I'll be upfront and say that I didn't love the book. I know this puts me in the minority. I thought it was a decent read (albeit one that scared me) but not one that was sublime. The prologue opens with an elderly man getting a framed, pressed flower delivered on his birthday. He views this annual birthday present as a taunt from a murderer but the yearly flowers have afforded no further clues as to what really happened to his great-niece 40 years prior when she went missing, presumed dead. Jumping then to the first chapter of the novel, the reader is introduced to Mikael Blomkvist, a financial reporter who has just been found guilty of libel against a large and powerful player in the Swedish financial market. He is trying to figure out where his life and career will go now when he is hired to investigate the 40 year old disappearance of Henrik Vanger's great-niece and to write a family history of the Vangers, long-time financial giants. Although he is not a crime reporter, he is intrigued enough to take the job when the bait dangled in front of him is not only a large sum of money, but some hidden information that will allow him to take down the man who successfully sued him.
Meanwhile, 24 year old Lisbeth Salander, a young woman who is a ward of the state, perhaps because of her Asperger's like personality (the diagnosis here is entirely mine) and who is a genius at private investigating thanks in large part to her incredible computer skills, has been hired to investigate both Mikael Blomkvist and his nemesis, Wennerstrom, also by Henrik Vanger. Ultimately because of this connection, she ends up pairing up with Blomkvist to work on the long-unsolved mystery of what really happened to Harriet Vanger. As Mikael and Lisbeth start digging, they uncover many dark and appalling secrets about the Vanger family. Grisly murders are described and lead to the ultimate, somewhat surprising denouement of this thriller.
In order to flesh out his characters, Larsson not only focuses on the main thread of the narrative, the investigation into Harriet Vanger's disappearance, but he also makes many side excursions into the lives of Mikael and Lisbeth. The reader experiences for him or herself what makes these characters tick and why they react in the ways they do. While this makes for multi-dimensional characters, it also adds to the sometimes confusing narrative hops. Larsson will go from one character to another within the same chapter and without any warning, making for occasionally choppy transitions. There are also some sloppy bits at the very end that have no good explanation, dialogue that makes no sense given the recent developments in the plot line and one character who is dropped entirely despite her long-time proximity to the baddie. These things bothered me far more than they are likely to bother others, especially mystery fans who will be a bit more engaged in the book than I was. Hovering above the story always magnifies any faults and I just couldn't find my way into the story more deeply. The themes of violence against women, obsession, desire, and truth and justice all play out at different times in the novel, overlapping, highlighting, and occasionally tangling together. I really can't speak to this compared to other mysteries but I do think that most mystery lovers will thoroughly enjoy this one. Meanwhile, I am not pleased to note that this same bookclub is reading yet another book with a murder in it. Do you think they're trying to tell me something?