Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 636
Prologue: A Friday in November
On his eighty-second birthday, a flower is delivered as always. He calls Detective Superintendent Morell, who is now retired and living on Lake Siljan in Dalarna. The former policeman is expecting the call and asks the perfunctory questions. The flower is in a frame, it is postmarked from Stockholm, and the note is written in all capital letters. To these two old men, it is a “routine mystery.”
The flower this year is known as Desert Snow, a common flower in Australia but rare in Sweden. Still, it is difficult to track. Thirty years ago, this sending of flowers was part of an active national mystery; now only these two men and the sender have any interest in it. The retired policeman is not happy about leaving this case unresolved, and he is frustrated because he cannot be sure a crime was ever committed. The birthday boy looks at the display on the wall; this makes the forty-fourth framed flower. There are four rows of ten and now one row of four. Only the ninth spot in the top row is missing a framed flower. Unexpectedly, the policeman begins to weep—and is surprised by his sudden burst of emotion.
Part I: Incentive, December 20–January 3
Friday, December 20
Mikael Blomkvist is a journalist who rose to prominence when he discovered (accidentally) the hideout of a notorious gang of bank robbers. He is part owner of Millennium, a liberal political magazine, and he has just been convicted of libel and defamation charges. His sentence is three months in jail and a fine of 150,000 kroner for damages. The victim is businessman and financier Hans-Erik Wennerstrom, a very rich and powerful man in the world of international finance.
Blomkvist wrote an exposé on Wennerstrom based on information he received from an old classmate, Robert Lindberg, one night while they were both drinking. Lindberg is in the banking business, and he suggested his journalist friend was missing a scandal if he did not do some checking on Wennerstrom’s business dealings in Poland. In 1992 things were difficult in Sweden, and businessmen like Wennerstrom were often cash poor despite having billions in assets. When Communism fell, businessmen from all over the world wanted to be among the first to introduce democracy and capitalism to Eastern Europe—and they wanted to use government money to do it.
When Wennerstrom got his opportunity, he borrowed sixty million kroner from the Swedish government to begin a business called Minos in Poland. All the paperwork was done appropriately, says Lindberg, and three years later Wennerstrom repaid the government six million kroner—all he was required to repay because he documented his own losses on Minos. So far Blomkvist was not impressed with the story, but Lindberg told him he can only tell him the rest “off the record.” The journalist says that phrase now means he can hear anything but write nothing; Lindberg says he does not care what Blomkvist writes as long as he is named only as an “anonymous source.” Blomkvist agrees.
Lindbergh explains that after he discovered the potential fraud, he had an opportunity to visit Minos, where he discovered the truth. The multibillionaire businessman had created a company that could not have cost him more than two million kroner for all three years of the company’s existence. It was housed in a ramshackle building with three ancient cardboard machines and a delivery van; fifteen old women were the only employees. It then became clear to Robert Lindberg that Hans-Erik Wennerstrom stole sixty million kroner from the Swedish government, used it for three years to maintain his empire through the financial crisis, and repaid only six million kroner. He took the money under false pretenses and for his own purposes, and the paperwork was all perfectly correct.
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