Martin visits Blomkvist with the unfortunate news that the Hedeby Courier just published an article exposing him as a libelous journalist in hiding. Martin wants to fire the journalist and requests again for Blomkvist to return to Millennium, but Blomkvist remains fixed in his purpose to solve the case. Eventually the two come to an understanding, and Martin promises Blomkvist his support in the case in exchange for Blomkvist’s promise to return to Millennium as quickly as possible once he finishes his research. Blomkvist shows Salander the picture he received from Mildred, but neither of them can make out the features of the man in the photo. Salander reflects that, while she finds Blomkvist’s attitude towards her mildly irritating at times, she admires and respects him. That evening, she enters his room and attempts to initiate sex. Blomkvist questions the wisdom of doing so when they have a work relationship to worry about, but Salander simply expresses her desire once more and he succumbs. The next morning, they find Blomkvist’s stray cat flayed and dismembered on the porch.
While Cecilia remains incommunicative, Blomkvist decides to talk to Harriet’s old pastor, Otto Falk. Falk makes some cryptic comments about Harriet’s religious tendencies, and Blomkvist visits Pastor Strandhe in Hedeby to interpret them. He learns from Strandhe that Otto’s ramblings refer to Harriet’s interest in in esoteric scripture. After he reads the Apocrypha, Blomkvist decides to go for a jog to clear his head. An unidentified assailant shoots at Blomkvist as he runs. The shrapnel from the missed shot gashes Blomkvist’s head and he scrambles away to avoid two more shots. Salander retreats his wounds when he returns, and Blomkvist, enraged, storms over to Cecilia’s and informs her of the shooting. He then questions her about the photograph that shows her face in Harriet’s window. Cecilia insists that the face in the picture is not hers and that she has nothing to do with Harriet’s disappearance, then asks him to leave. Salander takes Blomkvist to the hospital for stitches, and when they return, she proceeds to set up motion detectors and various security equipment around the guest house.
Salander and Blomkvist discuss the shooting the next day. Salander’s recall of details startles Blomkvist, who notes that she has a photographic memory. The comment enrages her because it makes her feel like a freak. Together they venture out to the Vanger crypt and find the site of the cat’s killing, but they can’t determine which Vangers have a key to area. Later, Salander receives access to the Vanger archives and goes there to research Vanger Companies’ holdings. Meanwhile, Blomkvist studies the photographs in the privacy of the guesthouse and discovers that the face in Harriet’s window belongs to Anita Vanger, Cecilia’s sister. More importantly, he locates the photograph that identifies the subject of Harriet’s gaze on the day she disappeared. The person who caused her distress was Martin Vanger. Shocked, Blomkvist decides to drop by Martin’s house, only to find that Martin awaits his arrival. Martin forces Blomkvist at gunpoint into the makeshift dungeon below his cabin, then beats him and chains him to a wall. In an effort to prolong his survival, Blomkvist bluffs about the evidence in his possession, but soon discovers to his horror that Martin intends to capture Salander when she leaves the Vanger archives.
In chapters 21 and 22, the grotesque death of Blomkvist’s stray cat as well as the attempt on Blomkvist’s life both serve to build the tension and urgency in the novel and to emphasize the danger of the situation. The dismembered cat strongly suggests that the killer remains alive and well in Hedeby and makes clear that Blomkvist’s investigation is not welcome. It also essentially foreshadows the attempted murder of Blomkvist. That attempted murder greatly raises the tension of the story as it makes clear that Blomkvist’s life, not just his financial future and reputation, may hinge on his investigation. Through these sudden acts of violence, chapters 21 and 22 also indicate that Harriet Vanger’s disappearance no longer exists purely as a historical narrative, but also as a part of present-day murders. The danger becomes more immediate, and the stakes even higher for everyone involved.
Of particular importance is the revelation in chapter 23 that Martin Vanger is the serial killer. It not only answers the question posed throughout the past several chapters, but it also reveals the profound nature of Martin’s deception about his own monstrous nature. Throughout the novel, Martin appears as a largely polite figure, calm and helpful even when he seems to disagree with Blomkvist’s methods. To a degree, the general nastiness of the Vanger family serves as a camouflage for Martin. Though he, too, attempts to push Blomkvist back to Millennium, his outward demeanor seems so free of the anti-Semitic and misogynistic abuse typical to the Vanger clan that he seems almost benevolent by comparison. In this chapter, however, Blomkvist confronts the fact that Martin’s politeness and his business acumen merely serve as a façade for a sadistic killer. This revelation also echoes Blomkvist’s earlier epiphany, when Blomkvist discovers that the face in Harriet’s window does not belong to Cecilia Vanger, but rather to her sister Anita. While the cost for that case of mistaken identity is small, Blomkvist faces the possibility that he might pay for his assumptions about Martin with his life.
Martin’s attack on Blomkvist exemplifies the way in which sexual violence stems directly from the desire for power over others. Martin, so enraged that he cannot speak, brutally beats Blomkvist, until seeing Blomkvist cowed and helpless, he regains his self-control. The use of violence to literally force another human being into submission placates him and feeds his desire for power. Tellingly, Martin blames Blomkvist for the current situation and resorts to violence as the best method to straighten out a situation that threatens to spiral rapidly out of his control. Martin’s assault on Blomkvist has strong sexual overtones, despite the fact that he doesn’t actually rape Blomkvist. He kicks him in the genitals, for instance, and after subduing Blomkvist, strips him naked. In this way the attack recalls Bjurman’s earlier assault on Salander, and the two assaults suggest that sexual violence is foremost about power.