Since seeing all three Swedish adaptations of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest) as well as David Fincher’s Oscar-winning adaptation, I’ve felt no real need to read the books – until I kind of joined a book club and then quit after I’d already started reading the first book… and, man, I was hooked. Larsson writes with such intensity that his characters come off as three-dimensional entities, living and breathing Swedish citizens who just happen to be ten years older now than they were when his novels were published. The plots are engaging and suspenseful, too, making you sit still for four hours straight just to gobble down the climactic third act.
But Larsson’s execution is terrible, especially in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. His writing is unnecessarily specific, referencing real news stories in Swedish history (which require footnotes) and the specific hard- and software his characters use (down to the RAM capacity on an Apple iBook and the working URL for a download to the free program mentioned in the text). I don’t know about you, but this level of detail is insufferable when you’re trying to follow a fast-paced political thriller. In writing The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, however, Larsson either stopped with the incessant descriptions or else I stopped noticing – because, again, engaging and suspenseful plot. Does this mean Larsson got better at writing? That someone like an editor stepped in and said, “Hey, this kind of needs to stop”? Or did he just overly explain everything he needed to (overly) explain in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? (All of the above???)
To me, the Millennium trilogy is a great, fun three-part read but not necessarily something I’m going to love years down the road or even re-visit. From watching the movies, I knew what all the major twists and plot points were – both within each individual book and also throughout the series – but I was still so unbelievably engrossed in the novels’ plots that it ended up not really mattering. I still had to know what happened and argued with myself over what I needed more: sleep or to read The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest last 100 pages. (Sleep, alas.) Even if Larsson has his quirks, there’s something to be said for nail-biting suspense and engaged reading, and not everybody can write to the level of detail he attains while still wrapping you up in good old noir. That takes considerable talent, and, as I keep mentioning, Larsson has that talent – I just wish he could have perfected it a bit before he passed away.
All in all, the Millennium trilogy (which just got optioned for a fourth book!) gives readers three fantastic examples of a psychological suspense-thriller with some solid mystery thrown in. You can theoretically read The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest without also reading each’s previous novel(s), but why would you? You learn things in Millennium’s first installment that you’re expected to know in its second and third. And, although each of Larsson’s books are stand-alone stories, they fit snugly within a larger narrative, exploring the lives and relationships of the same characters over multiple years.
Ultimately, if you’re a fan of crime-drama, mystery, or kick-ass females, the Millennium trilogy is worth a read.