First U.S. publication for a deceased Swedish author (1954–2004); this first of his three novels, a bestseller in Europe, is a labored mystery.
It’s late 2002. Mikael Blomkvist, reputable Stockholm financial journalist, has just lost a libel case brought by a notoriously devious tycoon. He’s looking at a short jail term and the ruin of his magazine, which he owns with his best friend and occasional lover, Erika Berger. The case has brought him to the attention of Henrik Vanger, octogenarian, retired industrialist and head of the vast Vanger clan. Henrik has had a report on him prepared by Lisbeth Salander, the eponymous Girl, a freaky private investigator. The 24-year-old Lisbeth is a brilliant sleuth, and no wonder: She’s the best computer hacker in Sweden. Henrik hires Mikael to solve an old mystery, the disappearance of his great-niece Harriet, in 1966. Henrik is sure she was murdered; every year the putative killer tauntingly sends him a pressed flower on his birthday (Harriet’s custom). He is equally sure one of the Vangers is the murderer. They’re a nasty bunch, Nazis and ne’er-do-wells. There are three story lines here: The future of the magazine, Lisbeth’s travails (she has a sexually abusive guardian) and, most important, the Harriet mystery. This means an inordinately long setup. Only at the halfway point is there a small tug of excitement as Mikael breaks the case and enlists Lisbeth’s help. The horrors are legion: Rape, incest, torture and serial killings continuing into the present. Mikael is confronted by an excruciating journalistic dilemma, resolved far too swiftly as we return to the magazine and the effort to get the evil tycoon, a major miscalculation on Larsson’s part. The tycoon’s empire has nothing to do with the theme of violence against women which has linked Lisbeth’s story to the Vanger case, and the last 50 pages are inevitably anticlimactic.
Juicy melodrama obscured by the intricacies of problem-solving.