Mikael Blomkvist is, at the start of the trilogy, a disgraced editor of a magazine called Millennium in Stockholm. He has been put in jail for libel, and the backlash threatens to sink his magazine as ad sales decline. Only by going to a remote island to solve a decades-old mystery involving the disappearance of a teenager named Harriet Vanger can he find redemption.
Yet he can't do it alone, which brings us to Lisbeth Salander, the "girl" named in all the titles. Both brilliant and troubled, Salander trusts no one in society, for reasons that become quite obvious as the stories unfold. When she teams up with Blomkvist, they face unspeakable dangers, and to reveal anything more would be saying too much.
The books touch on all kinds of subjects, from crime and punishment to the tolerance in society of unspeakably bad behavior, which people in any country, not just Sweden, can understand. That translates into electrifying material.
At the heart of why I relate so much to Larsson's stories is, of course, the reporting aspect. Blomkvist is an idealist, fearless in his pursuit of the truth, even if it puts him at peril. He has to deal with the travails facing 21st-century journalists as they navigate through technological changes and the worry that it could all fall apart. Much of that, I can understand - except for Blomkvist being quite the ladies' man. I can't match that talent, ever.
It's the idealism that allows Blomkvist to protect and defend Salander, even when the whole world appears lined up against her. That sort of courage is rarely seen in our modern media culture, where it's easier and lazier to line up and bash the same old pi atas - and integrity often takes a backseat to ratings and profits.