The Moralist

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Music Box Films/Everett Collection
Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, 2009

In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first volume of Swedish writer Stieg Larsson’s trilogy Millennium, a disgraced journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, retires to the remote, fictional island village of Hedeby, three hours north of Stockholm, where an octogenarian industrialist, Henrik Vanger, has invited him to solve the mystery of his great-niece, who disappeared forty years before, aged sixteen. The key to the puzzle would appear to lie in five names and numbers that the girl, Harriet Vanger, wrote in her diary shortly before vanishing without trace:

Magda—32016
Sara—32109
R.J.—30112
R.L.—32027
Mari—32018

Since 32 and 30 are local area codes, it seems reasonable to suppose that these are phone numbers, yet the police found no correspondence between names and numbers. Perplexed, Blomkvist copies the list out and pins it up on the wall of the cabin where he is staying. After he has been on the island some months, his sixteen-year-old daughter turns up out of the blue. Blomkvist is divorced and rarely sees his daughter, who has hardly been mentioned to this point. She is heading for a Christian summer camp and though the island is very much out of the way it just happens to be on her way. Blomkvist isn’t happy about the girl’s religious inclinations and admits as the two say goodbye that he doesn’t believe in God; at which his daughter points out that nevertheless he reads the Bible: she “saw the quotes you had on the wall.” And she adds: “But why so gloomy and neurotic?”

Blomkvist doesn’t understand. The girl hurries off. Then it dawns on him: the first digit of the mysterious numbers indicates a book of the Bible, the second and third a chapter, the fourth and fifth a verse. Of course! Despite the fact that Blomkvist spends hours a day surfing the net on his computer, he now rushes off to find a Bible, strangely unaware that the holy book is freely available online in almost any language you care to mention. The digit 3 corresponds to Leviticus and he finds verses like:

If a woman approaches any beast and lies with it, you shall kill the woman and the beast; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them.

And the daughter of any priest, if she profanes herself by playing the harlot, profanes her father; she shall be burned with fire.

Now at last it’s clear that the names Magda, Sara, etc. refer to the Jewish victims of a sexually perverted, anti-Semitic serial killer, something that would hardly surprise those reading the original Swedish and most European editions of the novel, which, in line with the author’s wishes, are more bluntly entitled Men Who Hate Women.

At this point, however, any…


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