Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson (audio)




This was another book on my list in which I felt I was the last to read. Fueled by insanely great reviews and Larsson's tragic death at the age of 50, after he had written a trilogy beginning with this book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has taken the literary world by storm. As Larsson was Swedish, I knew the book was a translation, and included a huge cast of characters (to the point where the book comes with its own genealogical map), all with Swedish names. Was this too ambitious for an enjoyable audio experience? At the end of the day, my vote would be a resounding NO. In fact, it was pure unadulterated joy listening to this story.

The story is complicated, particularly once you sit down and try to briefly summarize it. Our protagonist is one Mikael Blomkvist, a middle-aged journalist who is managing editor of a small magazine that specializes in the financial sector, often exposing corporations and their white-collar crimes. One story involving a international hoodlum backfires, however, and Blomkvist is nailed for libel and sentenced to a short prison term. Blomkvist takes a leave of absence from the magazine to lick his wounds.

He is approached by an aging Swedish CEO and patriarch of a wealthy and extensive family, Henrich Vanger. Henrich offers Blomkvist a huge amount of money to write the story of his family history as cover for his real mission...to investigate the true nature of his grand-niece Harriet's disappearance (and presumed death) 40 years prior. There is a finite number of people who could have committed this unspeakable act, and most of them are the detested and dysfunctional members of Vangers' family. The police have long since exhausted all leads, but Vanger wants to try one more time before he dies. The cherry on top? If Blomkvist delivers, Vanger will serve up the international hoodlum to him on a platter.

Enter Lisbeth Salander. She is young, bi-sexual, anorexic-looking, pierced, tattooed (hence the title of the book), and socially backward, maybe even damaged. She wears leather and rides a motorcycle. But she is one of the world's best computer hackers and private investigators, and has come to help Blumkvist with his little project. Lisbeth is the real heart and soul of the story. She is an enigma...brilliant, vulnerable, introverted, and a total bad-ass. Any man that dares to mess with her is in for the shock of his life.

We have multiple plots. Corporate corruption. Familial blight and feuds. Brutal crimes against women. Sadism. If you like mysteries and thrillers, this is as good as it gets people. Blumkvist's unraveling of the Vanger family rat's nest is nothing short of brilliant, yet slow and methodical, revealing just enough to keep you on edge. And then there is Salander, who is probably one of the most bewitching characters ever developed on paper. I wanted to protect her, to befriend her, and maybe even accompany her when she is unleashing her whup-ass on her victims.

The narrator of the story, Simon Vance, is impeccable. He has won countless awards for his narrations, one of them for this performance. AUDIOFILE's review of his work on this book stated "“His voices are so natural and fit so well with their characters that the listener is completely transported into the story.” Well there you go. Couldn't agree more, couldn't have said it better. Swedish names be damned, you will not have any issues following this plot. You have my word.

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