Blomkvist returns from prison a month early, to Henrik’s delight. However, when he greets Cecilia, she treats him coldly and asks him to leave. Once again he goes over the photographs of the Children’s Day parade, convinced he might find a useful clue. Later, Cecilia returns and apologizes for her previous behavior, then acknowledges that her coldness comes from her unexpected feelings for him and her confusion about how to confront them. The two of them reconcile and make love, and Berger accidentally barges in on them the next morning to everyone’s mutual embarrassment. Cecilia leaves to think over her relationship with Blomkvist, but nevertheless invites Berger and Blomkvist over for dinner. Blomkvist searches Gottfried’s old cabin, then returns to talk to Cecilia about the earlier events of the day. She acknowledges that, though she cares for him, she thinks it will be best for the two of them to remain friends.
During his research, Blomkvist zeroes in on a particular photograph of Harriet at the parade that took place on the day she disappeared in which she gazes unhappily at someone beyond the edge of the photograph. Determined to figure out the subject of Harriet’s gaze, he gets access to the Hedeby Courier photographic archive. Though he deduces correctly that whatever Harriet saw that day caused her significant dismay, after an intensive search he cannot locate a picture that shows the cause of Harriet’s distress. He does, however, stumble across a photograph that shows Cecilia’s face in Harriet’s window the day of the murder. Startled, he sets the new discovery to the side until he can figure out how to address it. Meanwhile, another careful study of the pictures reveals a potential lead as to the identity of another amateur photographer present at the parade. Blomkvist deduces that this photographer might possess photographs that will help him discern the subject of Harriet’s dismay on the day of her disappearance.
On the way back to the guesthouse, Blomkvist runs into Harald Vanger, Cecilia’s father, who calls his daughter a whore. Disturbed, Blomkvist soon learns from Henrik that nearly everyone knows about his dalliance with Cecilia. Unfortunately, he cannot think on the matter for long because his daughter Pernilla comes to visit. The two share a pleasant time together, and Pernilla informs her father of her plans to attend a Bible camp. As she leaves, Pernilla encourages him to continue studying the Bible verses taped to the wall of his guesthouse. She is referring to the names and numbers in Harriet’s journal and has inadvertently solved the puzzle that had stumped everyone. Blomkvist finds that each verse refers to a gruesome punishment intended for women and suspects that a murder case mentioned in Morell’s files, the case of Rebecka, is somehow connected. Unfortunately, on the 13th, Henrik has a heart attack, and Blomkvist confesses to Frode that he needs help with the research. Frode recommends the expert researcher the Vanger family hired to do research on Blomkvist, and Blomkvist demands to see the report. Upon reading it, Blomkvist realizes that the researcher hacked into his computer.
This section of the novel begins with Blomkvist’s early return from prison as well as the arrival of spring, both of which signify rebirth and a significant change in the tone of the novel. Prison actually serves as a restorative and productive experience for Blomkvist rather than a punitive one. He even compares it to a vacation. Additionally, the arrival of spring and brighter days replaces the cold bleakness of the previous chapters. As a complement to the themes of growth in this section, Blomkvist’s insight regarding the photos and Pernilla’s helpful information about the Bible verses allow Blomkvist to make a significant break in the case. These events are a huge step forward in Blomkvist’s progress toward solving the mystery, and the case, which had long been dormant, experiences its own sort of rebirth in parallel with the rebirth of spring.
In addition to major breaks in the case and a significant shift in tone, Chapter 17 touches again on the mistreatment of women and the warped worldviews that lead to such treatment. Harald Vanger’s angry rant upon meeting Blomkvist, wherein he calls his daughter a whore, provides a backdrop of casual misogyny to Blomkvist’s later discovery of the Bible verses linked to the names of women in Harriet’s date book. The Bible verses, each of which reference grotesque acts of violence meant to punish the sexual sins of women, serve two distinct purposes. First, they imply that female sexuality is both monstrous and unforgivable, the same view Harald exhibits earlier in the chapter. Secondly, they outline a worldview that permits violence against women when they stray beyond accepted modes of behavior. In this case, Blomkvist’s discovery links Salander’s earlier understandings of violence against women both in her own experience and generally to the current situation in the Vanger family.
In this section we also see two different reactions from women to casual sexual affairs, with these differing reactions embodied by Cecilia and Berger. It is Blomkvist, of course, whom both are sleeping with. But while Berger seems comfortable sleeping with Blomkvist without having a committed, monogamous relationship with him, Cecilia finds it uncomfortable, and ultimately impossible, to do so. It is not for lack of effort either, as she even invites Berger and Blomkvist over to dinner. But finally Cecilia decides that she can’t continue a casual affair without a more serious commitment, and as she knows Blomkvist has no interest in such a commitment, she calls off their dalliance. Notably, Cecilia has also played the stereotypical role of a more “old-fashioned” woman in her life, remaining more or less chaste after her separation, keeping to her house, and living in a basically rural area. Berger, on the other hand, has behaved more as the stereotypical “modern” woman, taking on a high-powered job in a big city and indulging her sexual desires without feeling guilty for doing so. In this sense Cecilia and Berger represent two different kinds of women, and ultimately two different eras.