Six months before he died, fifty-year-old Stieg Larsson arrived at one of Sweden's oldest publishing houses with the manuscripts of two completed novels. One of them was Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which was subsequently published in Swedish in 2005 (under the title Men Who Hate Women). Larsson, who devoted his life to investigative journalism, would never know how successful his novel would become, a bestseller first in Sweden, then in Europe, and finally in the United States.

Some critics have named the intelligent and unguessable twists in the plot as the reason for the novel's popularity. But Dick Adler, a reviewer for the Chicago Tribune, stressed Larsson's "unique and fascinating characters" for the book's success. First there is the twenty-four-year-old Lisbeth Salander, whom Adler describes as a type of "Pippi Longstocking," with a twist. Lisbeth is a young woman who knows how to hack computers, has body piercings and tattoos, and "a survival instinct that should scare anyone." Lisbeth is the star investigator of a private security firm in Stockholm. She teams up with Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist (like Larsson himself), who has been asked to solve a crime that occurred forty years ago.

It was forty years ago that sixteen-year-old Harriet Vanger disappeared. Her uncle, Henrik Vanger, a very rich industrialist, believes that Harriet was murdered, but he has not been able to prove this. Henrik thinks that someone in his family is the murderer. In the process of investigation, a forty-year history of the Vanger family is explored, exposing a complicated system of financial fraud as well as the Swedish society's link to Nazism and a general lack of morality, especially toward women.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is part of what is called the Millennium Trilogy. The second book of the trio is The Girl Who Played With Fire (2006) and the third in the series is The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest (2007). Over 20 million copies of the Millennium Trilogy have been sold worldwide. Film adaptations of all three books have been produced in Sweden and are being shown in theaters around the world. Many of the same main characters appear in all three novels.

Extended Summary

Mikael Blomkvist is a journalist and co-publisher of Millennium, a left-wing Swedish magazine which is having some financial struggles. Hans-Erik Wennerstrom wins a libel suit against Blomkvist (though Wennerstrom actually is a corrupt billionaire businessman) and Blomkvist is sentenced to three months in jail. Blomkvist does not defend himself, for the story he published was fed to him by a source he should not have trusted and was, in fact, false. Despite that, Blomkvist knows Wennerstrom is a criminal and Blomkvist is determined to clear his name. Before he begins his prison sentence, he is approached by Henrik Vanger, CEO of the Vanger Corporation, and asked to conduct an investigation into an old family mystery.

Before hiring Blomkvist, Vanger hired Milton Security to conduct a thorough investigation into Blomkvist’s life; this investigation was conducted by a petite, reclusive, gothic girl named Lisbeth Salander. Sander has a troubled past and spent most of her teenage years in an institution; because of this, she trusts virtually no one and lives a life of secrecy and solitude. She has uncanny investigative skills and is a masterful computer hacker. Over time, Dragan Armansky, CEO of Milton Security, becomes an ally to both Blomkvist and Salander.

Vanger lives on Hedeby, an island near Stockholm, as do all of his family members. Almost forty years ago, Vanger’s favorite niece Harriet, the family member most likely to replace her uncle as CEO of the family business, disappeared and was presumably murdered by someone in the family. Vanger offers Blomkvist a significant fee and damning information about Wennerstrom if he will conduct an investigation into Harriet’s disappearance. Blomkvist accepts the offer and goes to live on the island after he serves his short prison term.

Because she was institutionalized for most of her teenage years, Salander is required by the court to have an appointed legal guardian who controls her finances and must approve any large expenses. Holger Palmgren is both her guardian and trusted friend; just as he is prepared to legally emancipate her from any kind of guardianship, he has a debilitating stroke and the change is not made. Nils Bjurman is appointed as her new guardian, but the first time she meets with him he takes sexual advantage of her, assuming she is weak and abusing his position of authority. He threatens her into silence with her own money.

When he violently rapes her the next time she has to see him, Salander is prepared. She records the episode and uses the tape to exact her revenge. It takes her some time to recover; however, once Bjurman is smug in his ability to control her, Salander visits his apartment when he is most vulnerable and demands he relinquish all control over her life. She abuses him in much the same way he abused her and then tattoos his chest, marking him as a rapist so he will not be able to hurt anyone else.

Blomkvist needs a research assistant, and he chooses Salander because she has managed to hack into his computer and has offered him anonymous clues to his investigation. They work well together, for Blomkvist allows Salander to be herself without placing any demands on her. They become lovers and soon discover much more than a potential murder by a family member motivated by money or jealousy. After examining folders, files, and photos, they both realize they are searching for a serial killer who has victimized women for more than forty years. One of the hallmarks of these murders is the use of scripture references from Leviticus.

Salander and Blomkvist are living in a cottage on the island, and soon they realize that someone has broken in and examined their research. Blomkvist visits several family members, all of whom had reason to want Harriet dead. In Vanger’s files, Blomkvist...

(The entire section is 1571 words.)