Once you start The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, there's no turning back. This debut thriller – the first in a trilogy from the late Stieg Larsson – is a serious page – turner rivaling the best of Charlie Huston and Michael Connelly. Mikael Blomkvist, a once-respected financial journalist, watches his professional life rapidly crumble around him. Prospects appear bleak until an unexpected (and unsettling) offer to resurrect his name is extended by an old-school titan of Swedish industry. The catch – and there's always a catch – is that Blomkvist must first spend a year researching a mysterious disappearance that has remained unsolved for nearly four decades. With few other options, he accepts and enlists the help of investigator Lisbeth Salander, a misunderstood genius with a cache of authority issues. Little is as it seems in Larsson's novel, but there is at least one constant: you really don't want to mess with the girl with the dragon tattoo.
Salander is plotting her revenge – against the man who tried to kill her, and against the government institutions that very nearly destroyed her life. But it is not going to be a straightforward campaign. After taking a bullet to the head, Salander is under close supervision in Intensive Care, and is set to face trial for three murders and one attempted murder on her eventual release. With the help of journalist Mikael Blomkvist and his researchers at Millennium magazine, Salander must not only prove her innocence, but identify and denounce the corrupt politicians that have allowed the vulnerable to become victims of abuse and violence. Once a victim herself, Salander is now ready to fight back.
Stieg Larsson gleaned a remarkable degree of success before his too-early death in 2004. He had delivered to his publisher three remarkable crime novels; the initial book in his ‘Millennium’ sequence, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, had enjoyed an unprecedented success in his native Sweden before the translation took the UK by storm. Larsson had made a considerable mark as a crusading journalist, with a speciality in tackling political extremist groups. But he offered assistance to many people and groups who he felt were vulnerable – something of a modern hero, in fact.
One of Larsson's key achievements as a writer was to create an innovative kind of heroine for the crime novel. His unconventional sleuth, the highly intelligent computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, is a confrontational young woman, whose Goth accoutrements sometimes alienate those around her (except the individuals she opts to have sexual relations with – strictly, that is, according to the rules she lays down). In the second book in the Millennium sequence, The Girl Who Played with Fire (as in its its predecessor), Lisbeth's closest ally is the older journalist Mikael Blomqvist, even though she has abruptly ended her emotional relationship with him. Lisbeth has left all she knows behinds her and has begun a relationship with a gauche young lover. But after a grim revenge run-in with a man who has abused her, she becomes a suspect in three murders, and is the subject of a nationwide search. Blomqvist, however, is convinced of her innocence (he has just been responsible for a blistering report on the sex trafficking industry in Sweden), and is determined to help her – whether she wants his help or not.
As with Larsson’s earlier book, this is highly compelling fare, with tautly orchestrated suspense; it's often grisly and uncompromising (not a problem for many readers), and the massive text may be longer than is good for it, but Larsson admirers won't begrudge the late author a word,and will be impatient for the third (and, regrettably, concluding) book in the sequence.