Crime fiction,  Nordic Noir

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

I had read about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, seen people reading it, literally, everywhere and even contemplated watching the movie (let’s be sincere, the American one). But I never did any of the mentioned above. Then, two weekends ago I felt I needed something “bloody” to get me through my last final, so I went to the crime fiction of my bookshop and found it. I decided to give it a try although I was not very sure I would like it (had heard of some very violent scenes). Again, the book proved me wrong. The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo is a great crime novel, based on great research on violence in Sweden, although I think it could all be applied to any Western country.

From The Book Depository:

Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger disappeared from a family gathering on the island owned and inhabited by the powerful Vanger clan. Her body was never found, yet her uncle is convinced it was murder – and that the killer is a member of his own tightly knit but dysfunctional family. He employs disgraced financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist and the tattooed, truculent computer hacker Lisbeth Salander to investigate. When the pair link Harriet’s disappearance to a number of grotesque murders from forty years ago, they begin to unravel a dark and appalling family history. But the Vangers are a secretive clan, and Blomkvist and Salander are about to find out just how far they are prepared to go to protect themselves.

At first, it was difficult to know what is going on with the characters and all the issues they have, but after the first 50 pages it all falls into place and the reading becomes easy and very addictive. Not only because the characters, Mikael and Lisbeth, are deep and complex and are surrounded by a lot of people, but because the reality Larsson portrais is easy to relate to.

The Vanger plot is one of the most interesting, truculent and disturbing mysteries I have ever read. During the book it is usually compared to the mystery of the locked room, to which I was already familiar with thanks to Gaston Leroux’s The Mystery of the Yellow Room. For me, those cases are extremely attractive because when presented seem both illogical and impossible, but they can eventually be solved with some easy and logic explanation.

But what I liked the most was Lisbeth Salander. I had heard she was nuts, amazing, an incredible woman and a joy to read. They were right. She has some clear issues, but apart from that she’s genius! She is someone I would love to meet and be friends with (it could take me some time) or even employ. However, what I think Larsson highlighted the most about her was her lack of formal studies: she did not finish school yet she was able to solve a crime and proves to be incredibly intelligent. More or less like Einstein. Not all intelligent, valuable and good professionals graduate cum laude or get a perfect score, there are skills that the system ignores but that later in life prove to be key.

The already-mentioned rape scene was one of the things that kept me from reading this book. I have to say it was hard to read but not as hard as I expected. Actually, it highlights the violence to which an important percentage of women are subjected to on a everyday basis. It reminded me of the Ciudad Juarez crimes and how they impacted me. It made me thank my lucky stars and planted a seed on the importance of change laws and protection regarding gender violence.

So, I would recommend this book to any fan of crime fiction. The characters are complex, the plot is perfectly built and connected, the path is perfect and, finally, the social criticism behind the whole plot is exquisite. Larsson even includes figures on women’s violence in Sweden despite their fame as a peaceful country. They are insane, so I can’t imagine how high those numbers get in other countries. Despite this negative side, I can’t wait to read the whole saga while, in the back of my mind I pity Larsson’s sudden death. Writing crime novels was clearly his thing.



  • Sam (Tiny Library)

    It’s good to see such a thoughtful review of this book, because elsewhere I’ve just seen a lot of hype. I think I will read it soon, I’m not the biggest fan of crime fiction but this sounds like it’s definitely worth picking up.

    • Elena

      Wow, thanks, Sam! I think the book deals with so many important issues that I did not mention (and feel guilty for it). For example, ethics and morals play a key role too, it is actually what starts the novel.

      Let me know if you read it, please. I’d love to hear your opinion 🙂

  • Belle

    Lisbeth, I think, is one of the most well-written female characters I’ve seen in a long time. I am pleasantly surprised that a male author could grasp the complexity of her character so well. I’ll look forward to your review of the next ones. I can’t remember which one but there is one where Lisbeth is not featured and I didn’t like the book as much.

  • amanda

    I’ve stayed away from this one because I’ve heard how violent it was, but I was really intrigued by the movie trailer. If it’s not so bad as I’ve feared, maybe I will read it after all.

    • Elena

      Mmm that was what I thought too. I can assure that there are only a few violent scenes and the book is 500-600 pages long, depending on the edition. However, the most shocking scenes (related to Lisbeth’s rape) are featured in the trailer for the American movie. So, if you’ve seen that trailer maybe you’d like the book. Let me know what you think of the movie!

  • Rikki

    I’ve got the book waiting to be read and your review just made it go up on my list. It sounds like a really good read all way around.

  • Li @

    Great review! I had no idea about the rape scene going into reading the book and was left DDD= about it. What also horrified me was learning the story behind Harriet and the way that her father and brother treated her =S Very, very disturbing but yeah, it really drives home the fact that violence against women is a major issue that needs to be addressed *nods*

    I’ve only seen the Swedish adaptation of the novel but I’m curious to check out the American version now after watching a clip from it…hmm, decisions, decisions…

    • Elena

      I don’t know if I want to watch the movie now, it could spoil my picture of the characters, but I must admit Daniel Craig as Mikael is such a good, perfect choice!

  • Melinda

    Loved this book, Elena! I have reviewed the first 2, still need to do the 3rd review, but I enjoyed all three of them equally. Great author.

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