I am writing this review before finishing the final book in the series which is difficult partly because I don’t know if the ending of the trilogy will be satisfactory and also because I am rushing through the review to get back to reading the final book. I’m actually mad at myself right now because I took a long nap Sunday afternoon and missed out on two whole hours of reading time.
The books in question are the very popular series by Stieg Larsson: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest. Larsson was a Swedish financial journalist who wrote these three amazing mystery novels, turned them in to whoever was the one to receive the manuscripts, and proceeded to die. There’s now some sort of protracted legal battle going on between his family, with whom he was on very bad terms, and his girlfriend, to whom he was not married, over the rights to the books. There are rumors of foul play, notes for further novels, and all kinds of intrigue. All of which reminds me that I really need to create a will because I don’t want anyone trying to steal the rights to any amazing novels I might write in the future should I die before their publication.
Anyway, about the books. My book club chose to read the first one and I was kind of exited about it since I’d heard they were good but I probably wouldn’t have picked it up on my own. I’d also heard they were slow to start so I expected to slog a bit to get to the good part. I wasn’t wrong. I had to wade through about 200 pages of Swedish industry blah blah blah journalistic integrity blah blah blah not nearly enough on the intriguing strange hacker girl blah blah blah HOLY CRAP INSANELY COMPELLING MYSTERY ABOUT A SERIAL KILLER!!!!!
The first book introduces you to Mikael Blomkvist as he’s being convicted of libel against a captain of industry. You also meet Lisbeth Salander who is a very odd hacker and private investigator. There are a slew of other characters and interpersonal relationships so complex and detailed that I would need to write my own 600+ page novel to explain them. Both Blomkvist and Salander come with their share of baggage that they carry through the book and eventually into each other’s lives when they cross paths while investigating a 40 year old missing persons case.
At about that point the book becomes violent, disturbing, dark and utterly un-put-down-able.
The final third of the book is a masterful wrap-up where every single person gets their come-uppance. No one escapes justice which is tremendously satisfying. Then at the very end, Larsson hits you with a cliff-hanger of the kind that sends otherwise rational people to bookstores for the next book right now.
I had high hopes for the second book picking up at the same pace as the fist one left off but instead it was anther 200 pages of establishing a whole new plot line since there were no loose ends from the original mystery to return to in this story. Instead we get an entirely new story dealing with more Swedish social issues, this time sex trafficking. Blomkvist is once again crusading for the little guy, which is something I really like about these books. Salander is off flitting about the world doing strange hacker things and getting plastic surgery. Once again it’s damn near impossible to predict the ways in which the two separate threads of story intersect but they do and, once again, it’s explosively addictive. I do not recommend taking this book with you to work because the temptation to read it will be overwhelming and you might need to ask a co-worker to hold onto it so you don’t give in and start reading under your desk like you did with Flowers in the Attic in 7th grade math class. Because the mother in that book was feeding her kids arsenic, for pity’s sake! You can’t just put that down to learn about quadratic equations!
The cliff hanger at the end of the second book is even wilder than the first and I bought the third book, in hardcover, before I had even finished the second because I need to know how this story ends. Thank heavens the third picks right up and there’s no slogging. By now, we’re into mysteries involving secret police, KGB defectors, and criminal justice systems gone terribly awry. And I don’t know how it ends yet and I really, really, want to be reading but I’m writing this review because I love you people so very, very much that I’m sharing how fan-ta-bu-lawesome these books are so you can start reading them immediately!!!!!!!
Seriously, these books are great. Usually a book is interesting because there’s at least one character that you kind of identify with – a character whose shoes you want to wear for the duration of the story. This is not really the case with this series I don’t want to be Salander. There are a couple of other well-drawn female characters but no one I identified with too strongly. It’s really the sense of justice that threads through all of them that is so interesting to me. That and the fact these are spectacularly well-constructed mysteries that don’t get obvious in their outcomes. The pacing, after the initial epic periods of exposition, was impeccable and no detail was left incomplete.
These books get two thumbs and a few toes up from me. I hope if you decide to read them, you enjoy them too and that you don’t get caught reading them at the office. Because that would be really embarrassing.