Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is not my first choice in genre. That said, I really enjoyed this book. It has gotten pretty high praise – including one fellow reader friend who said it was the best book he’d ever read. While I’m not going to go that far, I will say that for me it was a great change in pace.
This is the first of a trilogy that, sadly, were left unpublished at the time of Larsson’s death in 2004. Based on this novel, the trilogy appeals equally to male and female readers. And, I’ll be sure I don’t miss the next two – The Girl who Played with Fire and The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.
The title character is Lisbeth Salander, a precocious young adult with a knack for investigating. In this novel, she’s paired with Mikael Blomkvist, a seasoned journalist who is fresh off a libel conviction for publishing unsubstantiated claims about a powerful Swedish financier. Blomkvist has been hired by Henrik Vanger, the patriarch of a once powerful industrialist family, to (publicly) write the family history and (privately) investigate the 40-something year old disappearance/murder of Vanger’s niece, Harriet.
Harriet’s disappearance has haunted her uncle, has been his pet project, and in the opinion of some family members, the reason for the family’s decline. So few are surprised when Mikael starts asking questions about the day Harriet disappeared and most aren’t very happy about it.
My experience in reading this novel illustrates to me the importance of recognizing genre when approaching a book. Let me explain. I’m fresh off of a family vacation where three of us were reading this at the same time. (In fairness, I got a head start before we left.) In solving the “who dunnit” element of the story, there were 63 people confined to the island on the day Harriet disappears. Much of pages 50-150 is description of the family and extended family. When my sister-in-law expressed trouble getting into the book, she was getting bogged-down in all the various cousins, aunts and in-laws and trying to keep them all straight. I didn’t have that issue because I skimmed much of that.
And here’s where I think genre is important. There are some types of novels where minute details play a part in solving the mystery, but not here. For a crime novel of this calibre and notoriety, the criminal is going to be a primary character. I don’t want to give too much away, but you don’t have to go looking behind leaves of the family tree to find the guilty party. I didn’t waste much time memorizing the family and was able to focus on getting to the plot where the story takes off. So I was able to enjoy the book more and basically get to the good parts because I was confident that I wasn’t perusing through key elements.
And of the secondary characters who do play a part in filling in gaps of the mystery, Larsson goes back and helps you put the pieces together, as a good mystery writer will. I highly recommend The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
How about you? Have you read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? How did you feel about all the family history? Are you one that reads a lot of crime fiction? If so, how do you think this one stacks up?