This book is a hard one to peg. On the one hand, it's a mystery; on the other hand, it's a police procedural; on the OTHER other hand, it's a thriller; and on the OTHER OTHER other hand, it's a political intrigue novel. That it's set against the backdrop of the world of financial journalism makes it unique, and that it's a compellingly readable story makes it worth the time to read. So it's not completely surprising that this is an "international best-selling novel," but to be such a hybrid of different genres, it's successful despite itself.
I say that because my biggest complaint about the novel is that it's almost clinical in its description of the minutiae of life of its characters. If you've ever wondered what it's like to live in Sweden during the deep winter, or what the typical drudgery of being a researcher is like, or what it entails to be a financial journalist, then this is definitely the book for you. Larsson covers in great detail all of these different aspects of life, which in part accounts for the near 600-page length of the book. While it gets a little tedious to see so much detail, it's still written in such a way as to be relatively fascinating, enough so that you're not going to be taken too much out of the story during these passages.
There were a couple of parts that seemed a little clunky, too. The main character has a daughter with whom he isn't estranged, but he doesn't see her often. She pops in right in the middle of the novel for about four pages, and provides the clue to keep the plot moving along. It was plainly obvious that she was only there for that one purpose only, and it stood out to me like a neon sign. There were also a number of references to authors and novels listed strictly for flavor, without being necessary to the plot at all, and I felt like the author threw them in there for recognition more than anything else. It wasn't that Larsson was going for his own recognition, as much as he was giving a shout out to his inspirations, but it was pretty clear that's what the purpose of the comments were. As I understand it, though, this was Larsson's first novel, despite having been a writer for years, so I can overlook some mechanical gaffes in the narrative. As compelling as the story is, it was very easy to overlook them, in fact.
And that's ultimately what I look for in the books I read: Story. This single novel has it in droves, with plots, subplots, and sub-subplots, peopled with likable characters with their own flaws, set against a historical backdrop in a remote, out-of-the-way place. What starts off as a single-minded plot becomes much more layered and involved, without it ever seeming contrived or forced. The good guys win and the bad guys lose, but the journey to see who's who, what drives the different characters, and the growth that they endure over the course of events will keep you stuck with the story, no matter how much you want to be doing anything else. The book may have a few flaws, but what works in it works so damn well that the flaws will hardly make a difference to you by the end.
By now, you have to have heard about this book. Now you just need to get out there and read it.