When I spent 4 months backpacking around Europe in 2004, basically every other backpacker everywhere I went was reading a Dan Brown book. It was unreal. As a matter of course, during that trip I bought all four Corgi UK edition paperbacks, and every time I glance at them my thoughts wander back to that incredible summer spent abroad.
This year, knowing that I had more than 20 hours of transit to get my ass to Southeast Asia, as well as a number of long bus rides, I didn't take any chances and I brought 5 books. Technically, this was supposed to be more than enough. After all, during my 6 weeks spent in Poland, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, I managed to read all of two books (and I never did finish the sleep-inducing Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell). In my mind, 5 books was overkill, but what the heck? And then I was rushed to the hospital that fateful Friday night in Phuket. When I regained consciousness, the doctor on duty at Patong hospital told me that I couldn't stay in the sun, drink alcohol, eat spicy food, and overall I needed rest if I wanted to recuperate. Of course, I was at the very beginning of a nine-night stint in Southern Thailand. Other than the sea, the sun, and booze, there isn't a whole lot to do. Which means that I ended up with a whole lot of time to read. . .
So by the time I left Ko Lanta, I knew that I'd get through Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon rather quickly, especially with a 4-hour ferry ride back to Phuket to catch a flight to Kuala Lumpur. I was aware that I was in dire need of extra reading material. And if everyone you encountered appeared to be reading Dan Brown in 2004, this year it was Stieg Larsson's turn to captivate the backpacking crowd. No matter where I stopped in Thailand, most people I met at various guesthouses were reading or had read the Millennium trilogy. And everyone was raving about it.
Here's the blurb:
Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger disappeared off the secluded island owned and inhabited by the powerful Vanger family. There was no corpse, no witnesses, no evidence. But her uncle, Henrik, is convinced that she was murdered by someone in her own family - the deeply dysfunctional Vanger clan. Disgraced journalist Mikael Blomqvist is hired to investigate, but when he links Harriet's disappearance to a string of gruesome murders from forty years ago, he needs a competent assistant - and he gets one: computer hacker Lisbeth Salander - a tattoed, truculent, angry girl who rides a motorbike like a Hell's Angel and handles makeshift weapons with the skill born of remorseless rage. This unlikely pair form a fragile bond as they delve into the sinister past of this island-bound, tightly-knit family. But the Vangers are a secretive lot, and Mikael and Lisbeth are about to find out just how far they're prepared to go to protect themselves - and each other.
English-speaking publishers seem to have been asleep at the wheel, for these books have been bestsellers in various parts of the world before they were translated and released in North America, the UK, and beyond. The French version topped the charts over here more than two years ago and have remained bestsellers ever since. Interestingly enough, I never did give them a shot. Why? Because dumbass that I am, I figured that if something wasn't translated into English, it couldn't be that great. Duh. Considering the quality of Larsson's series and the time it took for it to be published, it makes me wonder just how many talented author we will never discover because their work will never be translated. . .
And if Stieg Larsson is any indication, here's to hoping that more Scandinavian fiction will be translated so that we can all sample and appreciate it. Simply put, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo deserves the highest possible recommendation. To say that the book is addictive would be a gross understatement. This murder mystery novel is a veritable page-turner, the likes of which I have seldom seen.
The story is set in Sweden, and the environment itself is refreshing. It's nice to encounter such a work blending politics, the cut-throat world of high-stakes finance, and the media that doesn't take place in NYC, Chicago, L. A., or D. C. Stieg Larsson takes readers to a side of Sweden that you've never seen advertized in the travel brochures.
In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the author explores the "closed room" murder case, but on a much grander scale. Larsson paced this multilayered yarn to perfection. Answers always lead to yet more questions, and the plot thickens constantly, leading readers toward an unanticipated finale preceded by yet more twists and turns.
The two principal protagonist form an unlikely pair. Mikael Blomkvist is a crusading journalist who's been framed, and the author created a three-dimensional character you want to root for. But as interesting as Blomkvist is, he pales in comparison with Lisbeth Salander. This tormented and abused young lady is the most fascinating -- if unlikely -- female heroine I have come across in many a year. The complex psychology that makes her who she is doesn't get explained in depth until the second volume, but the glimpses we get in this first volume will make you beg for more. Those who love strong female protagonists won't be disappointed by Lisbeth Salander.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is impossible to put down. Anyone looking for a terrific crime/thriller book should pick it up. The storylines and the characters will stay with you long after you're done with the novel. I don't believe I have ever encountered such an intriguing first volume.
Just finished the second one, The Girl Who Played with Fire (Canada, USA, Europe), and I can't wait to read the last volume. The Millennium trilogy is definitely addictive!