Mikael Blomqvist is a respected reporter and publisher of Millenium, a moderately successful financial reporting magazine that he owns with his long time lover Erika Berger. His career and all of their prospects take a nose dive after he is convicted of making libelous statements against business magnate Hans Erik Wennerstrom. Blomqvist is offered the opportunity to not only redeem himself, but to also make an enormous sum of money if he agrees to do some work over the course of the next year for Henrik Vanger, an aging business tycoon who wants him to write his family history and solve a crime that has been cold for forty years.
I am coming way late to this party, and almost everyone who had read this book warned me that the first hundred pages were really slow. I was expecting that I would be tempted to do a little skimming until I reached the good part, so imagine how surprised I was to find myself completely engaged by the financial intrigue and character development happening at the beginning of the novel. I very much enjoyed the set up that compelled Blomqvist to take Vanger up on his offer. While I also enjoyed getting into the second mystery, I found some parts of it to be slow going because of all the different Vangers I encountered when Blomqvist starts his investigation into the family history. A lot of the character names are either the same (dealing with generations of the same family) or very similar, they also have similar histories and most of this involved Swedish names and history with which I am not familiar, so the reading was interesting but also taxing at the same time. There were parts mixed in with all of this that dragged for me.
Thankfully Larsson breaks this history up by interspersing it with establishing the character of Lisbeth Salander, investigator extraordinaire with whom the world has fallen in love with through these books. Larsson delves into her troubled life, antisocial tendencies and her developing relationship with boss, Dragan Armansky. It is also during this time that we learn how Salander is connected with Blomqvist and eventually becomes an integral part of his investigation. Through Salander’s violent history the reader is slowly drawn into the history of violence against women in Sweden, and how it permeates the lives of the characters and their loved ones.
This was a compelling read. In the beginning I was a bit daunted by the length, but somehow I still managed to read it in a few short days. That says a lot. It was hard for me to focus on anything else but the story, my own speculations and what was going to happen next with not only Blomqvist and Salander, but also some of the minor characters. I have seen Blomqvist criticized as something of a caricature, but I don’t think Salander comes off that much better, but I did enjoy the way they were fleshed out and their motivations understood.
There is a lot here for mystery readers, finance gurus and history buffs alike as the story delves into serial killers and sadists, Sweden’s Nazi past, and intricate financial shenanigans. A lot of the main points were answered, but as with any good first in a series, there are several stories and questions left dangling to be solved in upcoming books. I am sorely tempted to start reading the next book, especially since this one left off in such a tender place, but I am going to give myself a breather before I jump back in again. Recommended.