#55 The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson (translated by Reg Keeland)
I had somehow mistaken this for The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson. I'm not sure how. Instead it is a standard airport thriller which somehow sold 12m copies (as the jacket loudly trumpets). Larsson was a journalist and it shows in his prose and the translations is competent at best and prone to bizarrely archaic choices ("anon", "forsooth", "gaol" instead of jail.) It is not the unpromising writing which is the problem though, rather the idiotic plot. I know that being preposterous is de rigeur for the modern commercial thriller but still.
In one thread, financial journalist Mickael Blomvist has been chosen (for no real reason) to solve an old crime. Do you think this amateur will succeed where 40 years of police and family investigation have failed? In the other thread, Lisbet Salander is also drawn into the case. She is the world's greatest private investigator because she is also the world's greatest hacker. She is also - at 24 - a ward of the state because apparently in Sweden you can forfeit your human rights by being a bit moody as a child. Here is Larsson in full-on journo mode (it goes on for a couple of pages but I can't be bothered to quote much of it):
In Sweden approximately 4,000 people are under guardianship... Taking away a person's control of her own life - meaning her bank account - is one of the greatest infringements a democracy can impose, especially when it is applied to young people.The fact an ultra-competent investigator for a major security firm allows this situation to persist is ridiculous. It becomes even more ridiculous and extremely distasteful when she allows herself to be raped by her guardian in exchange for access to her bank account. This goes against everything we know about her skills (she could easily hack the account) and, more importantly, her character (she is a fighter, "she was never passive). This lack of passivity then manifests itself in an elaborate revenge that requires her to be (much more brutally) raped again. Larsson obviously has strong views about the endemic nature of violence towards women - it is a thread through the novel - but shoehorning this revenge fantasy into the novel gratuitous, grotesque and offensive. It makes him complicit. I almost stopped reading at this point but I was on a long, slow bus journey. It did prepare me for further childish fantasies of agency later on though.
These occur after Blomvist and Salander meet halfway through the novel. Obviously, they immediately get it on. They also start to make some progress on what has until now been a very slow investigation. Turns out there is a serial killer involved which is a shocking twist for a big fat thriller like this. Weirdly though this main plot with its requisite implausibilities is wrapped up pretty quickly leaving Larsson to concentrate on a framing plot about Blomvist's journalistic career and the financial health of the magazine that he (like Larsson) works for. He is presumably under the mistaken impression that this is just as exciting as unravelling a decades long string of secret ritualistic sex murders.