The author died in 2004, prior to any of the books in this series being published. The first book came out in Sweden in 2005, and in the U.S. in 2008. (I didn't read it til 2010.) There's a partially completed manuscript for a fourth book, and I guess notes for a couple others (according to Wikipedia, which also says the series was intended to include ten books). I don't know if the partial fourth book will be published, but I don't imagine I'd read it, anyway. I suppose it's a bit misleading to call this series a trilogy, if it was always meant to be more than three books... but, it is what it is. Anyway, I have, over the past year or two, read articles about the series in EW or whatever, saying how the books have been best-sellers around the world. And the books were adapted into movies, in Sweden. And now they're being adapted into movies in the U.S., which seems rather unnecessary to me, but whatever. That's the U.S., for you. I do intend to see the Swedish movies someday, maybe, though not until I've read all the books. Or at least, I won't see each movie until I've read the book it's based on. At the moment, I've only read the first book, so I suppose I could pick up the DVD anytime... And after that, maybe I'll consider seeing the American movie, when it comes out. We'll see. Anyway, after reading about how popular all these books are, I thought I might as well jump on the bandwagon, and read them myself. Not sure when I'll get around to the second book, I do want to take a bit of a break and read other things, first. But for now... here's my review of the first book:
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (pub. 2005, Sweden; 2008, U.S.A.)
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The story begins with a prologue, set on Friday, November 1, 2002. It's about an 82-year-old man who has been mysteriously receiving a pressed flower on his birthday every year for decades. Neither he nor his old police friend (now retired) have been able to learn who sends the flowers. It's a bit later in the book before we'll learn the significance of the flowers. After the prologue, there are 29 chapters, divided up into four parts, followed by an epilogue.
Part 1 covers the events of December 20, 2002, through January 3, 2003. We meet first one of the book's two main characters, Mikael Blomkvist, a middle-aged journalist and part owner of the magazine Millennium. He's just been convicted of libel against a businessman named Hans-Erik Wennerström. He'll have to pay a fine and spend three months in gaol, though his sentence doesn't start right away. After a flashback explaining how he'd come to write his story about Wennerström, we next meet a man named Dragan Armansky, head of a company called Milton Security. One of his employees is a 24-year-old woman named Lisbeth Salander, who is a brilliant investigator, but terribly antisocial (not to mention badass). She is the book's other main character.
It won't be til about halfway through the book before the two main characters meet, nor til Blomkvist even becomes aware of Salander's existence. However, she gets to know him quite well, early on, when Milton Security is hired by a lawyer named Dirch Frode to do research on Blomkvist. From her report, we learn alot about his life, including the fact that he has had an on-and-off relationship with Erika Berger, editor in chief and part owner of Millennium, ever since they'd met in journalism school 20 years earlier. Berger is now married to another man, though he has no objections to her occasional relations with Blomkvist. However, Blomkvist is divorced, apparently because his wife did mind. There is also a third part owner of the magazine, Christer Malm, though he's of relatively little importance to the story. The magazine only has a few employees and a few freelancers. It doesn't do much more than break even, and Blomkvist's conviction puts the magazine's fate in a bit of crisis. People have lost faith in Blomkvist's credibility, and advertisers are pulling out- though this may be because of direct manipulation by Wennerström. However, Salander believes that there's more to the story of Blomkvist's trial than meets the eye. It's out of character for him to have published something unfounded, and yet he didn't fight back in court.
Blomkvist is contacted, over the Christmas holiday, by Dirch Frode, who asks him to come to Hedestad (from Stockholm), to speak with Frode's employer, Henrik Vanger, a wealthy businessman who wants to offer Blomkvist a job. Blomkvist is reluctant, but he visits Vanger anyway, and listens to his story. Vanger wants Blomkvist to do two things for him, though one is merely a pretext for the other. The pretext is to have Blomkvist write a history of the Vanger family, but the real objective is to learn who had murdered Henrik's grandniece, Harriet Vanger. In fact, there is no evidence that she'd been murdered; she had simply disappeared without a trace on September 24, 1966, when she was 16. It had been a confusing day, with much of the Vanger family visiting the farm on Hedeby Island. It was also Children's Day, and there was a parade in Hedestad. And there was an accident on the bridge into Hedeby, in which an oil truck was overturned, effectively cutting Hedeby off from the rest of the world for 24 hours. It was during this time that Harriet had vanished, and search parties couldn't find her. Over the next 36 years, Henrik had become obsessed with learning the truth, which troubled the rest of his family. Henrik also tells Blomkvist that when Harriet was 8, she'd given him a pressed flower for his birthday. She did so every year until 1966, when the tradition was broken. However, he received another flower in 1967, and every year since then. He believed this was Harriet's murderer's way of torturing him. (I had another thought, but I won't say what it was, nor whether I turned out to be right.)
On top of the ridiculously large salary Vanger offers Blomkvist for the year he wants him to spend living and working on the book (and investigation) at Hedeby, he also promises that at the end of the year, he'll provide Blomkvist with information that could be greatly damaging to Wennerström. So, against his better judgment (and against Erika's wishes), he agrees. This leads to part 2, which takes place between January 3 and March 17, 2003. Blomkvist spends alot of time reviewing the extensive notes of Vanger's and Detective Inspector Morell's investigation into the matter of Harriet's disappearance. He also gets to know more about the Vanger family, any of whom could be suspects in her murder. Most of them are not at all happy about Blomkvist's presence, especially as they all seem to have realized what his true purpose is. Anyway, there are alot of family members, and it was hard for me to keep track of all of them and how they were related. But I don't feel like mentioning any of them. It's just too complicated and potentially spoilery, and would take away from the point of reading the book, yourself.
We continue to learn more about Blomkvist, as well as the Vangers, and about Salander (the story alternates between her story and Blomkvist's). We learn about Salander's childhood, and how she eventually came to be under psychiatric guardianship by Advokat Holger Palmgren, one of the few people she's ever really trusted. However, he dies, and her new guardian, Advokat Nils Erik Bjurman, turns out to be all kinds of evil. I don't want to say any more about that, but it's a situation Salander has to deal with in her own way. (She certainly doesn't want anyone in her life to know that she's legally considered mentally incompetent to take care of herself; though she probably could have avoided the entire situation if she'd made any effort at all.) Anyway, eventually, in spite of the fact that the Vanger Corporation is itself in a certain degree of crisis, Henrik gets himself into a position to be of help to Millennium.
Part 3 runs from May 16 to July 11, 2003. In March, Blomkvist had begun serving his sentence in gaol, and ended up getting out after just two months, instead of three. He had actually rather enjoyed his time in gaol as a sort of vacation, and continued working on the Vanger family chronicle. Upon his release in May, he headed back to Hedeby, and in June, he finally uncovered some clues in his investigation. The fact was, neither he nor Vanger had ever really believed anything would come of the investigation, so it was a surprise to everyone that he was actually making progress. It was about this time that Blomkvist learned from Frode that he and Vanger had hired someone to do an investigation of Blomkvist prior to hiring him. So, he ends up doing his own investigation of Salander, and then confronting her. The two of them begin working together on the investigation, which turns out to involve a series of crimes much larger than that of Harriet's disappearance.
Part 4 runs from July 11 to December 30, 2003 (with the epilogue detailing the events of November 27-December 30). All the Vanger business gets resolved, but I don't want to spoil anything about that. Then there's the matter of Wennerström, and... I don't want to spoil anything about that, either. Except to say that Blomkvist explains things in greater detail to Salander than we'd learned at the start of the book. And she ends up helping him, in a big way.
Not much else to do except say that I thought it was all quite well written and interesting (though of course I read the English translation, so I can't say what it's like in the original Swedish). Anyway, there's a lot of very disturbing stuff in the book; the major theme of the various plots is about violence against women. But there's also some humor, excitement, etc. There was a lot of bed-hopping, which I didn't care for, but I can overlook it. The best thing about the book, however, is the character development. The most interesting charater is, naturally, the title character, Lisbeth Salander. At one point, Blomkvist figures that she has Asperger's Syndrome, or something along those lines. Of course, I'm always interested in such characters... I like to compare them to myself. Certainly there are things about her personality that I can understand, things that I find similar to how my mind works. But I also think she's far more antisocial and untrusting of people than I am, which can sometimes be frustrating to read about... I feel like she's being unfair to the people who care about her. On the other hand, she's infinitely more casual in her attitude toward sex than I could ever be. (I always say that people are individuals, even if they share a common psychological condition, and that such a condition can affect them in different ways, and should never be used to expect everyone with that condition to behave in the same way. But I find it particularly interesting that the same condition might actually lead two different people to behave in polar opposite fashions. Then again, that's assuming that in both cases the condition itself is responsible for their attitudes, which may not be the case... at least not entirely.) Anyway, there are a number of things about how Salander's mind works that I understand firsthand, and a number of things I don't. One thing is what I perceive as an irony, that her job is to snoop into strangers' lives, and she doesn't seem to have a problem with that- she takes it to greater extremes than anyone- but she does have a problem with anyone snooping into her life. Or even just making normal, friendly inquiries. I don't think the irony of this is something she grasps at all. But hey, I definitely understand having a mind that forces one to engage in double standards in certain matters, even if that's something I hate about myself. Speaking of which, there are also many things Salander doesn't like about herself, including her photographic memory. She thinks of herself as a freak in many ways, including both things that others would find slightly freakish, and things others would find positive points. She clearly doesn't have a problem with being violent, when she deems it necessary, but at least she's learned to analyze consequences before acting. And she has a very definite sense of right and wrong, whether most people would agree with her in every case or not. But if she feels something is wrong, she feels very strongly about it, and refuses to accept any perceived injustices. I definitely understand that, even if I don't tend to react the way she does... I often fantasize about it. Even when part of my mind tells me I'm wrong. Some of my thoughts scare the hell out of me, and I hope I never... act the way Salander can. Still, both in spite of and because of everything, for the most part I like her. Even if I'd find her impossible to live with, in real life....
Perhaps I should say more about Blomkvist. He's a more normal guy, who I think would be much easier to be friends with than Salander, even if there are some things about him that aren't like me at all. I respect him and find him likable enough, but... being normal means he's not quite as interesting as Salander. As for any other characters... I'm afraid I have nothing to say, really. And of course I've left out a ton of plot details. But... definitely a good book, and I look forward to reading the sequels, eventually....