I’m probably one of the last readers on earth to have managed to avoid this international (posthumous) publishing phenomenon. I might as well confess right now that I never finished the Harry Potter series, either (made it through the first three with gritted teeth, but hey, at least I tried!). The Larsson trilogy, in large part thanks to the narrating prowess of Simon Vance, makes for entertaining (albeit somewhat uneven, often implausible) company on long runs … in fact, Dragon Tattoo got me through the Park City Marathon last month (the first 16 miles were gruelingly uphill!), and I admit I definitely got hooked (lack of oxygen – it’s up at 7,000 feet – might also have been a factor).
The original Swedish title for Dragon Tattoo seems far more fitting: in English translation, it’s Men Who Hate Women. Certainly, the male species isn’t particularly well-portrayed throughout the trilogy – but I’m getting ahead of myself …
Mikael Blomkvist, the journalist publisher of Millennium magazine, has made a mess of his career, finding himself charged with libel against a powerful corporate magnate, Hans-Erik Wennerström. While Blomkvist is waiting to serve his jail term, he’s summoned by a wealthy, aging businessman, Henrik Vanger, to solve a decades-old family mystery: the disappearance of Henrik’s beloved niece Harriet, long presumed dead. Harriet, it turns out, was also once Blomkvist’s babysitter.
Blomkvist is eventually paired with the eponymous ‘girl,’ Lisbeth Salandar, who was originally hired by Vanger Enterprises to do a background check on Blomkvist. Once he gets over his initial grumbling, Blomkvist realizes Salander is an unpredictable amalgam of immeasurable talents. She’s quite the enigma – a loner, socially inept, but brilliant beyond description. She’s been brutalized and victimized, but she’s managed to survive unspeakable horrors. Her tiny size belies her fierce prowess which proves well-matched against Blomkvist’s ego …
In part 2, Fire, which apparently retains its original title in English translation, Salander is missing through most of the book – a definite detriment to the story. The Wennerström affair has left Blomkvist dealing with the annoyances of being a major celebrity. Salander got so annoyed with Blomkvist that she’s taken a year off to travel the world. Back in Stockholm, Blomkvist is at a loss as to what he did to lose Salander, but he’s busy enough working with freelance journalist, Dag Svensson, who presents Millennium with a major sex-trafficking exposé. Svensson’s girlfriend is preparing her doctoral thesis on the same subject from an academic perspective. The two end up brutally murdered, and Salander is named the prime suspect. Blomkvist is convinced otherwise and is determined to prove her innocence.
Fire is the weakest link of the trilogy – overwritten with too many useless subplots and tediously repetitive enough to make you question if the iPod has gotten inexplicably stuck. The Swedish police are arrogant misogynists and/or blundering fools; private detectives and journalists don’t fare much better. Men do little than behave very, very badly. Worst of all, the whodunit portion is so glaringly obvious by page 131 (in the hardcover edition), you can practically skip to the last chapter and save yourself a few hundred pages.
Which brings us to the conclusion, finally. Originally titled The Air Castle That Was Blown Up, Salander spends over half the book in a hospital bed. But a near-comatose, recovering Salander is better than missing from the page, which makes Nest considerably better than Fire, although still not on par with Dragon. Shot in the head and buried alive by her father and half-brother (dysfunction in this family knows no bounds), Salander is fighting for her life, while Blomkvist is battling her many detractors. This time the Swedish government and its ultra secret division of Swedish Security get flayed.
The final courtroom showdown, with Blomkvist’s sister Annika Giannini making mincemeat of liars, cheaters, murderers, rapists, and pedophiles, is delicious revenge, well peppered with blunt, curse-filled interjections from Salander. But before your reward, you’ll have to suffer through long bouts of tedious treading, including a strangely unnecessary stalking plot involving a pathetic miscreant who blames his desperate situation on being ignored by Millenium‘s editor-in-chief Erika Berger waaaaay back in high school.
All that said, Salander is ultimately worth the wading and wait. Will I miss Salander? Absolutely. She truly is indomitable. In one of the endless articles about Larsson, he recounts his neverending guilt over witnessing at age 15, the gang rape of a young girl whose name happened to be Lisbeth. He didn’t , or couldn’t, help her then. Decades later in his vivid imagination, he does allow her to save her own self, over and over and over again … nail gun and all! Literal justice indeed.
Published: 2008-2010 (United States)