Summary: Mikael Blomkvist is a financial journalist who finds himself set up by an industry giant...the same indusry giant that Blomkvist was trying to expose with his partner, best friend, and sometime lover, Erika Berger. Blomkvist and Berger together own monthly publication called Millennium and have been "partners" for twenty years even though both have been married to other people.
After being fed false information by a planted informant, Blomkvist is found guilty of libel and sentenced to 90 days in jail and a judgement that will wipe out his savings, not to mention the professional embarrassment and the end of his career. Against Berger's wishes, Blomkvist decides he must remove himself from the editorial board of Millennium in order to have a chance of saving what he and Berger have built together.
Into the story comes Henrik Vanger who is impressed with Blomkvist's journalistic ability and integrity, not to mention a past personal friendly relationship with Blomkvist's family, particularly his father. Vanger's niece Harriet was Blomkvist's babysitter one summer when Blomkvist's family visited the island. Harriet disappeared when she was 16, the same day as a tragic tanker accident that demanded everyone's attention. Vanger suspects that a member of his dysfunctional family opportunistically murdered Harriet while everyone was distracted by the accident and hid her body amongst the chaos. Vanger has decided at all costs, he will find out who before he dies. Vanger has chosen Blomkvist for this task.
With the assistance of an unlikely helper, computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, Blomkvist moves to the island and spends the next year reviewing the carefully documented and archived investigation into the disappearance of Harriet Vanger. For most of the year Blomkvist feels like the Vanger job is a dead end for which Vanger is paying him millions of dollars, but near the end of the year Blomkvist accidently discovers a break in the case, and the race to solve the puzzle and find the killer begins.
The killer is closer than they ever imagined and of course tries to stop Blomkvist and Salander as soon as it becomes evident that they are following a trail that will inevitably lead to the truth.
My Thoughts: The atrocities that Salander and Blomkvist discover along the way are unexpected, and the resolution of the mystery came out of the blue for me. I was stunned NOT necessarily at the identity of the killer but the story surrounding the events before and after Harriet's disappearance. To me, this is where the story breaks away from the traditional formula of "investigator on a lead to find a killer before the killer finds him."
Larsson weaved geographical and historical information into the story as well which I always appreciate. However, there was much here about this culture etc. of which I was not aware; there were times I actually had to skim back over the factual bits to keep up and to weigh their importance in the story itself. I like to think of myself as someone who keeps up with women's issues, but this story and some of the statistical/factual information about the treatment of women in Sweden caught me off guard.
My favorite character by far is Lisbeth Salander. Talk about damaged...If anyone has a right to crawl into bed, pull the covers over head and never surface, it's Salander. If anyone has the right to become some kind of serial killer due to the amount of violence and "mistreatment" in her past, it's Salander. But, she doesn't do either. She struggles every day but comes back fighting mad and uses her smarts and anger in constructive ways, albeit sometimes illegal ways :)
The only problem I had with this story was the framed flowers. Vanger has received a framed flower on his birthday every year since Harriet's disappearance. The flowers are added to a collection that Harriet started for him before her disappearance. Vanger even goes so far to speculate that the flowers are being sent by the killer with the intent of tormenting him. This event is what begins the story and is only brought back up briefly in the end. I actually forgot about the flowers by the time they were brought back up. Huh? In a novel with this much action and tangled webs that do all eventually come back together, I have to wonder if this was something that Larsson would have edited had he lived to see the publication of his novels.
I'm more than ready to read the 2nd book in this series.