*Disclaimer: This is one of a number of book reviews I will be posting before the end of 2011. Beginning in 2012 the format for book reviews will change and I will post once at the end of each month, reviewing all books read during that month.
Synopsis: "Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger disappeared off the secluded island owned and inhabited by the powerful Vanger family. There was no corpse, no witnesses, no evidence. But her uncle, Henrik, is convinced that she was murdered by someone from her own deeply dysfunctional family. Disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist is hired to investigate, but he quickly finds himself in over his head. He hires a competent assistant: the gifted and conscience-free computer specialist Lisbeth Salander, and the two unravel a dark and appalling family history. But the Vangers are a secretive clan, and Blomkvist and Salander are about to find out just how far they are prepared to go to protect themselves."
Prior to starting this series, I had heard so much positive reaction to it, particularly about the first book, that my expectations were perhaps a bit too high. I found the first 75 or so pages rather slow, and on a few occasions I was forced to pause and look up Swedish terms, newspapers, and financial information. But I continued reading, desperate to discover what had everyone raving so much. By page 100 I was immersed, and quite enjoying the character development, particularly that of the main characters Blomkvist and Salander. From there the plot developed quickly, enthralling the reader in the mystery to be solved. The ending is a bit of surprise; looking back, I admit, I should have seen it coming, but I'm glad I didn't.
Larsson's books have been referred to as classic crime fiction, and while I agree that the story is clever, the author's greatest achievement here is in the characters themselves. With the hero Salander, we meet a woman unlike any other fictional character. The petite tattooed super-hacker is genius and possesses a tough girl strength, but underneath is a childlike vulnerability that makes her uniquely human. Blomkvist, much more the typical male, is well developed and complements Salander perfectly, though at times I found myself wanting to reach into the book and yell at him to stop being such a putz.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good mystery and has time to read a near-500 page thriller.