I did not want to like this book. Its UK publishers have chosen an unfortunate cover design that makes it look at worst like a third-rate mystery and at best a thriller that tries too hard. Fortunately it’s neither of these things, but nevertheless I still had problems.
It takes a long time to understand what the story will actually be about – the reader is 100 pages in before Larsson unveils the central thrust: that a young girl went missing 40 years ago, that her aged uncle is now keen to claw her back and that he will expose the corruption in his powerful family to do so. He recruits a rebel with an axe to grind to do the hunting, and before long a social-outcast is in tow, dealing with her own demons while uncovering those of a terrible dynasty.
There is little originality there, for sure. But it is Larsson’s intriguing approach that gives this thriller its edge. Tattoo is the first part in a trilogy published hastily after Larsson’s death. I suspect that, owing to his death, the trilogy did not receive much of an edit. For it is stunted by missing links crucial to a crime novel. Our hero Blomqvist has a daughter who performs no function (not even to characterise Blomqvist); we feel that she could be important to the story but she just is not (one wonders if she’s highlighted in later parts). Additionally, there are numerous passages in which Larsson eschews craft in favour of reporting blandly what happened. This way of telling not showing can be tiresome and distracting. The novel is also full of clichés (“coming up for air” during sex should surely earn him one of Literary Review’s Bad Sex Awards) that really annoyed me.
That said, and although it could not be described as a tight thriller, Tattoo has its charms. The politics of running a respected magazine fascinated me and the central enigma itself did have me hooked (even if there were not enough options for the armchair detective to consider). I’ll be reading the second part when it is published in paperback, if only for a fix not love.