Unfortunately I was drawn in by the hype and some rave reviews and decided to plunge into the Millenium trilogy. The first book at least - The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo - came as a disappointment.
The book follows two protagonists - a financial journalist and a social outcast hacker (the girl with the dragon tatoo) - in their at first separate and then joint quest to solve the mystery of an unsolved murder investigation of 40 years ago, and in a second step uncover some financial wrongdoing by a fictional Swedish financier. So far so predictable.
Sadly, the author fell way short of the research necessary to make a compelling case of it being a good thriller / crime novel. Where he does score fully, though, is in designing the characters and happening along very populist lines, so somewhere the success is not as surprising, as it would be, judging by the quality of the book alone. In essence it is another case of getting a good grasp of the target audience but being relatively clueless on the subject matter - in its populism and superficiality he very much reminds me of Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code or Angels and Demons).
So what is wrong with it? First of all, it seems like the editing process has been curtailed or not done properly - the book would need to lose at least 150 pages and the author sadly devotes pages to pontificating on some technological stuff he is less than competent in. It tells us more about him being a fan of Apple computers than it does of the case, on top of that the information is very basic and will age quickly. A numbers person, the author is not - there were several instances, where he adds something up through the characters and seems to be incapable of checking calculations with numbers up to 10 - not essential to the story but annoying nevertheless. The financial part (i.e. the misdeeds) appears written by someone with a complete lack of understanding how it all works - luckily the whole 'financial business is murky' meme and the assoicated 'it must all be crime and crookery if the common man does not understand it' idea suffice to let many of the equally inept professional endorsers swallow it without commenting. Financial misdeeds are a very real problem but the way they are treated here does not shed any real light on it. Someone like Frederick Forsyth in Biafra Story truly shames Larsson by showing how investigative journalism should be used for good writing (the insights were subsequently used in The Dogs of War).
Not surprisingly the whole financial trickery came at a wonderful time for the series - exactly when there is plenty of interest in it as a result of the financial meltdown in 2008, practically ensuring readership. The second element - the molestation of women - is equally well chosen for populist appeal but the author again fails to do the very real problem justice.
In the end the book is not a massive chore to read but it does drag on after a while, and having it continue for more than 100 pages after the mystery is resolved (something one can guess at waaaaay earlier) was not a highlight, either.
If you are interested in Scandinavian / Nordic crime fiction, you will do better with Mankell (Wallander series) or Nykänen (Raid series).
on 28 April 2012
Having not read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo when it first came out - I'm generally sceptic about instant successes - I asked a friend from work to borrow the book. She promised me that I would have a hard time putting it down. Turns out, this couldn't be farther from the truth.
We're introduced to Mikael Blomkvist, an economic journalist, and Lisbeth Salander, an anti-social girl with the investigation skills that would put to shame the greatest detectives. Mikael is hired by Henrik Vanger, an industrialist of now old age, who wants to know what happened to his great-niece, who disappeared 30 or 40 years earlier.
So, it seems, we're in for a ride! But, well, it's a boring and dull ride.
Starting with characters first. Many reviewers already pointed out that Mikael seems to be irresistible to women. Although it's not a thing that bothered me, it is true. My main gripe with him, however, is that he is not a great main character. He's just not interesting. After finishing the book I asked my friend what could she say about Blokmvist that wasn't a) that he drank coffee all the time, b) that he was a incomprehensible magnet for women and c) that he was a terrible father. The answer was "He is incredibly smart and a great leader, as you shall see in the next book". Smart, he is not. He is clueless throughout the majority of the book and, in the climax of it, he makes a great, great mistake that left me wondering what the hell did people see in this man.
As for Lisbeth Salander, she makes, initially, a compelling portray of the girl who just doesn't care about anything. This works well for some time. She can defend herself and be incredibly competent in her job as an investigator. But, later, it just annoyed me. I mean, she is probably the most unsympathetic character that I ever came across. She smiles some times, but it's always forced and not authentic. To her credit, I think she would be much more competent than Mikael and would solve the case in half the time, leaving me wondering why did Henrik go for Blomkvist when he had this great investigator seating on the side.
The other characters are either the women who want to be in bed with Mikael or men who hate women (which is the original title of this book and much more appropriate).
Now the story/writing. It is not good. The first half of the book (almost 250 pages) is slow, with not much happening. This portion could easily be removed and replaced by 50 or 80 pages. But if it happened, the author may have had no space left to write about the specs of apple computers, or the amount of coffee the characters drink, so he had to choose. The story does pick up in the middle - and this is the only reason I don't give the book 1 star - before it promptly falls back to another 100 pages of things that we don't care about. The books lacks fine editing and you have to wonder if it would have been a better read if it had been treated better during that process.
I noticed a reviewer who said that the second book has a better rating, thus making it better. Although I agree with the first part - it does have a better rating - I cannot agree with the second. Many readers who didn't like The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo will not continue with the saga and will not give a review for the second book, leaving more people who fall on the favourable side of the opinion to give stars to the book.
I thanked my friend who lent me the book, thus saving me some money. And for knowing if Mikael is a great leader or not, I will never know, seeing as I will not read any more books of the Millenium saga.
on 21 February 2011
As other reviewers have pointed out, the book takes forever to get going. The first 300 pages could easily be condensed in a 100. The author(s) throw a myriad of characters at the reader, burdening the mind with difficult names and relations, some of whom have no relevance to the story whatsoever.
In terms of writing style, the author shows no sense of suspense. I did not expect a Hollywood type screenplay, but the most eventful of moments are delivered in such a lukewarm, flat style that one can easily miss them if not paying 100% attention.
Not worth all the hype.
on 30 January 2008
I got all three books in the trilogy as a present,
and read them all in less than a week (in Swedish), a personal
The first book is now available in English.
(The literal tranlation would have been "Men who Hate Women".)
The books are complete page-turners, the suspense
keeps building. The author's death prior to publication
may have contributed to some minor errors of fact and
of internal consistency, but this does not detract from
Apparently, the English version has problems, judging from
other reviews. I sincerely hope the publisher (and the translator)
will take better care with the third (and last) installment.
The background portrayal of a school system
gone haywire and of a mental health system out of control,
both violating people that don't quite fit in with the
Swedish way resounds with its plausibility. I am left with
the impression that the author had first-hand experience
with the horrors of the former, if not necessarily the
Curiously, the author fails to draw the conclusion that
it is the welfare state itself that is the cause, he clearly
embraces it - but then, he is a dyed-in-the-wool Swede.
A piece of advice to the reader: It is helpful to have a
physical map of Sweden handy; with the exception of one
of the main locations (Hedeby, which exists only unrelatedly
in Denmark) all the towns are real.
The "Millennium" magazine featured in the books exists
in the real world as "EXPO", and Mikael Blomqvist is
clearly the author's alter ego. I believe that somebody
familiar with the "in crowd" in Stockholm will find several
matches between the fictitious characters in the trilogy
and real people.
on 5 October 2011
Althought the first few chapters of this book didn't look promising, after about chapter 3, Larsson's book got me hooked. I found myself caring about the main characters, especially that of Lisbeth Salander. The story and plot line was thrilling. Even if you are not a crim/ mystery fan, you should still read this spellbinding captivating book by Steig Larsson.
on 24 October 2009
Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy has met with such phenomenal success that it's almost impossible to avoid them. The three titles - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played with Fire, and The Girl who Kicked the Hornets' Nest seem to be omnipresent, with heads tucked into them everywhere I go. Larsson, a Swedish journalist, died shortly after he handed in the manuscripts for his three thrillers in 2004, so the heartless cynic might suspect an element of posthumous hype. I remember disappointedly discarding John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces halfway through, and wondering whether some of the eulogies piled on it were related to the author's suicide eleven years before publication and his mother's subsequent desperate attempts to find a publisher. But the praise seems well earned in Larsson's case - he's produced commercially accessible but well-written and informed thrillers which, unlike Dan Brown, will appeal to the more discerning reader as well as purveyors of pappy beach reads.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a convoluted thriller set in Sweden. The atypical heroine is a dysfunctional, wary female computer hacker called Lisbeth Salander. Skinny as a bedraggled cat, surly, pierced and tattooed, she looks more of a delinquent teenager than the whizz-kid she is. She freelances for a security company and specialises in carrying out detailed private investigations on individuals. Conventional laws are there to be flouted as far as Salander goes, but she does have a strong moral code in other ways, refusing to tolerate violence against women. Salander becomes involved when a journalist called Mikael Blomkvist is asked to investigate a disappearance of a young woman that occurred thirty six years previously. Those under investigation are the members of a venerable and powerful business family, the Vangers .
The novel involves a large cast of characters and much intrigue. This is a very twenty first century thriller with sophisticated technology as well as the traditional stalwarts such as murderous megalomaniacs, scheming relatives and corrupt financiers. Salander is undoubtedly the star. Silent, fiercely intelligent, private, possibly abused in the past, made poignant by family tragedy, yet far too ferocious to be pitied, she is a very modern day heroine. So adept is she at knocking back threats that at times the story has a feminist cartoonish fantasy feel about it: it's easy to imagine a gamine actress kickboxing her way through the action scenes, and a Hollywood adaptation can't be far off.
The translation from Swedish is occasionally stilted- 'And because the conversation had so much an echo of a schoolboy tone' (rather than 'such an'); 'But even as alcoholics are drawn to the state liquor store' (rather than 'just as'); 'Blomkvist regretted his decision before even he left for home' (rather than 'even before'); 'Harriet's disappearance was the reason why gradually I withdrew' (rather than 'I gradually'). But despite the sometimes stiff feel, the storyline hooks the reader in. The prose is simple and utalitarian, employed only to tell the story - this is not literary fiction in any way, so if you're after sumptuous or poetic language, look elsewhere. But it's always intelligent, and the reader is never taken for a fool: although there are implausibilities, they're not impossibilities, as in so many other thrillers.
My least favourite parts were the very few sections in which Larsson lectured the reader, such as the lengthy explanation of legal competence: 'Since 1989, the term 'legally incompetent' is no longer applied to adults. There are two levels of social welfare protection - trusteeship and guardianship....'
As soon as Larsson started teaching, in his own voice, rather than telling the story through his characters, I felt hectored. Maybe these parts would have been changed had Larsson not died; altered so that the information was provided by a character rather than the preachy voice of the author, though having characters provide complex explanations is also problematic.
Nevertheless, I was still riveted. The characters are credible and one gets the sense that they have pasts, which is so often not the case in action stories with their two-dimensional heros and villains. The characters here are fallible, with faults as well as hopes, desires and dreams. Salander is an enigma, but that makes the reader more likely to revisit her in the second of the trilogy. The writing is unflashy but consistently solid, and Larsson has dotted every i and crossed every t as far as his plot is concerned: many thrillers have storylines so thin they feel like mohair stretched over bones of glaring incredulity. This is a racy, exciting page-turner; undemanding intellectually but quality stuff despite its accessibility. I'll be back for more.
on 25 March 2015
I really struggled when deciding if I should give this 3 or 4 stars, I settled on 3. I watched the film adaptation first and honestly I think this is one of the very rare exceptions were the film was better. The main story is the same, and it is a very intriguing murder mystery. However the side stories are unnecessary, for a large part they evolve around rape. They are unnecessary to the story and seem to be put in for the sake of being controversial, to give the book attention. Finally once the murder mystery is wrapped up there is still 50+ pages to go, all of which is wasted on another pointless and rather dull story, which did not need to be told. The love story is also weak and could have been left out, again it added nothing to the story.
If this book was just about the murder mystery and the other things were left out, then it would be 4 stars. But as it is, I can only give it 3 stars.
on 15 April 2010
There are so many reviews for the novel that I wondered whether I would write anything myself. I had a look at the unfavourable reviews as I was interested in seeing what had irked so many people. I must admit I found quite a few of their comments valid, the book has many flaws, and yet I wasn't at all bothered , while reading, by what had irritated those other readers. The book is a real page turner and I was never bored reading it, quite the contrary in fact! What I don't like about the novel, and it is a problem that concerns many a thriller, is the constant use of tabloid style material 'the rapist, the serial killer, the torturer, the religious fanatic...'It is voyeuristic and degrading. What has happened to good crime writing that it seems to be unable to deal with murderers who simply dispatch their victims (for whatever reason) without displaying incredible cruelty in so doing? Why can't we have books whose interest lies in the clever unraveling of a subtle plot? Why do writers go for cheap sensationalism? Is it that the other type has been done so often that it cannot surprise readers anymore? I don't believe so! I rather think that 'sensational' material sells a lot more easily. But what does it say about us if publishers think readers need to be titillated in this way? The scene when Lisbeth is raped by her guardian made me uncomfortable.Didn't we read at the start of each chapter info about the violence Swedish women are subjected to? Well, if the book aims at raising people's awareness of the sickly way that some men treat women and if it wants to stigmatise and condemn it, then I think the last thing to do is to write scenes that could 'entertain' those with those same sick penchants. And was it necessary to go to such lengths in the end and create such monstrous people and acts of barbarity so depraved? I rather thought they diminished the novel and the good opinion I had had of it at the beginning.
When Mikael Blomqvist arrives on remote Hedeby Island to do research for the biography of Swedish industrialist Henrik Vanger and his large family, he is looking for a place where he can avoid attention. Blomqvist, a financial journalist for Millenium magazine, is due to serve a three-month prison sentence soon for libeling a man he accused of criminal activity. For his own reasons, he did not challenge the charge and offered no defense, preferring to get the sentence over with in the face of enormous publicity. The temporary job he accepts the on this remote island involves the search for Harriet Vanger, Henrik's niece who disappeared from the island when she was sixteen--thirty-seven years ago.
Sometimes helping Blomqvist in his research is Lizbeth Salander, a young woman thought to have Asperger's syndrome, who is under the guardianship of the state. Salander has suffered enormous sexual and emotional abuse and has withdrawn to the point that she trusts no one. Marking events in her life through tattoos and body piercings, she lives as solitary a life as possible, connecting primarily through the internet where she has "met" several fellow computer hackers. Gradually, Salander begins to respond to Blomqvist's honesty and respect for her talents as she discovers important new information about the Vanger family.
Though the novel starts rather slowly as the characters are introduced and the genealogy of the Vanger family is explored, author Stieg Larsson succeeds in creating a sense of Sweden's social culture and atmosphere as he sets up this "closed room" mystery and creates vibrant characters to carry the action. The reader cares about Blomqvist and Salander from the beginning, as both are vulnerable and have suffered unjustly, and as the novel develops, the author also creates sympathy for the elderly Henrik Vanger. Larsson himself, however, was the editor of an anti-racist magazine, and his unforgettable depiction of some of the other Vanger relatives, who were ardent adherents of fascist and Nazi movements, carries the ring of authenticity.
As the novel develops, the skeletons in the Vanger family closet emerge, and a host of repulsive crimes, including murder, rape, torture, and the wanton abuse of women over many years are laid bare. The novel becomes an utterly compelling can't-put-it-downer, as the reader "travels" with Blomqvist and Salander, sharing their frustrations and their physical danger as they investigate this decades-old disappearance. Developed in minute detail, this rich novel is especially satisfying because it leaves no loose threads, connecting every detail to produce a blockbuster conclusion which satisfies in every way. The first novel of a trilogy which Larsson completed just before his premature death in 2004, at age fifty, this thrilling novel will leave its fans panting for the next installment. n Mary Whipple
The Girl Who Played with Fire, the second novel in the trilogy
on 25 April 2009
Having read a number of the reviews on this page, and agreeing with a great many, I'm surprised that no one has mentioned the fact that the greatest sticking point seems to be in the translation which is very often clumsy and dull. Reg Keeland's use of the word Anon is seriously grating - and there are many other examples where you can practically hear the pages of the Oxford Concise turning in the background. I am sure that this book's success in its native Sweden and in the rest of Europe are a testament to the original writing and to the fact that France, Italy and Germany have far better translators of Swedish than we do. Disappointing that the same person has been selected to translate all three of the books - which has put me off reading the next two. It is ultimately however a testament to the author, Steig Larsson, that despite the dreadful translation, his narrative is gripping enough to make it a fairly enjoyable piece of detective fiction. I just wish I read Swedish.