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By Stieg Larsson; translated from the Swedish by Reg Keeland

Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 2009 ($14.95)
ISBN-10: 0307454541
ISBN-13: 978-0-307-454546

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

Mikael Blomkvist, a once-respected financial journalist, watches his professional life rapidly crumble around him. He has lost a defamation lawsuit filed by a wealthy industrialist, Hans-Erik Wennerstrom. He'd gotten his information from a person he trusted, and only when it was too late realized he'd been set up. Not just his future, but the future of Millennium, the magazine he co-owns with Erika Berger, his good friend and long-time lover, is in jeopardy, as advertisers pull their support. Wennerstrom has a vast network of contacts and many people in high places who owe him favors. Blomkvist, with the approval of Berger and the staff, decides the best thing to do is resign and take some time off to regroup, and to try to find out who set him up and why. His resignation is announced to the public, but behind the scenes, he will still continue his association with the magazine, and with Berger.

His prospects appear bleak until an unexpected (and unsettling) offer to resurrect his name is extended by an old-school titan of Swedish industry, Henrik Vanger. Vanger's attorney, Dirch Frode, convinces Blomkvist to travel to the far north to hear what the old man wants. Frode tells Blomkvist his job, as far as the outside world will know, is to spend at year on Hedeby Island, across the river from the town of Hedestad, and write a history of the Vanger family. He will have with full access to all the background material, records, and journal, and will be able to interview family members. At the end of the year, whether the book is written or not, Blomqvist will receive a large sum of money and the information he needs to bring down Wennerstrom. The catch -- there's always a catch -- is that Blomkvist's real job is to research the mysterious disappearance of Harriet Vanger, Henrik's teenage niece. The case has remained unsolved for nearly four decades.

Blomkvist doubts that he can solve the case, but the temptation of getting the goods on Wennerstrom is too much to pass up. He settles in to a small cottage near Vanger's estate and starts working.

Unbeknownst to him, Frode had hired a top-notch security firm to investigate Blomkvist before making the offer. The person assigned to the investigation, Lisbeth Salander, is the best researcher the firm has ever had, but she has problems with authority and does things on her own terms. The head of Milton Security, Dragan Armansky, accepts her quirks. Normally, he would have never hired the elfin, aloof, tattooed girl dressed in black leather, but Holger Palmgren, a good friend and Lisbeth's guardian, convinces him to take a chance on her.

When Blomkvist starts digging into the Vanger family and Harriet's disappearance, he realizes there is an intriguing and important story to uncover. He needs an expert researcher, and he gets the girl with the dragon tattoo. They develop an uneasy working relationship, but through time Lisbeth learns to trust him. Her background is so brutal, her life so chaotic, her abuse by people who were supposed to be looking out for her so terrible, she has trusted very few people. Together, they uncover some deeply buried family skeletons, and there are some people who go to great lengths to stop the team from exposing those secrets.

This book, the first of four in the series, was published after the author passed away. It is rich, complex, dense, brilliantly written, but not easy to read. There are sections of detailed information on financial operations and computer manipulations that I could only skim through, but the main characters shine. Lisbeth is an original character, multi-layered, both vulnerable and tough as nails. Little is as it seems in Larsson's novel, but there is at least one constant: you really don't want to mess with the girl with the dragon tattoo.

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