The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Famous journalist sentenced to prison.
Mikael Blomkvist, editor of Millenium magazine, is found guilty of slandering billionaire financier Hans-Erik Wennerstrom.

Henrik Vanger, C.E.O. of the powerful Vanger Corporation revives hunt for solution to niece's disappearance.
Harriet Vanger vanished 40 years ago from secluded Hedeby Island.

Lisbeth Salander declared legally incompetent

Computer hacker Lisbeth (code-name "was") loses control of her own affairs. The notoriously delinquent 24-year-old surveillance agent could not be reached for comment.
If you were to ask me what types of books are the hardest to write reviews about, normally I would say it was those books that were just mediocre in that they didn't inspire great enjoyment, but they also were not so terrible that you were tempted to wallbang them. Despite the fact that this book is definitely NOT one of those mediocre books I find myself struggling to decide where to start. The main reason for this is that there is just so much going on in this book.

There are in effect three major strands within this novel. The first is the story of Mikael Blomkvist. He is a investigative journalist and publisher who, as the book opens, finds himself on the wrong side of the law, found guilty of libel against wealth financier Hans-Erik Wennerstrom. Not content with winning his case, Wennerstrom seems determined to destroy the magazine that Blomkvist runs with his best friend and on/off lover Erika Berger. Mikael decides that his best course of action is to make himself scarce to give the magazine the best chance of survival.

Enter wealthy industrialist Henrik Vanger. After conducting his own investigation into Blomkvist, Vanger offers him an unusual opportunity. He wants Mikael to move to the country and live on the island where many of the Vanger family make their homes, and write a family history. The more important task for Mikael is to investigate the disappearance of Vanger's niece Harriet some 40 years prior. This investigation has run into dead ends almost from the beginning and yet on his birthday he receives a gift that can only be from the killer, if there was a killer, seemingly to torment him until the end of his life.

As Mikael investigates it becomes clear that there are many secrets in this powerful family - feuds between family members, fanatical Nazism, abuse, and many other unpleasant secrets. Even Mikael cannot believe what he finds out!

The third major character is Lisbeth, the girl with the dragon tattoo. Lisbeth is a ward of the state due to the fact that she is perceived to be incapable of managing her own affairs. In fact, she has socialisation issues, but is a brilliant hacker who freelances to perform background checks and the like.

As Lisbeth and Mikael come together, events take turns that are difficult to imagine, and in the hands of a lesser writer could become over the top and unbelievable. Luckily for us, Larsson mostly avoids the potential pitfalls in such a dramatic story! That doesn't mean to say that this is a perfect book because it isn't by any means! As you read through the latter pages of the book, there appears to be at least one, if not two, possible natural endings but instead the book carries on for a further 50-100 pages, almost as though the author realised there were too many loose ends to be carried onto into the next book.

Lisbeth is unique. She is someone who skirts on the edges of society and of the law. She is edgy and difficult to those around her with lots of issues that she needs to deal with. Most of the major characters are well defined and there are very few two dimensional characters throughout the book.

Orginally written in Swedish, there are some issues with editing and translation. At one point for example he is talking about a road name where he says it was obviously enough called Stalagatan (or something like that - I've returned the book now so can't check). As someone whose only exposure to Swedish is the product names at Ikea, it was nothing obvious to me, I can tell you!

I noticed on Larsson's website that there is currently a movie being made of this book. For a first book this is an assured, complex, edge of the seat thriller that has so many different themes. Larsson died after handing in the first three books in this series, so his planned series will never be completed. However, I can't wait to read the next books in the series and to enjoy the ride that he was taking me as a reader on for as long as I can!

This book was the winner of the Boeke Prize and Glass Key for the best Nordic crime novel of 2005. In my opinion, these awards are well deserved. I highly recommend this book.