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Review: In 'Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,' Stieg Larsson has right ingredients, wrong recipe

Arriving here under the banner International Bestseller, Stieg Larsson's wintery look into the Swedish psyche is densely packed and oddly disappointing. Perhaps the late author went on at too great length because time is less an issue in those long Swedish winters.

Billed as a thriller, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo has all the elements: murder on a remote island, journalist turned detective, girl hacker intent on helping him solve the mystery — and person or persons unknown, out to get them.

The novel begins promisingly, with ancient Henrick Vanger receiving a gift that frightens him, as the last person to send such a gift, his favorite niece, has been dead for decades. Good start, but reader beware. The genealogy (generations upon generations of Vangers) that follows the preface ought to be the tipoff.

Vanger calls on disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist to solve the locked-room mystery. His niece vanished while a wreck tied up the only route to the island. But . . . before we get there, we wade through a tedious account of how and why Blomkvist was disgraced, which involves an expose based on information from a character we're never going to see again. It ties in, but not soon enough.

Meanwhile, scuzzy Lisbeth Salander, unloved ward of the state, has ugly encounters with ugly men, particularly her legal guardian. She works for a detective agency, hacking into files on order.

The threads overlap finally when Mikael is called to Vanger's isolated island and Lisbeth follows. Vanger claims to have information that will save Mikael's reputation if he takes the case. As Mikael and Lisbeth get closer to the truth, the perp menaces them in alarming ways. There's also plenty of gore, amazing sadism — but it all takes too long to get where it's going and trickles on afterward for way too many pages. If Larsson had cut to the chase, this would have worked, but it doesn't. Blame those Swedish winters.

Kit Reed is a novelist and frequent reviewer.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

By Stieg Larsson; translated by Reg Keeland

Alfred A. Knopf, 465 pages, $24.95

Review: In 'Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,' Stieg Larsson has right ingredients, wrong recipe 10/04/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 3, 2010 2:14pm]
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