The story opens with 82-year-old Henrik Vanger receiving a pressed and framed flower on his birthday. The tradition started decades earlier with his favorite niece, Harriet Vanger. His wall is covered in the framed flowers, except for one year, the year Harriet went missing. The next year, and every year on his birthday since, a flower has arrived from an anonymous person, haunting Henrik and keeping her disappearance, which has become his obsession, alive in his mind.
Then the story jumps to that of Mikael Blomkvist, a financial journalist, who has just been found guilty of aggravated libel in a story he wrote about a Swedish industrialist.
Henrik Vanger hires Blomkvist to solve the mystery of Harriet’s disappearance under the guise that he’s writing the history of Vanger and the Vanger family. Blomkvist moves out to the small Swedish town and lives in Vanger’s guest house as he begins to research the family, never imagining that he’d actually solve the mystery. He is later assisted by Lisbeth Salander, a tiny tattooed woman (the title character), who probably has Asperger’s Syndrome, who is an expert “researcher” for the security firm for whom she works.
While The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is marketed as a crime novel and a thriller, partway into it, it became very apparent that sexual assault on women was going to be a huge part of the plot. Had I known this going into the novel, I might not have continued. But that being said, I still finished it, skimming the gruesome details as quickly as possible so they wouldn’t stick in my mind, and got to the end of the mystery. Will I read the next one in the series? Probably not.
Rated: DIRT. Although the technical definition of the DIRT rating is that I didn’t finish, I did finish, but I rarely don’t finish a book. The language is bad: there are about 20 uses of the f-word and other harsh language, but not nearly as horrible as the descriptions of the sexual assaults against women. It is maybe comparable to an episode of CSI that is especially centered on sexual assault, but I’ve always felt that reading it is always much worse than seeing it. A picture paints a thousand words. I’d rather see that brief picture than read those 1,000 words. For more excellent observations on the subject, read this article.