Up until I read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, I imagined Sweden as a peaceful, tranquil country. Now I have a vision of Sweden as a country plagued by corruption, racism, misogyny, and horrific violence against women. I purchased this book on a whim without knowing much about it, and I was surprised by the graphic violence. Had I known the original Swedish title was “Men Who Hate Women,” I might have been clued in sooner.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo centers on Mikael Blomkvist, a financial reporter and amateur investigator, who was recently convicted of libel and is facing a hefty fine and a few months in jail. Out of options, he accepts a job offer from Henrik Vanger to investigate the disappearance of his niece, Harriet, over forty years ago. Harriet disappeared during a large family gathering on an island when she was sixteen, and every year since then Henrik has received an anonymous package in the mail on his birthday. Even though decades have passed, Vanger is haunted by Harriet’s disappearance and the fact that, despite every effort, no trace of her has ever been found. Blomkvist discovers that the Vanger family has a lot of skeletons in the closet, including Nazis, alcoholics, and abusers, just to name a few.

Blomkvist is aided in researching this cold case by talented private investigator Lisbeth Salander, a troubled twenty-four year old woman with antisocial tendencies. Her tattoos, piercings, and goth-like appearance are deceiving because she is a brilliant investigator. Although she is in her twenties, she is a ward of the state because of emotional problems and a history of being abused. Some see her only as a victim, but the abuse she has suffered has made her tough and full of vengeance. Since the system has failed her so many times, she sees vigilante justice as her only option.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is perplexing because it is almost like three novels in one – there is the financial investigation and libel lawsuit, the disappearance of Harriet, and the saga of the Vanger family. The book gets off to a slow start by giving the reader lots of information about the world of finance that I didn’t find particularly interesting. The good news is that eventually the story gets going and the whodunit aspect of the novel is just wonderful. Harriet disappears from an island so there are a limited number of potential suspects, mostly family. I thoroughly enjoyed Blomkvist’s investigation and trying to guess the identity of the culprit.

My main problem with book was the grisly crimes and the shocking violence against women that takes place. I applaud the author for highlighting the problem of domestic violence and misogyny, but doesn’t presenting the violent deaths of women for entertainment purposes just contribute to the problem? I frequently read murder mystery novels and don’t consider myself that squeamish, but I had trouble reading parts of this book. I also just had to roll my eyes as multiple women throw themselves at Blomkvist (apparently the boring financial reporter is just irresistible) because it didn’t seem believable at all. Despite the slow beginning and my other issues with it, I did become completely absorbed in the story.

Unfortunately, Stieg Larsson passed away shortly before The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was published. Before he died, he wrote three books featuring these characters. The next book in the series, The Girl Who Played With Fire, will be available on July 28, 2009 (you can pre-order it on Amazon.

Buy The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson on Amazon by clicking here.

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