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by Stieg Larsson
Quercus, January 2008
572 pages
14.99 GBP
ISBN: 1847242537

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

If you're a reviewer, you sometimes find the hype surrounding certain books a little OTT. In the case of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, every word of praise that's been pinned to it is richly deserved.

There's an interesting story behind the book as well. Stieg Larsson was a Swedish journalist, known for his battling against the far right and racism. Apparently he'd been working away secretly on three crime fiction books. Not long before he died of a heart attack, he handed the trilogy over to a publisher. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (MEN WHO HATED WOMEN in Swedish) is the first in the series. And now I can't wait for the next two.

The book features Mikael Blomkvist, a financial and investigative journalist who's on his way to prison and about to be hammered with a hefty fine for libelling an eminent and supposedly crooked businessman. This being Sweden, he's not whisked off straight away in handcuffs. In fact, he gets to choose when he does his porridge . . .! And when he does, it sounds more like a civilised holiday!

To save the reputation of his magazine, Blomkvist decides to stand down from the editorial board for the time being. So there's nothing to stop him fulfilling a strange request writing the history of the Vanger family.

But there's more to it than that . . . Henrik Vanger's niece Harriet disappeared years ago. Her body has never been found, and no one saw her leave the family island. Henrik, an influential businessman, wants Blomkvist to have a go at finding out what happened to her. And in return he'll help him dig the dirt on the corrupt businessman.

Blomkvist can't see how he can succeed, but his investigative skills dig up links with some murders from 40 years back. He links up with enigmatic and damaged computer hacker Lisbeth Salander to unravel what really happened and uncovers dark and dangerous family secrets.

That, in a nutshell, is what happens in the course of 500+ pages. But the bare bones of the plot doesn't scratch the surface of what a stunning achievement THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is. The book is dark, knotted and absolutely compelling.

Larsson presents us with both a sociological and cultural examination of a country, and a rock-solid crime novel, as well as drilling down into the rich heart of his characters. In many ways Lisbeth is the most complex and intriguing creation think Carol O'Connell's Mallory, but even more damaged and even more dangerous.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is one of the finest crime fiction novels it's been my privilege to read. The expression 'transcends the genre' gets bandied about too much. But it's true in this case. And even if the remaining two books in the trilogy are only half as good, Larsson will have left a formidable legacy.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, December 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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