Reviewed by Rima Walker
Scandinavian thrillers are just that-thrilling and un-put-downable. And this is about the best to come over the bookseller’s counter in a long time despite some plot quirks and thin characterization. But who cares about that when the book grabs you with disappearance, murder, corruption in the locked-room-mystery style of Dorothy Sayers (whom our protagonist reads) and John Dickson Carr. Except here it is a locked island mystery, so to speak, with characters who are as strange as they come, including our hero, Mikael Blomkvist.
The plot takes us from Mikael’s losing his magazine journalism job because of a slanderous article he wrote about a major industrialist, to his being hired by an elderly wealthy rival, Henrik Vanger, who wants him to discover what happened to his great-niece Harriet who disappeared from the island about forty years ago. To cover his tracks with those he needs to interview, Mikael is ostensibly writing a history of the Vanger family, most of whom are weird indeed. But not as weird as young Lisbeth Salander, our computer savvy, dragon-tattooed, motorcycle riding young woman with a shady background, hot temper, and lots of personal issues, who is hired to help Mikael.
Forty years makes a case as cold as it comes, despite the fact that our investigators discover other murders that are probably connected to Harriet’s disappearance. But then mysterious and ugly things start to happen very much in the present that make Mikael wonder if, after forty years, there is still a killer among them.
Although the tale unfolds with the quickness of a jet booming through the sky and the reader rushes along with it to find out whodunit, it is the two protagonists, Mikael and Lisbeth, who come through strongly. Mikael works his way through interviews with the many family members (most of whom really hate each other) and painstakingly puts together the bits and pieces of clues he and Lisbeth find in documents and photographs until he reaches an inescapable conclusion that almost gets him killed in the time-honored and trite tradition of most serial killer plots.
Among the many odd characters who people the book, the dragon lady is the most fascinating, and she stands out as the strongest element in the novel. Lisbeth is rude, mean and somewhat unstable, but. she has a mind like a whiplash, a photographic memory, and an ability to find out everything about everybody she is hired to investigate, including Mikael himself. Unable to relate to other human beings in fairly normal ways, the dragon lady keeps to herself and keeps everyone else at arm’s length.
The major weakness of the book lies in its anti-climactic though interesting section after Harriet’s mystery is solved with a fascinating plot twist. This finale seems to act like a cool down after particularly strenuous exercise and its accompanying adrenaline rush. Despite the fact that the plot stumbles here and there and that many of the characters are one dimensional, the creation of Mikael and Lisbeth, the daring duo of Sweden, and the cliff-hanger ending makes the reader hope that there will be more about them in the next two books hopefully forthcoming from Larsson’s publisher, which were delivered before Larsson’s untimely death. ~