As The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo opens, disgraced financial reporter and magazine publisher Mikael Blomkvist is found guilty of libel and sentenced to three months in prison. How very civilized Sweden is, though: between the time of his sentencing and his actual serving of the sentence ("why don't you come sometime in the spring?" seems to be the attitude of the court) Blomkvist is able to accept an assignment and then find himself sucked into it despite his initial lack of interest.
Blomkvist receives this assignment after obeying a summons to Hedeby, a tiny island in the Gulf of Bothnia in the frigid northern part of Sweden (and here I thought it was all Northern and frigid!). He's been summoned by Henrik Vanger, an octogenarian, very rich former captain of industry who's still got his finger in a number of different pies. The apparent assignment--to write a history of the Vanger family, a large, successful, long-lived, and incredibly unpleasant clan--is actually a cover for the real job, which is to discover, nearly forty years later, what happened to Henrik's 16 year old niece Harriet, who had disappeared from the island without a trace.
In a parallel narrative we meet Isabel Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo. She's 24, pierced, tattooed, and seemingly utterly anti-social. She works as an investigator for a private security firm, when she feels like it. Salander is uncommunicative, unyielding, and a brilliant investigator. When she is brought together with Mikael Blomkvist the investigation takes off, into surprising territory. From one moment to the next this locked room mystery is transformed into a sex-crimes-and-serial-killers thriller, without missing a beat.
And finally, after the ice cold case is solved, in a lengthy denouement, the book is transformed once again, back into the financial thriller it started out to be.
In The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo it seems that Stieg Larsson strives to be all things to all mystery readers: he's written a financial thriller inside of a locked room mystery that turns into a serial killer whodunit. What's more, he's done a very neat job of it. There are two more novels by Stieg Larsson that are due to be published in the states over the next couple of years, but then, alas, there will be no more: Larsson died in 2004 after delivering all three manuscripts to his Swedish publisher.