Note: I don't know what's up with the vox-book formatting… sorry
Over our cross-country trip at the Holidays last year, one of the books that I read was “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” by Steig Larsson. I had been getting into Nordic mysteries for a while, but surprisingly hadn’t read that particular book. December seemed like a good time to commune with the cold of Sweden and so I finally read it.
“Dragon Tattoo” is a very good book. It didn’t make my favorite books of 2009 but it came pretty darn close. I think the reason I dink it at all is that the book is fairly unevenly paced. The first third of the book is sloooooowwwww (which I think leads a lot of people to say — pffft, what’s all the fuss about and put it down…). There are a lot of characters being introduced and a lot of talking, but not a lot happens. Investigative journalist Mikael Blomquist, fresh off getting played by a source, decides to accept an invitation to investigate the long-ago disappearance of an industrial heiress. During his investigation, he is brought into contact with Lisbeth Salander, an brilliant but anti-social computer hacker, and they decide to work together.But about that third-way-through-the-book point, the book kicks into gear and never stops afterwards. The crime mystery from that point is really well done: multi-layered, it keeps the reader guessing and had a gripping and unexpected resolution. I also appreciated that Larsson was courageous enough not to go for a “tidy” happy-ending. Not only did that enhance the novel’s feel, but also left loose threads that would be picked up in subsequent books. If I could hand out half-stars in Goodreads, I’d give it 4.5.
Larsson followed his success with “The Girl Who Played With Fire” – which picked up the story of Blomquist and Salander some time after the adventures in “Tattoo”. While keeping many of the central characters, Larsson really wrote a much different story than in his first book. While the first book was more of a classic crime novel, this story (again, after a somewhat laborious introductory period) evolves into a "chase & investigate" story that made me think of “The Fugitive”. Interestingly, rather than work as a team, he keeps our main two protagonists operating in completely different arenas for nearly the entire book. You’d think this might not work, but it did for me and made a good contrast to the first book.
In some ways, I think this is the weakest link in this short chain of books, though don’t misinterpret that statement, I still really enjoyed it. In it, we learn a lot more of Lisbeth’s previously hidden background and that’s the story that really powers this tale of flight and revenge. As with “Tattoo”, Larsson wraps things up (though it is sort of an “Empire Strikes Back” type of meta-resolution) with enough threads to seed the next book in the series. If I could choose, I would give this book 3.5 stars and not 4, but again such is the Goodreads 5-point scale.
The series finale (and it’s the finale, as Larsson is deceased) – “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest”** – picks up immediately following the events of “Fire”. I suppose you could say that they’re the same story – part-1 and part-2. Again, Salander and Blomquist are separated for a good chunk of the book and I found myself thinking “C’mon, get them back together!” Again, Larsson effectively changed the structure of the storytelling in this book – morphing into something more like a spy thriller than anything else. There was a point in this story where the labyrinth of secrets threatened to undermine both the credibility of the story and the interest of the reader, but Larsson brought everything together in the second half of the novel really well. Without giving away anything, I really loved the climax that brought all the protagonists (and antagonists) together for a final showdown. As the end of the series, Larsson’s epilogue left me smiling.
In the end, each book of this series was very enjoyable (though not perfect). What Larsson was able to do was to create characters that I really cared about – even the occasionally insufferable Blomquist. And by not relying on the same formula (crime novel to “fugitive” to spy thriller), Larsson was able to keep it fresh.
** Someone has to tell me why the title is “Hornet’s Nest” and not “Hornets’ Nest”, I think it should be the latter!