Rarely do you come across a book - a crime fiction one at that - which you want to read cover to cover in one sitting, not caring if its 1am and you've just got off a drinking session with friends. 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' comes very close to being one such book.
Written by Stieg Larsson, its Part 1 of the Millennium trilogy and unfortunately the only set of books that he wrote before he passed away in 2004. We will never know if he was a writing genius who could have written even more gripping novels and history will judge his author abilities based on just three books.
'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' has a good combination of flawed characters that keep you engrossed in the storyline. At its core its a closed-door-kind murder mystery when Henrik Vanger, the aged former CEO of Vanger Corporation invites Mikael Bolmkvist, the recently disgraced libel-losing investigative journalist and publisher of Millennium magazine, to re-investigate the sudden disappearance of his great-niece Harriet Vanger some 40 years earlier when she was 16 from the island where he lives. The only bridge connecting the island to the mainland was closed that day due to an accident. Henrik has been tormented by the fact that he does not know what happened to his favorite niece while at the same time suspecting that one of his family member committed the murder of Harriet. The police investigations have been closed and there is nothing that can be done.
In the first half, parallel to this story runs the story of socially outcast, psychotic but extremely intelligent hacker with a photographic memory - Lisbeth Salander. Lisbeth is legally incompetent and is under the care of guardians instituted by the government. Lisbeth's character is the most exciting character in this book mainly because it is so flawed that you immediately want to protect her while at the same time are extremely scared of her. One episode where she deals with her sexually abusive legal guardian makes your hair stand while you root for her and for the treatment she metes out to him.
The book is slow to pick up as you read the first part of it. Larsson takes his own sweet time to explain all the myriad characters that constitute the Vanger family and there are too many of them. Of course Henrik Vanger does not like any of them and compares them to thieves, robbers and incompetent idiots. The investigation proceeds at a leisurely pace till Lisbeth and Mikael start collaborating. The story explodes at this point and moves at an exciting pace which makes you turn the pages. When a slaughtered cat is left on the doorstep of Mikael and he is shot at, they realise that they may be on the right track to actually solving the mystery after 40 years.
Rest assured while they manage to solve the mystery, the climax of the book is cliched and expected.It does not live up to the expectation of the pace of the book and strangely like a Hindi movie Larsson extends the book with an un-required investigation into the businessman who brought Mikael down in the first place. I found it unnecessary unless this is linked to the second book.
The disturbing part of the book is that it makes you perceive that Swedish men abuse and hurt the women as if its a natural thing to do. The solving of Harriet's disappearance does not leave a sweet taste in your mouth.
'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' is slow in the start, fast paced and exciting in the middle with an anti-climax at the end. It does keep you engrossed and I am looking forward to reading the second part of the trilogy.
I rate it 4/5.
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