A short review of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy

TGWTDT The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a powerful book which combines a strong story with haunting characters and a crusading message. Mikael Blomkvist, a financial journalist, publisher and co-owner of the independent magazine Millennium, loses a libel case bought by magnate Hans-Erik Wennerstrom, so takes leave of absence to enable the magazine's survival. Mikael is astonished to be summoned to meet the reclusive millionaire Henrik Vanger, who asks Blomkvist to solve the long-ago mystery of his granddaughter Harriet's presumed murder, in return for an irresistible reward. Vanger has had Mikael checked out by a detective agency which has hired Lisbeth Salander to hack into his computers. Lisbeth is an emaciated young drop-out, a ward of court unable to control her own finances or manage her own life, but she's drawn to Mikael and he to her. Aided by Lisbeth, Mikael pieces together the complicated Vanger family relationships while Lisbeth is shockingly persecuted by her guardian and enacts violent revenge. Eventually, the two of them come close to discovering what happened to Harriet, only for Mikael to find himself in great danger as a result.

TGWPWF In The Girl Who Played With Fire, Lisbeth Salander returns undercover to Stockholm some months after the climactic events of the previous book. Three brutal murders occur on one night. Lisbeth, the only apparent link between all the victims, is the prime suspect and becomes the focus of a national police hunt. Although a fugitive, she refuses to be victimised or to cooperate, and sets out to find out the identity of the killer(s) so she can deal with them herself. Mikael Blomkvist, publisher of Millennium magazine, is also investigating the murders. Two of the victims were colleagues and friends of his, and he's convinced that their deaths are related to their work in uncovering a massive scandal of prostitution and drug trafficking between Russia, Eastern Europe and Sweden. Even though she won't contact him, Blomkvist is convinced that Lisbeth is innocent and attempts to uncover other motives for the crime. The book is packed with incident, thrills, characters, rich details and plot revelations, reaching an emotionally draining climax of almost intolerable pitch.

TGWKTHN The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest begins directly after the dramatic finale of the previous novel, after which Lisbeth lies paralysed and critically ill in hospital, knowing that Zalachenko is nearby and trying to finish his malign task – while other forces are keen to try her for murder, label her as insane and send her back to the secure institution where she spent her unhappy adolescence – assuming she survives her terrible injuries. Lisbeth's enemies enlist the help of psychiatrist Peter Taleborian, whom she has good reason to hate, to silence her for good. Mikael, Lisbeth and her underground hacker friends form the online ‘knights of the idiotic table' and embark on wreaking all kinds of electronic havoc. As the date for Lisbeth's trial draws near, Mikael gradually comes to suspect the existence of a conspiracy he calls "The Section", and with his allies plans to best this coalition of "men who hate women" on his own terms, and liberate Lisbeth from her life-long brutalisation and oppression. Lisbeth, of course, has her own plans, if she can recover sufficiently to apply her own explosive form of justice. 

The Millennium Trilogy is published by Maclehose Press, an imprint of Quercus, and is translated from the Swedish by Reg Keeland. Links in this post take you to my full reviews of each book at Euro Crime.

15 thoughts on “A short review of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy

  1. Excellent!
    BTW, I never noticed until your post that the covers show the woman emerging – her back turned to the viewer, then quarter profile, then full on.

  2. How fascinating, Barbara, I had not noticed that about the covers. Very good point. And indeed, by the end of the third book, Lisbeth is poised to start her “real” journey through her life head-on with a “cleanish slate”, after all the history and retribution of the previous three novels. Such a pity that we will never get to know what she would have done next, having finally discarded her previous very heavy baggage.

  3. What a fascinating observation Barbara made! I like when there is some kind of idea behind book covers (and not just the latest fad).

  4. Good series… the first book is definately the best.
    As an overall series.
    – Salander’s character
    – Well weaved stories
    – The first book in particular was outstanding
    Dislikes (mostly found in the second and third book)
    – Too many mentions of ‘having a coffee’ – ‘he held his coffee’ – ‘he sipped his coffee while’ – ‘they met up for coffee’ – ‘she held her thermos as she watched’ – alright already, I get it, set up the scene etc, but the mention of having a coffee on almost every 2nd page is cheap filler and to be honest I found it distracting and, in some places, downright laughable. The same can be said for instances of eating Sandwiches.
    – As an Enlgish reader i felt it was not necessary to keep “he addedin english: blah blah blah” as part of the translation.
    – Furthermore as someone not aquanited with Swedish culture, I had to keep a pen and paper handy and found it unneccesarily cumbersome to keep track of character names, particularly when some are not mentioned for over intervals 200+ pages. When re-introduced i couldn’t help but feel their significance was lost without skipping back or keeping an ‘inventory’ of minor characters.
    On top of that I more or less read each of these books in one sitting; i would not enjoy keeping track if I put the book down for weeks at a time.
    – Some scenes in chapters just felt downright unneccesary – I felt that the main meal was amazing enough and didn’t need any extra tofu.
    Overall i’d have to rate this series at 80/100 and would definately recommend to any fans of the genre. Would like to hear some more points of view here about likes and dislikes.

  5. You make some good points, Scott. It’s a very exciting set of books and with all three, once I started reading, it was hard to stop. I agree there are some flaws in the writing, I suspect this is because the author died before the final edits could be made to the books? I found it relatively easy to keep track of the characters – I think that some of them may have occurred fleetingly, almost as inserts, because the author planned to pick up the themes in future books (there were going to be 10). One such is Lisbeth’s sister – she’s mentioned a few times and a few hints are given about the conflict between the girls. I am sure this would have been the theme of at least one future book in the series. I think the first book is my favourite too, although the third was a great read I felt that the climax did not quite live up to its promise, ie why was Z so valuable for all those years, could not he just have been quietly got rid of, etc.
    BTW in commenting on translated work, the publisher also edits the text after the translator has finished, and it is not exactly unheard of for the translator not to approve of the final text. So as a reader, one is never very sure whether particular flaws are down to the author, the translator or the publisher’s editing process – or a combination.

  6. I have only read the first two books and am not sure I want to read the third. I really enjoyed the first, but I too thought there were too many names to track in the second, and it did not have the same sense of unravelling suspense towards the end. At the end of the second book, I had to reread some of the chapters to confirm my understanding of what was revealed by whom and how, which took some of the enjoyment away. An example of this, was whilst I discovered towards the end that Niedermann murdered Svensson, Johansson and Bjurman, I checked in chapter 26 (p452) where it describes Sandstrom committing the murders. I then starting thinking there was a sub-plot I had missed. Can anyone clarify? Have I just got it wrong? I did pick up and put the down the book a bit.

  7. Greetings from south america, I’m reading the second book right now, and I’m so into it, definetely is a master piece the bad thing is that the editorials change the title in the books translated to spanish, for example the first one is called : “los hombres que no amaban a las mujeres” and this translates something like “The men whod doesn’t loved woman” or something like it. I found much more powerful the names in English and obviously the girl with the dragon tatoo has nothing to do with the tiitle in Spanish, i don’t know why the hell they do that and I think itsucks, but anyway the books is just awesome!!.

  8. I think the point was that Z was no longer important after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but that the members of the Section kept insisting on his importance to justify their continued existence. One character claims to another that exposing Z’s secrets would endanger agents in the field, which the author mentions is a lie. Anyway, good review and excellent series of novels.

  9. Thanks, Sean. The authorities must have been rather gullible, but you are probably right in your explanation! Thanks for your kind words re the reviews.

  10. thanks for the comment Juanma. I don’t mind the English language title, and the dragon tattoo is in the book so it’s a valid title. Publishers change titles all the time in different regions (eg US and UK titles are often different for the same book). It is annoying, but I don’t see the need to swear and sound off about it…..it’s just a fact of life, not that terrible in the general scheme of things.

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