I was unsure if there was a specific reason I didn’t really want to read these books to begin with. I know from previous experiences that often the books/ movies/ experiences I for no apparent reason dread end up being excellent. So when I received these three books for Christmas, it didn’t end up that long before I cracked the first one open. Having watched all the film adaptations previously, I was curious to see how the stories began.
Set in the early 2000’s, the Millennium Trilogy consists of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest. They were translated from their original Swedish to numerous languages as they became popular especially between 2010 and 2011 when they broke a few records, and after the Swedish film adaptations came out. Author Stieg Larsson (1954-2004) had planned for a series of 10 novels, but unfortunately passed away before they came to fruition. After his death these novels were discovered on his laptop, (as well as three-quarters of a fourth novel and the lay-out for the next few novels) and his family pursued their publication. It is said his inspiration was the gang rape of a young girl he witnessed when he was 15 years old that had since haunted him, as well as a few other abused women he had come across in his day job as journalist.
The trilogy revolves around the characters of journalist Mikael Blomkvist, and hacker Lisbeth Salander who form an unlikely friendship as they seek the murderer in a forty-year-old case. Salander, specifically, is an extremely complex and interesting character, who we are lucky to get to know since she is a manically private person. She possesses a black-and-white sense of right and wrong, and is not shy of punishing those who fall in the black. With a photographic memory and amazing computer skills, she aids Blomkvist in Dragon Tattoo while also trying to manage her new guardian, assigned to her as she has been labeled as ‘incompetent’ since the age of 15. At the start of the novel, Blomkvist is licking his wounds after being accused of libel, and accepts an old murder investigation on the side while he takes a break from his regular job at the Millennium magazine. Blomkvist is a less-complex protagonist (based off of Larsson himself) with a hint of James Bond, and is bent on getting revenge on tycoon Wennerström once he completes the murder investigation. The novel is classic murder-mystery, extremely enticing and an intelligent read, things which, unfortunately, are too hard to come by.
The Girl who Played with Fire continues a few months after Dragon Tattoo, and focusses on the stories of Blomkvist and Salander while creatively incorporating a few more POV’s. Blomkvist is back at Millennium offices which are about to run an exposé on sex trafficking when chaos strikes and Salander is right in the middle of it. Though she keeps her life hidden from even her closest friends, Salander’s world now explodes in police investigations and ruthless media stories. While in hiding she tries to finish the story by herself, but the unlikely friends she has made work tirelessly to discover the truth and aid their friend. The end of the book leaves a lot of cliffhangers, which are thankfully answered by Hornets’ Nest which picks up right where Fire left off.
After all hell breaks loose, Larsson uses his third novel to show how the characters we love will be able to get out of this mess with their heads on straight. Battle lines have been drawn against Salander, but her friends continue to work out the conspiracies and cover-ups that have constituted much of her life. Following police investigators, Säpo officers, bad guys and good guys, Larsson uses interesting story lines, side plots and factual information to glue me to his book, and show how everything ends up.
Sometimes operating as a personal textbook on Swedish conspiracies, Larsson writes a believable example of a conspiracy-gone-wrong, and all the politics, media coverage, police investigations, courtroom drama and personal intrigue that goes with it.
I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of this trilogy, not the least of which was having an interesting source for Swedish culture. I wish all the characters (except the bad ones) existed in real life, and that the fourth novel could be published during my lifetime. The Swedish and American movies based off these novels are all good in their own right, and each take interesting liberties with Larsson’s story. All in all, if you typically enjoy detailed, conspiracy theorized, sometimes graphic, good novels with complex plots and characters, well this series is for you.