Although The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was not published during the lifetime of author Stieg Larsson, it became a huge hit after his death along with its two sequels, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. The original title of the book was 'Män som hatar kvinnor' or 'Men Who Hate Women'. As the title suggests, there is quite a bit of misogyny in the book, in the crimes committed, as well as the personal experiences of the protagonist, Lisbeth Salander. Lisbeth is a ward of the state and when her guardian dies, she is transferred into the care of a lawyer who tries to take advantage of her position by sexually abusing her. The first time this happens, Lisbeth is taken by surprise and just does what he says but the second time, she comes prepared and videotapes everything. Later, she uses this videotape to blackmail him into letting her have control over her own affairs. She also ties him up and tortures him to get her revenge.
The other protagonist of the book is Mikael Blomkvist, a failing journalist who is given the job of looking into the death of a girl named Harriet, greatniece to Henrik Vanger, a well-known retired businessman. Harriet disappeared 36 years earlier from the island where the Vanger family had their home, but Vanger keeps receiving birthday gifts from her and determines to find out what happened to her all those years ago. He sends Mikael to the island and suggests that Lisbeth should work with him since she is a hacker.
Together, Mikael and Lisbeth figure out what all the numbers in an old notebook mean—they are references to the Bible. Lisbeth also finds out that there is a connection between Harriet's disappearance and several rapes and murders of women over a period of 20 years. In a stunning finale, Lisbeth rescues Mikael from the clutches of the murderer. Although a romantic relationship had started to develop between Lisbeth and Mikael, he goes back to having an affair with the married woman he was involved with before.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an intense book which shows the darker side of human nature. At the same time, its heroine is brave and courageous and, although she has been raped, she doesn't take this lying down. Not only does she escape from the clutches of her own rapist, she also prevents him from raping other women using threats of exposure. Plus, she is instrumental in uncovering what happened to all those women who were raped and murdered by a sadistic psychopath.
The writer, Stieg Larsson, took inspiration from the places he grew up for the isolated setting of the book. He was raised in northern Sweden where his father worked in a smelting plant. Although his parents later moved to Stockholm, they left Larsson behind with his grandparents because Stockholm was too cramped and crowded. So he stayed in a house in the country and used cross-country skis to go to school. During his lifetime, he did not publish his novels but was instead active in the science fiction community, publishing fanzine issues. He was also an activist who sought avidly to counteract the extreme right and the growing white-power culture in Sweden. As a result, he received many death threats and although he had a life-long partner in Eva Gabrielsson, he didn't marry her, in an effort to reduce the security risks.