The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
by Stieg Larsson
(Alfred A. Knopf, $24.95, V) ISBN 0-978-0-307-26975-1
*****
Millennium magazine is in trouble. The primary cause of their trouble is an article written by one of their journalists, Mikael Blomkvist. Blomkvist was accused of libeling prominent industrialist Hans-Erik Wennerstrom. Although Blomkvist is convinced that Wennerstrom is engaged in more than one illegal enterprise, his allegations in print cannot be substantiated. He will be forced to spend six months in jail and his magazineís reputation is suffering severely.

Shortly after the news of Blomkvistís trial is reported, Blomkvist gets a strange phone call. He is requested to meet with Henrik Vanger, the eighty-two-year-old CEO of the Vanger companies at Vangerís home in Hedestad, a small town a few hours north of Stockholm. Dirch Frode, a semi-retired lawyer explains that Vanger has a job for Blomkvist which he wishes to discuss with him privately. Because of his health and age he would prefer that Blomkvist meet with him at his home in Hedestad. Despite his attempts to put the lawyer off, Frode prevails and Blomkvist heads north.

Vanger wants Blomkvist to write a history of the Vanger family for which he will pay him handsomely. Blomkvist tries to decline but Vanger sweetens the pot guaranteeing him information which will prove unequivocally that Wennerstrom is engaging in illegal activities, allowing Blomkvist vindication in his fall from grace. In addition, he would like to find the murderer of his grand niece, Harriet who disappeared in 1966.

Concurrently Milton Security firm head Dragan Armansky is pleased with his latest protťgťe, Lisbeth Salander. She is a twenty-four-year-old waiflike creature who barely communicates with the world outside her computer, but she has amazing research skills. To some extent she operates on her own system of what is legal, but she can find out anything about anyone and proves just that when she is asked to research Blomkvistís background.

Blomkvist finally agrees to Vangerís requests, but since he has only a year to accomplish the task wants a research assistant. He is provided such in the person of Lisbeth Salander. When asked to see some evidence of her ability, he is given her report on his background. He is at once aghast and amazed. She has uncovered information that he believed unknown to anyone except himself. To have done this she had to have gained access to his computer without his knowledge. She is obviously capable. He would also like to know how she did it. Despite her lack of rapport with almost everyone she seems to make a connection with Blomkvist and the two commence on their seemingly impossible task.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first in a trilogy of novels by a Swedish writer who died suddenly just after delivering the three manuscripts to his publisher. They have all been published in Sweden and translated into several other languages. This novel is the first to be published in the United States. Larsson is not for the squeamish as his subject matter is the abuse that men can inflict on women (and some men). In fact the title of this novel directly translated from Swedish is The Man Who Hated Women. While the brutality is not described in graphic detail enough is said which would offend some readers.

The characters speak for themselves. Readers get a sense of the personality of Lisbeth, Blomkvist and various members of the Vanger clan, but they are enough themselves that their actions sometimes surprise you. Lisbeth has been described as borderline Aspergerís though I think she relates to and communicates well with whom she chooses. She obviously is more at home with her computer, but seems rather proud of her ability to go where no one else seems to be able to go in cyberspace.

The flavor of Swedish life pervades the story as holiday festivals take place and traditions are observed. The climate and the terrain are different enough in Stockholm and the more rural Hedestad to put the city folk at a disadvantage in the north. The tale could not have occurred in the United States or even in another Scandinavian country.

The story is completely understandable in English which is a testimony to the skill of translator Reg Keeland. It is difficult to comment on Larssonís style as it is intertwined with that of his translator, but his sense of place and his methods for building excitement draw the reader in from page one.

There are numerous aspects from which to view the novel. It is, of course, a mystery. There are several love interests. The history of a family, with all of its warts and beauty marks plays a prominent role. The author has thoughtfully added a family tree which helps tremendously in keeping straight family birth dates and how each person is related. Because the family runs several companies and has dealings with other companies there are discussions of finance and trade as well.

Though The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a compelling and outstanding read it is not a happy story with a happily ever after ending. There is too much evil afoot for such a hopeful outcome. What is learned is that people can survive difficult circumstances and may even be stronger for it.

--Andy Plonka


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