Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was not quite what I expected. An international thriller by a new voice, a long awaited translation that had been a sensation in Europe led me to believe I was picking up one of those fast paced, quickly written stories. I never expected the depth of plot, well, actually several stories, layered quite neatly, one upon the other which finally came together with excellence. Yes, it's a thriller, but also a locked room mystery, a study in greed, corruption, the world of finance, violence against women and throws in a love story for good measure. It's long; I think it could have been cut down but in the end that didn't bother me. The setting is Sweden, but locale is not developed as well as I might have liked. Some reviewers thought the characters not well drawn and didn't care about them. For me, the characters are what captivated me and kept me reading to the very end.
Journalist Mikael Blomkvist, (Larsson did work for Tidningarnas Telegrambyra, the largest Swedish news agency) is arrested for libel of a businessman, Wennerstrom, having written a story about him that can't be proven. He is sentenced to gaol and though the sentence is short, his career as co-owner of the newspaper Millennium becomes a shambles. Enter, Henrik Vanger, an elderly, wealthy businessman seeking closure to the long ago disappearance of his niece, Harriet. Vanger is the patriarch of a well-known and large Swedish family Vanger proposes to hire Blomkvist to write his biography and to solve the mystery of Harriet's disappearance. He details that day in 1966 when most of the Vanger family was gathered for their annual dinner and board meeting on Hedeby Island. Off island there was a Children's Day Parade planned by the sports club of Hedestad. Harriet had gone to Hedestad to see the parade with some school friends, came back to Hedeby just after 2 in the afternoon. At 2:15 a farmer collided with an oil truck and caused a horrific explosion cutting off any means of anyone coming or going from the island. Moments before the crash, Harriet had told Henrik she needed to talk to him but he was busy and told her he'd catch up with her later. The accident happened, all heck broke loose, and that was the last time Vanger saw Harriet. With all the confusion of the bridge accident he didn't even realize she was missing until the next morning. There were many people on the island that day and Vanger spent the ensuing years trying to figure out which of them had killed Harriet, as he was certain she was murdered, probably for something she knew and had tried to tell him. No body was ever found; she could not have run away as the bridge was the only way out. The author describes this as a locked-room mystery in island format. Blomkvist is hesitant to take on this assignment but is lured by the payment offered, Wennerstrom 's head on a platter.
Larsson includes a family tree and thank heavens he does as it would be difficult to keep all the Vangers straight without it. There are a multitude of suspects and other great characters with varying roles to keep the story interesting and entertaining. One character, Lizbeth Salander, odd girl out is a fascinating study throughout the story. She plays a central part in her role as a sort of investigative assistant to Blomkvist. Fittingly her birthday is Walpurgis Night, an old pagan festival.
The Blomkvist character reads novels throughout the story, one of which is Val McDermid's Mermaids Singing. He pronounces it grisly. Be forewarned that Larsson also presents a grisly and violent tale.
For a first time effort I'd call this one first rate. Four star rather than five for some plot flaw