First there's Mikael Blomkvist, a famous Swedish financial journalist and magazine editor who's just lost a libel case and faces a prison sentence. An intriguing offer from wealthy octogenarian Henrik Vanger to solve a forty-some-year-old family mystery takes Mikael to the hinterlands of Sweden, a fine way to escape from his current problems. In addition to an amazing fee, there's a bonus: Vanger entices Mikael with the promise of information that may help clear his name--but only if he can find out the truth about what happened to Vanger's niece Harriet, who disappeared during a family reunion at age sixteen.
Next there's Lisbeth Salander--enigmatic, tattooed loner and research genius with mad computer skills. She performs a background check on Blomkvist for the security firm that employs her at the behest of Vanger's lawyer. When Blomkvist ends up needing help that only Lisbeth can provide, they connect on multiple levels, which is surprising given that Lisbeth generally avoids connections. Together they untangle a web of family secrets almost too horrible to believe...and barely escape with their lives!
* * *
The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson (2006; NY: Vintage, 2009).
Mikael Blomqvist has returned to familiar ground. The hubub over his his new book has died down somewhat, and the magazine Millennium, which he co-edits with his long-time friend Erika Berger, is back in the black. They've just agreed to publish what they believe will be a blockbuster expose of the sex trade in Sweden, with an article in the magazine and a more in-depth book published separately. Tragedy strikes when the two writers are murdered on the eve of publication--and the evidence seems to point to Mikael's secretive former researcher, Lisbeth Salander. Mikael hasn't seen her in months--she disappeared after the Vanger story broke and refused any contact with him--but he can't believe she's guilty, so he starts investigating on his own, as much to clear her as to discover the truth of why his two writer friends were killed. Lisbeth herself has some ideas and uses her computer skills to investigate, while the police and Lisbeth's former employer pursue leads. As in the first volume, the mystery unravels slowly yet explosively, with many dark and interesting twists and turns.
Overall, these are must-read novels that will inevitably become crime classics! The third in the series, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, is due out in May.