, The surface assignment is to write the Vanger corporate history, but the real assignment is to find out what happened to Henrik’s niece, Harriet, who disappeared over forty years earlier.

It seems an impossibly cold case to work on, but Mikael is intrigued and has lots of time on his hands, so he agrees to take it on. Besides that, Vanger agrees to do what is necessary to keep Millennium, which is being abandoned by its advertisers under pressure from the Wennerström group, from going under, and also hints that he has information about Wennerström which he will give to Blomkvist at the end of one year.

The other major character in this book is the eponymous girl of the title. Lisbeth Salander is legally labeled as a mentally disturbed young woman and has been since her troubled childhood. She is brilliant and seems to suffer from some form of autism. In her case the problem effects her ability to empathize with others and form relationships, but it has not damaged her language and communication skills. She is an accomplished hacker and and the most thorough investigator that her boss, Dragan Armansky, has ever known,

For most of her late teen to adult life she was under the supervision of a caring and understanding legal guardian who was more of a parent and mentor than anyone had ever been to her. As we meet her, this situation has changed, His death has placed her under another man’s authority, and he is a problem she has to solve in a unique manner.

Her latest assignment for Armansky was to investigate Mikael Blomkvist and, as one might expect, when he learns of her investigation, part way through the book, he is eager to find out who she is. Besides, by that time he needs the services of an assistant. Who better than the young woman who wrote such a fine report on him?

Mikael started out believing that the mystery of what happened to Harriet could not be solved, but it emerges that there are clues to be found within the large and highly dysfunctional Vanger clan and there there is much more to this story than just the disappearance of one teenage girl.

Together Blomkvist and Salander make a formidable team. They uncover the existence of a serial killer who has been operating for decades, manage to track him to his lair and put an end to his activities. They find the evidence Blomkvist needed to nail Hans-Erik Wennerström and save Millennium.

The late Stieg Larsson seems to have been the model for his own character. He wrote just three novels in this series before he died of a sudden heart attack at the age of 50. The mysteries in this book are wrapped up nicely at the end, but some of the relationships are left unresolved, notably that between the two central characters. I assume that The Girl Who Played With Fire (out now in paperback)and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest (out now in hardcover) will tie up some of the loose ends from this first book.

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