We start the book following Mikael Blomkvist as he is tried in court thanks to a libelous case he brought against an industry giant with a murky past. His name is brought to the attention of Henrik Vanger, the head of the Vanger Corporation - a man who is plagued by a possible murder that occurred forty years previously. Vanger offers Blomkvist the job of investigating the disappearance of Harriet Vanger. Gradually Blomkvist is drawn into what he believes is an impossible case - with the help of the enigmatic and delinquent Lisbeth Salander, he starts to believe he might bring light to the events.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has been a phenomenal success, hyped by many, and I was interested to see what Stieg Larsson actually achieved with the Millennium trilogy. We all know those books which receive hype, and are subsequently disappointing. I'm happy to report that in this case the hype is deserved.
That is not to say this is an easy read. The first 200 pages or so were a struggle to get through at times, and I found it all too easy to put the book down. In the second half of the book the pace accelerates to a driving rhythm which whips you through the rest of the tale. It becomes an absolute page turner (which is a horrible cliche - in the words of Michael McIntyre, that is really the least you should expect from a book, surely? *grins)
I found the prose stilted at times, but I don't know how much of this is to do with the translation of Larsson's original work. Give great credit to the translator, in the most part this felt like a very natural read with very little confusion. I would just say that I didn't appreciate the odd occasion where Larsson appeared to quote word for word the catalogue entry for various pieces of technological equipment.
Lisbeth Salander is a truly startling character - not someone I ever expected to love come the end of the novel. She is spiky, sassy, fiercely intelligent - but also annoyingly private and tolerating of virtually no one. Her upbringing is hinted at, and is made out to be fairly horrific. I wanted to read about Salander - she was totally fascinating and owned the book. I also liked Blomkvist a great deal - with these two leads the book had a strong central core.
At times the rest of the cast of characters could, at times, be mixed up. The Vanger clan was rather large, and led to some moments of 'who was that again?' There was a family tree at the beginning, but I wonder whether a detailed dramatis personae would have worked better?
The plot was intricate and detailed, with a fabulous jigsaw puzzle style - slotting each piece of information into place just at the right time to keep you reading and intrigued. I loved trying to work out ahead of time who might have committed the crime, but I totally failed to put the clues together! It came as a complete surprise, which I'm also pleased about - the book felt clever and not at all by the numbers.
I do want to mention some of the rather harrowing and graphic scenes within this novel. We are dealing with some rather nasty individuals and their behaviour at times was sickening. There is one truly horrible rape scene, which helped to show Salander's attitude and delved a little into her past, but I really didn't appreciate the dark quality of it. There was also a pretty horrendous event involving a cat, and this made me feel physically sick. I deemed this to be a strength of Larsson's writing - his prose made me feel nervous and sickened and as though I was genuinely involved.
Startling, dark and tremendously skilled prose - this novel is an incredible read. Not always easy, but well worth the effort. Recommended.