Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an onion-style mystery/thriller whose layers are peeled back by two seemingly mismatched protagonists: Mikael Blomkvist, a middle aged investigative journalist charged with libel; and Lisbeth Salander, an antisocial young woman, who is both a computer genius and a pariah.The two are brought together to investigate a disappearance/murder in the Vanger family that occured in the 1960’s and as the investigation continues, not only are the scandals of the Vanger family tree revealed, but also the Vanger family ties to the Swedish Nazi party. While the purpose of the novel is mainly fictional entertainment, there is a good deal of Swedish/European politics, economy, and journalism. The novel also explores the dark side of the human psyche and how it manifests despite the denials and obfuscation of seemingly normal and polite individuals. In short, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo sheds light on the phenomenon of what happens behind closed doors, the knowledge of which can prove to be deadly.
The various story arcs and the sheer number of the Vanger family (22 members) makes a complex environment for a mystery/thriller. However, because of this complexity, it is easy to lose track of which family member did what, and when. Indeed the Vanger family tree spans 150 years, but the majority of the novel vascilates from events that took place in the 1960’s, to present day events (the early 2000’s). The novel also focuses on the physical and sexual abuse of women by men, which is described in graphic detail. This makes for more than a few uncomfortable passages and makes one painfully aware of how often this abuse occurs. It brings to mind the phrase, “It’s a man’s world” in the darkest of sensibility. When the depths of the human psyche are plunged, more often than not there are only monsters lurking in an ever murky pit of despair.
Though The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a great read for fans of complex mystery/thriller novels, it is certainly not for the faint of heart, in that its’ graphic details can be quite unnerving. And while there is a good deal of political, economic, and journalistic information, this can at times slow the pace of the main story arc to a grinding halt. Even though some of these details seem superfluous, the author does a brilliant job of bringing to a conclusion the numerous narrative threads, creating a portrait of the darkest of human impulses. Any fans of mystery/thrillers who enjoy lengthy and complicated reveals (the book is 644 pages) would find Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo well worth reading.