Blomkvist visits Erika Berger, the editor-in-chief of Millennium. Berger still believes in the story they published. Nevertheless, she recognizes that prospects for the magazine aren’t good. Blomkvist believes the best solution might be for him to step down as Millennium’s publisher in order to mitigate the damage. Berger disagrees strongly, and as the two argue over the matter Blomkvist thinks fondly of their history together. The two remain lovers despite Berger’s current marriage to Gregor Beckman and despite the fact that their romantic relationship eventually caused the demise of Blomkvist’s own marriage. Though Blomkvist acknowledges that their relationship will never produce marriage or children, he takes pride in their mutual creation: Millennium. He views Millennium as integral to future of investigative journalism and prefers to sacrifice what remains of his own career to save the magazine. For this reason, Berger reluctantly agrees that Blomkvist should leave temporarily. Resigned, she issues a press release announcing his departure.
During the Christmas holiday, Blomkvist cleans out his office at Millennium. As he sorts through material, he receives a phone call from Dirch Frode. Frode wants to set up a meeting between Blomkvist and Henrik Vanger, a wealthy industrialist and the former head of Vanger Companies. He acknowledges that Henrik wishes to offer Blomkvist a freelance job, but refuses to offer any more detail. Blomkvist promises to consider the matter, then calls Frode after spending an awkward Christmas holiday with his ex-wife and daughter, as well as his sister’s family. He agrees to meet Henrik on December 26. Pleased by the response, Frode immediately acquiesces and on the 26th Blomkvist travels to Hedeby, the island where Henrik and the other members of the Vanger family live. Intriguingly, Frode refuses to offer any information or details about the potential job. The secrecy arouses Blomkvist’s suspicions, but he decides to go through with the interview in spite of his misgivings.
Henrik, a shrewd elderly man, greets Blomkvist and admits that, since he’s nearing the end of his life, he wishes to settle his affairs. He portrays the Vanger family as a dysfunctional clan full of strife and vice, and offers plenty of anecdotal evidence to back up his theories: Henrik’s brother, Richard, proudly boasted his anti-Semitic connections, and Richard’s lazy, alcoholic nephew Gottfried married a self-indulgent alcoholic named Isabella. Henrik acknowledges that his great-niece and great-nephew, Harriet and Martin, sprang from the dysfunctional marriage, and that he loved them as though they were his own. The two children symbolize, for Henrik, the little remaining goodness inherent in the Vanger family. With that revelation, he then announces his desire and the nature of the job: that Blomkvist research and write the history of the Vanger family as a pretext for solving the mystery of Harriet’s murder.
Satisfied that he has Blomkvist’s attention, Henrik details the circumstances of Harriet’s disappearance. During a Children’s Day parade in 1966, he claims, a car accident effectively closed off the island. Henrik explains that though several people saw Harriet both at the parade and after the accident, she never made it to dinner that evening. Henrik believes that someone in the Vanger family must have killed her, since the island was closed off to outsiders by the accident and no one could enter or leave unnoticed. The story shifts back to Salander, who finishes one of Blomkvist’s books. Then, as part of her work for Milton Security and the client Frode, she goes to scope out Wennerström’s apartment building. Additionally, she sets up a meeting with an acquaintance who goes by the name Plague.
The isolation of Hedeby, as well as Frode’s unwillingness to offer Blomkvist any details about Henrik’s freelance job, sets a stark tone for the novel and highlights the secrecy and isolation of the Vanger family. When Blomkvist arrives, the cold and the quiet of the small town leave an immediate impression on him. The island is geographically isolated, but it feels emotionally isolated as well. Henrik contributes to this mood as well with his explanation of Harriet’s disappearance, which he compares to a locked-room mystery with a finite number of suspects. Repeatedly Blomkvist feels the urge to leave and return home, which exhibits the almost claustrophobic effect of Hedeby. Additionally, Henrik’s determination to keep Blomkvist on the island, evidenced by the way he engages Blomkvist and sets up the conversation, makes Blomkvist feel trapped emotionally as well as physically.
Hedeby, of course, houses the Vanger family, a dysfunctional clan that exemplifies the worst of Sweden’s social ills and dovetails with Blomkvist’s own troubled family relationships. One important feature of these chapters is Henrik’s admission of anti-Semitism in his family, which he treats as one of many shameful vices within the clan and which also ties the clan to one of the darker aspects of Swedish heritage. Other social ills plague the family as well, including alcoholism, hedonism, and laziness, and as a result the Vanger family functions as an exaggerated microcosm of the worst elements of Swedish society: isolated, dysfunctional, and self-gratifying. No stranger to troubled relationships, Blomkvist also has problems with family and committed relationships, and these problems manifest most strongly in his awkward interactions with his daughter, Pernilla, with whom he seems uncertain and slightly ashamed. The Vanger family serves as an extreme example of how family relationships can go wrong, and Blomkvist as a more subtle, and perhaps realistic, one.