A mystery. Yes, a disappearance. On an island off the coast of Stockholm, accessible only by one bridge, a teenage girl has disappeared. The man hired to look into this mystery (the Swedish equivalent of Hercule Poirot, perhaps), is Mikael Blomqvist, an investigative financial reporter in his forties, who specializes in exposing sleaze and corruption for a magazine he co-owns with his married lover.
The only problem is: this is what they call a ?cold case.? Harriet Vanger went missing forty years ago, and her great uncle, an elderly industrial magnate called Henrik Vanger, believes she was murdered. He has obsessed over it for years, and now wants our dashing Blomqvist to find out who did it.
So far, so good. After numerous cups of coffee (which recur throughout the story – I began to worry that Blomqvist was over-caffeinated, as well perhaps as over-sexed), our hero moves into a small house on the island, and begins to methodically sift through old family records, photographs and the like. He ?powers up his iBook? (frequently). References to computers also pop up regularly; one paragraph begins: ?Unsurprisingly she set her sights on the best available alternative: the new Apple PowerBook G4/1.0 GHz in an aluminium case with a PowerPC 7451 processor with an AltiVec Velocity Engine?? You get the picture.
Blomqvist is unaware that he is being investigated by the eponymous tattooed girl, Lisbeth Salander. While Blomqvist begins to delve into the murky family history of the Vanger clan (sleeping with one of them en route, for no particular reason), Salander is doing investigative work for a security company. She is good at finding out people?s secrets, and her methods are ruthless; she is a computer hacker ? so, more technological references. Eventually, she crosses paths with our hero and they combine forces. At times Salander is almost appealing; we are told of her troubled childhood and history of abuse. Mostly, she hides behind a kind of defensive shield. Her defenses are only down when she is alone with Blomqvist, who seems to be a magnet for women – one wonders how/why. Her deepest expression of feeling is: ?I like having sex with you.?
It is cold. Did I mention that already? The bitter cold of a Swedish winter seeps into the narrative, the stilted conversations, the string of sexual encounters ? some of them pleasant enough, others violent and abusive. As Blomqvist and Salander embark on their pursuit of the missing Harriet, they find corruption and intrigue, bitter family feuds and scandals. There are plenty of Vangers to get to know. Many of them still live on the island and come and go at all hours of the night and day. One is a recluse, the other an ex-Nazi. One is a ?firebrand,? though we hardly get to know her. Most of the Vangers hate/avoid/ignore the existence of at least one other member of the clan. Blomqvist has a tough job ahead of him, and there are many twists that will appeal to the dedicated mystery lover.
I confess that I used to love mystery novels, of the old-fashioned kind. If this is the new breed of mystery novel, then it literally leaves me cold. About half way through the book I realized I simply did not care A) what happened to Harriet Vanger or B) whether Blomqvist and Salander lived happily ever after. I remain puzzled by the glowing reviews on the sleeve of the hardcover I read – from the likes of Michael Oondatje.
I guess I will have to go back to Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. Problem is, I?ve read them all.
Emma Lewis i Kingston, Jamaica
Submitted: 12 May 2011