They accuse me of snobbery all the time. Latest example, my reluctance to red the Stieg Larsson The Girl (fill in the blank) trilogy (actually officially called The Millennium Trilogy.) My instincts told me it was too, too, popular hot to be much good. However, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo fell into my lap, and I was taking an airplane trip, so what’s a guy to do?
I do admit to admiring the titles of these volumes (The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest are the other two.), and my heart skips a beat in mourning when I think that Larson expired without knowing that his writing had taken the world by storm. As for the rest, well, I’ve got yes’s and no’s.
First the no’s, since the yes’s are big time. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is replete with dead spots. You can skip whole pages without losing an iota of plot character, suspense, or dramatic tension. In fact, skipping some pages will help keep the tension from sagging. The story centers around the fate of a muckraking magazine (Millennium is its title. Perhaps the other books stay attached to this. Don’t know.) The relationship between the two publishers is, to me, never believable. Erika and Michael are long-time friends, both journalists, who teamed up to start the magazine. They have an on-again, off-again sexual relationship. She has an “open marriage” to a sculptor. He’s single, but divorced. Neither seems to mind who or how many the other hooks up with. Doesn’t seem the basis for a long-lasting buddyship to me. Apart from their personal relationship, their business relationship also seems unsustainable. Long periods of absence, work dumped on each other with no explanations. There are some conversations about trust and friendship that I think are meant to explain all this, but they fail to justify it to me. So. Weaknesses abound. Or maybe I’m just not enough of a swinger.
HOWEVER, as a mentor of mine once put it, character can trump nearly everything else, and the character of Lisbeth Salander is one of the marvels of modern popular literature. I envy Larson her creation. Salander is a young (25 years old in the Tattoo) semi-functional semi-idiot-savant social outcast. She “works” as a free-lance investigator for a private security company which occasional takes on “personal investigations,” though its owner prefers the more prosaic and less messy tasks of protecting buildings and providing bodyguards for the prominent and/or wealthy. Salander is so good at her job, though, that she blitzes the results of any other three investigators Milton Security has ever hired.
Thus it is that she gets involved with Millennium, and its (male) publisher during the fallout from a libel suit. There are some (I would call them) creepy aspects of Swedish law that require guardians to be appointed for people—even adults—who are deemed psychologically odd and anti-social—both of which are definitely aspects of Salander’s character. Both the character elements and the legal complications of the guardianship play prominent roles in the plot. And the plot is a doozy. There’s a brutal family saga involving a missing (murdered?) heiress. And I mean missing. 40 years. All of these are plot-counterplot to the situation surrounding the Millennium lawsuit and its connection with an international criminal billionaire. There is, of course, romance of some of the weirdest imaginable. Not kinky, just the would-this-really-happen kind. Well, there is some kinky, but it’s either subplot or doesn’t directly involve our protagonists.
All in all, then, we have a good, though not great, mystery novel, centering around a unique, superbly conceived and created character. Despite its considerable shortcomings, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is well worth the read just to meet Lisbeth Salander, who is perhaps the most original literary human (outside of Grace AnnaDarco in the Saving Grace TV series) so far in this century.
And as for all those who accuse me of snobbery. They’re ALL—I mean ALL—reading this series. I guess the third, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, is about to be released as “a major motion picture,” so this popular wave seems to be building into a tsunami. Not entirely undeserved, either. As long as it keeps people reading and keeps books selling, why should I quarrel? They’re certainly not garbage, these books, and maybe somewhere up or down there, Stieg Larson is able to enjoy some fragment of his posthumous fame. Hope so. By all accounts, his own life and mysterious death in 2004 were as full of intrigue as these novels.