5 Stars - And I would give 15 more if I could
The first in the Millenium triology is laying the groundwork for a whole series. Millenium was supposed to be more than a triology, there should have been six books in total. Unfortunately, Stieg Larrson passed away before he could finsh more then three books. However, the first book is way more than just "laying the basics" of the series' setting.
We get to meet Mikael "Kalle" Blomkvist, a middle-aged Swedish, investigative journalist who has to watch his professional integrity and maybe even his whole carreer go down the drain. And even if he did something wrong, you immeditaly know that he is not one of the bad guys and he's in fact NOT the immoral, lying opportunist others make him out to be. And when you get to know him over the first chapters you realize he's nothing but lost. He lost sight of professionalism and caution and his training, but for all the right reasons. This, however, does nothing for his reputation or carreer and leads him to take a job he is not really prepared for. Living in the middle of nowhere, cut off from his friends, lover and his magazine, Millenium, he is supposed to research and investigate the disappearance of a young girl. On top of it, this girl's been missing for decades, and she wasn't just anybody, but the absolute favorite of Henrik Vanger, titan of Swedish industry and head of the Vanger family.
It doesn't take Mikael long to start noticing things, making him realize that he is in over his head and dealing with unexpected problems and forces he can't deal with alone. Enter LIsbeth Salander, private investigator, genius and all around "strange" individualist. After a rocky start these two make a formidable team discover things that were supposed to stay buried forever.
IMHO, this is one fo the best thrillers I've read. Ever. Stieg Larrson's writing is unique, his style flawless and his way of showing things, describing scenes, making you FEEL what the characters feel and think - is absolutely amazing and a really rare gift. And this story is more than "just" a thriller. It's the history of one crazy, disturblingly real family with a lot of flaws and secrets. What impressed me the most wasn't the excellent thriller, though. Or the twists and turns you never expect while reading page after page. It's the accurate and detailed historical research.
I knew Stieg Larrson was a journalist and anti-fascist activist long before he started writing the Millenium-books. So I expected a certain level of professionalism and expertise. What I didn't expect was the actual level of it all. Not only the detailed and realistic depiction of modern-day Sweden - social, economical and political problems included - but the historical part blew me away. Especially the depiction of National Socialism, anti-Semitism and plain hatred for diversity connected not only with the historical National Socialist Movement in Scandinavia and Germany in general impressed me deeply, but also Larsson's skill to combine it with the Vanger family and how different family members dealt with and more or less "survived" the twisted and sick ways of thinking and living of the other Vanger brothers. I'm not sure every reader would be as impressed as me, and I'm also not sure if everybody actually pays so much attention to these details. But for me this was one of the most important reasons to give this book all the stars I could. Even though the ending was a little hard for me to swallow and even if I still haven't made up my mind about Harriet and the rest of the Vanger family. Because, let's be honest, this is one fucked up family with so many issues, mental problems and wrong coping strategies, you can't really like any of them. Not even Harriet, who I personally probably understood best.
One other big star for this book deserves Lisbeth Salander alone. You meet her and you know something is different. You get to know her better and if you're human, you probably want to hug her and protect her from the evil in the world - but you can't because, because you know she wouldn't let you. Then you realize you really can't because LIsbeth, too, has to fight demons she has absolutely no control over. Sometimes, she doesn't even have control over herself. And she doesn't trust anyone for a good reason. Starting with police, doctors and justice and ending with her new legal guarding who brutally rapes and absuses her just because he can, she trusts practically nobody and for a very good reason, too. And in the end I was glad she didn't really start something with Mikael, because let's be honest: His love life is as unconventional as it could be and there is absolutely no place for Lisbeth in it in a way that she would have needed.
All in all I would recomend this book to absolutely everybody. Even if you don't like mysteries, or family histories, or thriller. Read it anyways, because it's one hell of a ride and a piece of writing that breaks you apart und puts you back together in the blink of an eye.