I needed some escape time, so I started The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, a mystery by Stieg Larsson, set in Sweden. I love these detective stories set in other countries; I can learn something as I pass the time reading an exciting mystery. And part of my heritage is Swedish, so I thought this should really be fun.
It wasn’t, at least not at the beginning. At the beginning, I didn’t like any of the characters, and they were always eating sandwiches that sounded awful, like liverwurst and egg. I felt like the characters didn’t have any moral center, like they drifted from day to day without neither conscience nor a plan. The main character, Mikael Blomkvist, is about to go to prison for libel; he printed a story about a major industrialist which turned out to be false, and he protected his source. We don’t really know the whole story, not until the end, which makes it hard to evoke a lot of sympathy for Blomkvist.
He is contacted by another industrialist, and asked to solve a mystery, if possible, about the disappearance, 40 years ago, of his niece, Harriet Vanger. Blomkvist would investigate under the cover of writing an autobiography of his employer and his family. There are members of the family who object. In many ways, it isn’t a very nice family.
Blomkvist gets an assistant, a deeply troubled and flawed young woman, Lisbeth Salander, with a gift for investigation. There is a lot of violence, sexual violence, and mutilation of animals. One of the points I credit Larsson with making is the amount of violence against women in Sweden, which goes on under a seemingly civilized veneer. The truth, as I see it, is that there is violence against women in every society; in some it is better documented than in others. In some, it is better punished that others. It exists in all societies, in all countries.
Another think I ended up liking about the book was that the main character, Blomkvist, who writes financial analysis, takes the press to task for printing what passes for financial news without critically reading and evaluating, which he feels is a responsibility of the press. At one point, as people quail with fear that the stock exchange will drop dramatically, he is interviewed and explains that the stock market is based on perceptions, while the Swedish economy is based on production and services; that while the markets may fail, the economy can still be going strong.
Slowly, the book tightens up. Actually, by the end, I was hooked. The only question in my mind is – did I like it enough to read another?
The book is available, new, from Amazon.com at $6.00 plus shipping.