The Millenium trilogy by Stieg Larsson book review

By Emma Brooks

About the author:

Stieg Larsson is a very interesting person, as is his background and what led him to write the novels. He is a Swedish journalist and writer, and is best known for the Millenium trilogy. Larsson had long been a political activist and journalist, first working for the Communist Workers’ League as well as being editor of a  Swedish Trotskyist journal. Later on, he founded the Swedish Expo Foundation and became editor of its magazine Expo. In the meantime, he also did a lot of political research on the far right in Sweden, leading to his publishing a book in which he exposed the extreme right and racist organisations in Sweden.

This draws a very interesting parallel between Larsson, and his main character the journalist Blomkvist. Furthermore, when Larsson was 15, he was witness to the gang rape of young girl, which greatly influenced him and created in him an absolute hatred of violence and abuse against women. He felt upset for not having been able to help the girl, whose name was Lisbeth. This draws yet another parallel with his second main character Lisbeth Salander, and the themes of rape and violence against women that can be found in the novels.

Stieg Larsson died in 2004, before having been able to publish the Millenium trilogy.

The novels:

The trilogy starts with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, in which we are introduced to our main characters Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander. Blomkvist is a well known Swedish journalist who runs his own independent magazine Millenium which is often used to expose politicians or public figures who are engaged in dubious activities. The novel starts with Blomkvist having exposed Wennerstrom, a Swedish industrial mogul. Unfortunately the accusation has gone wrong and Blomkvist ends up being sentenced to jail for having gotten his facts wrong and wrongly accused Wennerstrom.

At the start of his term in prison, he is approached by Henrik Vanger, an old man and former CEO of Vanger entreprises, asking him to undertake and unlikely mission. Vanger is convinced that his niece Harriet was murdered by someone in his family many years ago. Believing in Blomkvist’s journalistic skills, he asks him to undertake research into his family’s past, to try and find out who killed Harriet. Blomkvist accepts the challenge, and starts his work on the Vanger case.

In the meantime, Henrik Vanger has already done a fairly extensive background research into Blomkvist’s life, which has been undertaken by Lisbeth Salander. When Blomkvist realises that Salander has investigated him and in fact managed to hack into his computer, he is impressed by her skills and decides to go and meet her. Though she is in fact quite averse to most human contact, the two manage to establish some sort of relationship and start working together on the Vanger case. They encounter a fair amount of danger and uncover the family scandal, but nonetheless manage to reach the bottom of their investigation and discover what happened to Harriet.

The second novel, The Girl who Played with Fire, is not the type of sequel to the first novel one would imagine. We do not go back to find Salander and Blomkvist happily working together on more cases in Sweden, remembering what happened to them whilst working on the Vanger affair. Nevertheless, we do find our two main characters again as well as the others surrounding them, and start off on a new adventure.

In this novel, Blomkvist is approached by a young and ambitious journalist who is interested in publishing his work on sex trafficking in Sweden. Dag Svensson and his girlfriend have both been doing extensive research on the matter, and Dag believes that their work is firmly enough grounded for them to run a story in Millenium and expose many Swedish public figures. Blomkvist immediately accepts the challenge and starts working on the story, though soon after Dag and his girlfriend are both murdered and the murderer appears to be Lisbeth Salander.

Devastated by Dag’s death and in disbelief over Salander’s involvement, Blomkvist once again starts his own investigation, trying to find out who killed Dag and finish his research on the sex trade in Sweden. What unfolds is an extremely complicated story involving former soviet spies who have defected, a cover up by the Swedish secret services, and an obscure part of the Swedish police unknown by anyone, who is operating undercover. We find out that the secrets uncovered by Dag Svensson in fact go way further than he had imagined, and could lead to the possible discovery of a Swedish covert operation many years ago.

Lisbeth and Blomkvist get themselves into some rather dangerous situations, and Lisbeth almost ends up getting herself killed. The third novel, The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is indeed a genuine sequel to the previous book, picking up where we left off with Lisbeth seriously injured and in hospital. In the final instalment of the trilogy, everything finally becomes clear to us. Why Lisbeth was framed, who was involved in the sex trade and why it was covered up, and who is running the secret operation. The third novel mainly unravels Salander’s life, explaining what happened that made her so closed up and averted to any form of human contact. She is convicted to a trial in which Blomkvist’s sister represents her and manages to prove that Salander has been a victim of injustice for many years, finally winning the case.

This trilogy is an absolutely gripping read. Even though crime fiction may not be my first choice, every now and then I stumble upon a book which grabs my attention and these were definitely examples. Larsson writes a very intriguing story set at a fast pace, making you want more as quickly as possible. The fact that the some of the characters are loosely based on his own experience make it even more interesting, and successfully intertwines various different angles into the novel: the sex trade and violence and abuse against women, the abuse of power by those in control, and the cover-up by the government of secrets it doesn’t want anybody to know. The fact that the novel is based in Sweden and also well away from what we might imagine to be a stereotypical setting for a crime novel, also makes quite a difference to the books. If you are looking for a new, thrilling read, then I definitely recommend the Millenium trilogy.

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