Well, now I understand what all the hubbub was about. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is, quite simply, amazing. There are no less than three endings in this book, and I was up until 1:00 in the morning reading until I found out how it all played out. This is a book that rewards patient readers. It did take a little bit of effort to get through the first hundred pages or so, and I had to trust that Larsson would eventually get around to the action. The wait was absolutely worth it, and I spent more than four hours glued to this book as I read the second two thirds of the book. It was amazing, and the tiredness this morning was worth it.
The novel opens with Mikael Blomqvist having his sentence for libel handed down: a fine and some jail time. His crime was to run a story without the sources to back it up, accusing a heap big CEO of using taxpayer money to run a scheme. In order to save his magazine, Millennium, Blomqvist quits (at least publicly). He is approached by a lawyer for a former CEO of a dying company to write a family biography but also to, secretly, find out what happened to the CEO’s niece in the summer of 1966. On the promise of a couple million kroner and proof that the libeled CEO really was a crook are enough to persuade Blomqvist to stick around and investigate. As the evidence starts to play out and new evidence comes to light, the story really starts to get going.
In the meantime, Larsson introduces us to an utterly remarkable character: Lisbeth Salander. Reading through the first hundred pages of set up was worth it for the glimpses we got of Salander. In most mysteries, the main investigator is a law enforcement official, a cop, a PI, a lawyer. But Blomqvist is an investigative financial journalist. Salandar is a freelance investigator for a private security company and a hacker. Blomqvist has professional ethics guiding his actions. But Salander has her own rules of right and wrong. Watching her execute her brand of justice at the end of the book (twice!) was incredible. This book does not end like a regular mystery, and I relished the originality of it.
Not only is this book a cracking read because of the action, the chases, the near escapes, and the twisted crimes that come to light, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is about ethics and justice and misogyny. The sections of the book are punctuated by statistics about crimes against women in Sweden. Salander’s private dramas and revenges act like bold face and italics on that point. On the one hand, you’re glad that Salandar’s situation works out and that the wrongdoer was punished, but you also wish that the crime had never happened to her in the first place.
Meanwhile, Blomqvist has to wrestle with what he’s going to do with the information that he and Salander uncovered. Publishing would destroy a family and a victim, but is it right to conceal what he knows? Was there justice for the victims? Was it enough? The ending to that plot thread is a little unsatisfying in that there is probably nothing that the legal system can do to make up for the crimes of the guilty parties. Maybe vigilante justice was the only way to go. This book will leave any reader with questions that are probably unanswerable for a long time. (My favorite kind of book.) As for ending number two, when both Salander and Blomqvist take their revenges on the libeled CEO, that was completely satisfying, even if big parts of it were illegal. And ending number three is heartbreakingly sad and made me wish that there was a 24 hour library or bookstore around, because I really want to read the next book the series.