For a mystery buff, I may have been the last person on earth to start reading Stieg Larsson's Girl With Dragon Tattoo from the “Millennium” series.
Jeesh, the Swedish Tattoo film came out, and I had to avoid it, knowing that I wanted to experience reading the books before I saw any of the films (the second one has been released in the US and a US director is working on an American version of Dragon Tattoo).
I wasn't really worried that I'd be disappointed. Everyone who has talked or written about the series has been pretty damned positive.
So, about two weeks ago, heading out to the Pacific Northwest for vacation, I took the first volume to begin on the plane.
It's always fun to be caught up in a book, racing ahead because you're compelled to. (It's also fun to savor books, but sometimes the narrative just requires that you put everything aside.) A couple hundred pages in by the time I got to Seattle, I luxuriated in the cool temperatures and just kept going. Luckily my in-laws had the remaining two books in the series (in hardback!).
I finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and plunged into The Girl Who Played with Fire. My brother-in-law offhandedly said he didn't think it was quite as good as the first and third, but you could have fooled me. And although I finished Fire at about 10:30 at night, I immediately started The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest that evening. Despite kayaking, biking, eating salmon, drinking beer, etc., I got through the last volume within another day or so - more or less 1700 pages in about a week.
A lot's been written about Larsson's's books, and I surely have no great, overarching take on them (well, actually I do, noted below, but it's scarcely all that well considered). But I am interested in why some books pull you in so completely that you just can't stop until you're completely done. For me, although the plotting is decent, it's the characters that are so compelling, even if Lisbeth Salander and Michael Blomkvist are, like many thriller characters, a bit beyond belief. Indeed, that's part of their charm. Many of the less central characters have their moments, a lot within the Vanger family.
And although there are numerous surprises, the overall arc of the story, especially in the last two books, leads one to believe that things will turn out well for the major characters and that, roughly speaking, justice will be done. About half way through the last book, it dawned on me that these three books were comparable to the Lord of the Rings, along with The Hobbit. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is like The Hobbit in that it introduces you to all the characters and the turf to be played on, but the real story doesn't start until the first book of the Rings trilogy. Larsson's first book is a great start, and we understand the world he's created, but the 2nd and 3rd books offer the real meat of one continuing story - not quite the same quest as Frodo's, but a quest (for revenge, sanity, justice?) nevertheless. Thus the seamless transition between Fire and Hornet's Nest.
In a recent post, Ken talked about putting down a Michael Connelly book because of some of the content. And these books are scarcely for the faint-hearted (nor is the first film, as I understand). Much of the talk about the books and Larsson revolves around victimhood, rape, and abuse in its many forms. But issues of gender and sex and violence are integral to these books - I'm not sure there's anything that is gratuitous (but that's probably a matter of opinion). And compared to some other thriller writers (Andrew Vachss comes most notably to mind), Larsson's not so hard edged.
And in the end, he has given us Lisbeth Salander, a truly remarkable invention of his mind (and apparently, his experience as a teenager). What a gift, and perhaps the most notable reason to hunker down and read these books without coming up for air.
Katherine Dunn's review of Hornet's Nest in The Oregonian
Ed Siegel's review of Hornet's Nest in Newsday
Alicia Rancilio's review of Hornet's Nest in Taiwan News