The Hard Facts:
Title: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Author: Stieg Larsson
Publisher: Vintage; Mti Edition (November 8, 2011)
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Henrik Vanger, head of an old industrial family, is being tortured for decades by the killer of his niece Harriet by sending him the same birthday present his niece used to give him before her disappearance in 1966: a dried flower in a frame.
Mikael Blomquist, renowned journalist and editor-in-chief of the independent magazine Millennium, is sentenced to 3 months in prison for libel after writing an article on the businessman Wennerstroem that lacks any kind of evidence.
Lisbeth Salander, hacker, hermit, with serious emotional issues and a dark past is fighting against her new, sadistic legal guardian.
The paths of these three very different people crosses after Lisbeth receives the assignment to research Mikael Blomquist for Henrik Vanger, who then invites the journalist to make the newly-convict an unlikely offer: to write his biography, and, as a secret side mission, to investigate the murder of his niece, which has never been solved; in return, he offers Mikael information to finish Wennerstroem once and for all. Mikael, who has to take a leave of absence from his magazine in order to avoid further damage after the disastrous article against the will of his partner (and occasional lover) Erika, decides to accept the offer and moves to a cottage at the Vanger estate.
He learns the details on the disappearance of Harriet Vanger several decades ago; her uncle is convinced that she was murdered, most likely by a member of the vast Vanger family, even though her body was never found. During his painstaking research under the cover of writing a biography, he meets several members of the Vanger clan who still live on the estate and stumbles into an affair with Cecilia, another one of Henrik’s nieces. However, all the clues Mikael finds are either inconclusive or soon lead him to a dead end. As he works, he notices slight oddities on his computer, and as Henrik informs him about the background search he had conducted on him, Mikael is set on Lisbeth’s trail through her employer.
As he confronts her, she is devastated about being recovered but agrees to work with him on the investigation of a series of Old Testament-inspired murders, that leads back to the Vanger family. Mikael also manages to locate a woman, who has taken a picture that helps him complete a scene of Harriet’s last day: she stares in panic at a young man hidden in the crowd at a parade. However, as Mikael and Lisbeth, who have also started an affair, learn more about the circumstances at the time of Harriets disappearance, strange things are happening. Someone breaks into the cottage the two of them live in, a few days later, the cat that roams the property is found skinned on the steps of the front door, and someone shoots at and wounds Mikael in the woods. They know that they are on the right track and intensify their efforts to identify the murderer of all these women and potentially even Harriet, even though by that time, Mikael and Lisbeth already have the strong suspicion that Harriet may not be dead after all, as they find another woman, who has astounding similarity with Harriet, on old family pictures. While researching the dates of the murders in the archives and comparing them to the Vanger family travel schedules, Lisbeth discovered that Harriets brother Martin is the killer, not his father as they had previously thought, and most likely the young man in the picture that sent Harriet into a panic the afternoon of her disappearance.
At the same time, Mikael, who also identified Martin as the most likely subject and tried to confront him, finds himself in Martin’s private torture chamber. Martin tells him that he had tortured and killed countless women in that chamber over the years, but that his most valued prize, Harriet, has slipped through his fingers. As Lisbeth sees all the missed calls from Mikael on her phone, she races to him and manages to save him from Martin, who flees and dies as his car crashes into an oncoming truck on the road.
With the new information, Mikael and Lisbeth focus on Harriet’s look-alike aunt, who lives in London and cut most ties to the family. As she refuses to talk to them, Lisbeth installs spyware and the two listen in on a phone call that is made to Australia. With this information, they manage to locate Harriet, who lives under an assumed name as the owner of a large corporate farm in Australia. Mikael goes and meets her, where she tells him the story of her abusive childhood and how she fled on the fateful day as her brother returned to kill her before she could confide in her uncle for help. She was also the one who kept sending the dried flowers to Henrik as a sign that she is still alive.
Uncle and niece are reunited and also decide to merge their companies as Harriet assumes the role of CEO of Vanger Corporations while her sons take over the agricultural company in Australia. Mikael returns as editor-in-chief to Millennium with an article that indeed breaks Wennerstroem, while a small woman in several disguises relieves him of several millions stored in banks in Switzerland.
Back in Sweden, Lisbeth is trying to clean up her apartment as she admits deeper feelings for Mikael to herself. She goes to buy a Christmas present for him as disguise to go and visit him again. However, as she is on her way to his apartment, she sees him leaving a nearby café with Erika, turns around and goes home after tossing the present.
Ingenious. Captivating. Simply loved it! It is very graphic at some points, so please be warned. Some scenes stayed with me for a while, and I'm usually not too easily disturbed... But nevertheless, Stieg Larsson has created an extraordinary thriller with well-rounded characters, unexpected twists, and glimpses into the abyss of human psyche. What a pity that besides the Millennium trilogy, there will no more writing by Stieg Larssen, as he died before the trilogy was published.