And it is a rotten book. I tried reading it in anticipation of the film and it only confirmed my existing prejudices against the whole "thriller" genre. And worst of all, it's soaking with the two most common mistakes of first novels - padding and petty hatreds.
Here, this occurs at about 140 pages in - and 60 pages after the friggin' plot actually starts - and it's as good an indication of the rest of the book as you'll see:
"The bus stop for Hedestad was over the road from Konsum, and Blomkvist started off his exile by carrying out his plan to go shopping in town. He got off the bus by the railway station and made a tour of the centre of town. Along the way he bought heavy winter boots, two pairs of long underwear, several flannel shirts, a proper thigh-length winter jacket, a warm cap, and lined gloves. At the electronics store he found a small portable TV with rabbit ears. The sales clerk assured him that he would at least be able to get SVT, the state TV channel, out at Hedeby, and Blomkvist promised to ask for his money back if that turned out not to be the case."
Now imagine a million more passages. Just. Like. That. Thrilling, ain't it? I'm on the edge of my seat! Huh, I should probably move back. That'd be more comfortable.
Stieg's central story here - I'm going to keep calling him Stieg because every time I write his last name I feel like I'm insulting the vastly superior Gary Larson - his story is a not all that interesting cold case. Some girl disappeared forty years ago and now her rich old uncle hires Stei - I mean, Mikael Blomkvist to investigate how. And why said old uncle keeps receiving the traditional framed birthday flower the missing girl used to give him. That little revelation is delivered, like everything that actually advances the fucking plot, in a single line at the end of another twenty page chapter - "'I want you to find out who in the family murdered Harriet, and who since then has spent almost forty years trying to drive me insane.'" Stieg is aiming for the cliffhanger here, and elsewhere, but because he has the novelistic chops of a blind badger it comes across as sheer slapstick. "They're drivin' me crazy I tells ya!"
When Stieg writes dialogue, he's passable. Often unintentionally funny too, as he has - or had - no ear for inflection making every damn character sound alike. When he writes anything else, he will make your teeth grind. Half the time it reads more like an outline then an actual book - "Blomkvist went and did this... And then he did this... Boy it sure is cold... And he did this some more..." The only time he goes into depth with his descriptions is when they involve his pet hatreds - Nazis and libel laws. And he doesn't see much difference between either.
See, Blomkvist published a hack-job on some investment banker type and got sued for libel. Apparently in Sweden, you can do jailtime for something like that - which Blomkvist is supposed to. At some point, it's kinda loose over there. That's the first quarter of the novel, detailing how this awesome reporter got screwed by the evil plutocrat. Now that's something that could be interesting if the author wasn't a vain mediocrity, so the whole conflict is boiled down to Blomkvist being in the right while everyone else is just wrong wrong wrong.
Everyone else mostly meaning in this case other reporters Stieg doesn't like. Comparing the sparse details to the multi-page bitch fests dedicated to the less moral, more successful journalists - which I am not quoting - you get the distinct impression Stieg has some professional axes to grind. It's silly, it's embarrassing, and it's the sort of thing any self-respecting reader wouldn't give a shit about so it just becomes more padding. Seriously, I've seen teenage girls with less padding than this!
Which, awkward as I now realize it is, brings us to Stieg's real reason for writing this overhyped paperweight - Lisbeth Salander! The titular girl with the titular tattoo! And despite all the times Steig assures us she's flat as a board, "tit" is a very apt word here. Again, this is one of those rare instances Steig bothers with real description and you can't help imagining it composed one-handed - "a pale, anorexic young woman who had hair as short as a fuse... a wasp tattoo about an inch long on her neck... dragon tattoo on her left shoulder blade... a natural redhead, but she dyed her hair raven black..."
You kinda want to set the book down. Leave Stieg and his creation alone for some "quality time."
Not that she's just a pretty face. No, Steig demonstrates in a too long exposition just what an awesome investigator his Salamander is - often employing tactics that would get one arrested or shot in real life. And she has l33t hax0r skillz, the kind imagined by people who've never actually looked at source code. She's edgy! She goes her own way! She's every timid twerp's spank fantasy!
And she gets raped. Like, alot. The first time it happened, I actually woke up for a moment. After that, well... Steig may have had an untapped talent for the ludicrous. Beatings, reamings, tazerings - a whole parade of abuses that would leave a real human a traumatized wreck, not to mention enough physical evidence for even Inspector Lestrade but our little Lizzie soldiers through it! As The Stieg himself says, "She did not cry."
|"I like 'em quiet..."|
And she tortured the shit out of her rapist in a ponderously long scene that would wear on Saw fans. I guess that's entertainment now for you normal people...
So Salamander and Blomy meet up about a hundred pages too late for me to care, bump uglies, solve the mystery, bump uglies some more, but Lizzie doesn't want to join his harem and runs away to set up the sequel. Oh yeah - Blomkvist gets to do every hot chick in the novel because he's a transparent escapist vehicle for Stieg. And their husbands are cool with it.
And there was some stuff about how Sweden had Nazis and that's a bad thing but fuck it. Fuck this book and fuck you too if you liked it. To quote a much finer writer, "God's mercy on you swine!" 'cause I sure don't have any.