The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, By Stieg Larsson

A classic odd-couple detective duo head to a Swedish island to solve a 30-year-old mystery

Posthumous debuts are rare, not least in the world of crime thrillers, where publishers want a brand for life, not an explosive one-off. Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson presented his publisher with three completed books before he died in 2005. Since then they have found success across much of Europe, which now looks to Scandinavia for its brutal murders, as it once did for its pop music.

The Millennium trilogy, of which The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is the opening instalment, features a classic odd-couple duo: a crusading financial journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, and a freelance private investigator, Lisbeth Salander. Blomkvist bears a more-than-passing resemblance to Larsson himself, whose work exposing racism and fascism made him particularly unpopular with his country's far right.

Blomkvist is at a low ebb when an ageing businessman, Henrik Vanger, offers him a diversion. He wants him to spend a year writing the Vanger family history, while secretly investigating a cold case close to his heart: the disappearance of his 16-year-old grandniece, Harriet, over 30 years ago.

Blomkvist agrees, and decamps to the small island, three hours north of Stockholm, where Vanger lives, along with a handful of surviving family-members. These include Harald, a half-mad Nazi-sympathiser, Cecilia, his daughter, and Martin, Harriet's brother and currently CEO of the family business.

The case has intriguing aspects. On the day of the girl's disappearance in 1966, the bridge to the mainland was blocked by a traffic accident, and Hedeby Island itself was chock-a-block with Vangers present for a family dinner. It is, in Blomkvist's words, a "locked-room mystery in island format".

It's a fair analogy. The book feels closer to Agatha Christie than Henning Mankell, more concerned with the idea of detection as an intellectual exercise, like a crossword puzzle of human emotions, than a murky procedure compromised by the buffets and trials of real life. Nor is it a breakneck page-turner. It takes Blomkvist almost half the book to make any kind of breakthrough, when he spots something odd in a photograph of Harriet taken on the morning of her vanishing, and a series of coded numbers are revealed to him as that old serial killer standby, references to biblical chapter and verse.

Salander joins forces with Blomkvist for the novel's second half, a 24-year-old anorexic and bisexual loner with multiple piercings and tattoos, a history of mental illness, a photographic memory and some useful – and never explained – computer hacking skills.

She is at once a vision of female empowerment – a kind of goth-geek Pippi Longstocking – and an echoing agglomeration of clichés, not least in the scenes where she is viciously sexually assaulted by her mental health worker and proceeds to take her revenge. Her understandably pitiless view of men ties in with the grisly secrets that the duo's investigations unearth in the Vangers' past and present, and informs the later books, which deal with sex trafficking and government corruption.

If Larsson's book feels just a little amateurish, then perhaps that works to its advantage. This never feels like a by-the-numbers thriller. The twists and revelations work all the better for being worked for, rather than flung at the reader, two to a page.

Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam