Chapter 1 begins in Stockholm, Sweden as "Kalle" Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist and part owner and publisher of an investigative magazine named Millennium, steps out onto the courthouse steps after being convicted of libel. Someone among a crowd of his peers calls him "Kalle," and Mikael is forced to recall his entrance many years ago into the world of journalism. He stands on the steps, answering the reporters' questions tersely, and thinks back on the day when he discovered a band of bank robbers as a youth. During the flutter of media attention that surrounded him following the police capture of the robbers, one of the reporters covering the story dubbed him "Kalle," after a child detective from the books of Astrid Lindgren, an esteemed Swedish author of children's literature. Although Blomkvist has always hated the nickname, he refuses to lose his cool in front of the reporters. After taking a few questions, he leaves.
Blomkvist takes a bus to a quiet café where he contemplates his court fines and his sentence of 90 days in jail. During the trial, he felt calm, but now he's overcome with a sense of doom. He knows that once he finishes his jail sentence, he'll have a hard time finding work because no editor would easily trust him again. At this point, Blomkvist begins to wonder how he ended up in this whole mess in the first place.
Returning to the time when Blomkvist first became interested in Hans-Erik Wennerstrom, the CEO who brought the libel case against Blomkvist when Blomkvist reported on Wennerstrom's questionable business activities, author Stieg Larsson employs a space break to indicate a flashback — a technique he uses throughout the novel to show a shift in time or focus. The Wennerstrom affair began a year and a half before the trial, on a summer afternoon. While out sailing with a few friends, Blomkvist is surprised to see Robban Lindberg in the boat that is docking next to his on the island of Arholma. Blomkvist hadn't seen Lindberg for years, although they were good pals in college. The two decide to hang out in Blomkvist's boat for the evening, drinking and discussing business ethics. The topic stirs interest within both of them, because Lindberg works as a high-end banker and Blomkvist often writes about corporate corruption.
Lindberg quickly steers the conversation to the topic of Wennerstrom. The banker relates an elaborate tale of potential fraud on the part of Wennerstrom and his investment company. Wennerstrom's company received 60 million kronor from the Swedish government to open a packaging factory in Poland. The factory, named Minos, remained open for two years and then quietly fell apart. Wennerstrom's company returned 6 million kronor of the original 60 million kronor loan, which the government accepted without question and the matter seemed to be over. Lindberg explains that he was one of the bankers reviewing the documentation and that although he couldn't find anything wrong with the paperwork, something felt odd to him.
Lindberg continues his story, saying that several years after the Wennerstrom's Minos operation collapsed, Lindberg happened to be in Poland and discovered that Minos was never the factory that was represented on paper. Through conversations with locals in Lodz, the city near which the factory was built, Lindberg discovers that Minos rarely had enough materials to produce anything. Blomkvist is confused why Wennerstrom, a businessman for whom 60 million kronor was a meager sum, would attempt such an obvious fraud for such a small amount. Lindberg reminds him of what the financial world was like in the early 1990s, stating that interest rates were high so loans were hard to come by. Therefore, Wennerstrom saw the loan from the Swedish government as easy cash to finance his company. Lindberg ends his tale by inviting Blomkvist to use him as an anonymous source if he chooses to pursue an investigation into Wennerstrom's financial dealings.
Chapter 1 uses flashback to develop the character of the protagonist, Mikael Blomkvist, as well as to build on the theme of trust. The author uses flashback to relate the challenges Blomkvist will face now that his libel trial has ended. Blomkvist's conversation with Lindberg reveals that the journalist is a curious person who is deeply interested in exposing corporate corruption. Using Lindberg as an anonymous source no doubt contributed to the libel case against Blomkvist, and the agreement raises the reader's curiosity about Lindberg and Blomkvist's relationship: Why was Blomkvist convicted of libel if Lindberg's story is true? This flashback engages the reader with these two characters and acts as a clue to how the Wennerstrom investigation ended up in the courts.
By employing a flashback in Chapter 1, Stieg Larsson prepares his readers for a plot that may not always follow chronological order. Jumping to different times and places creates narrative tension and allows for character development. For example, the flashback arises from Blomkvist's own questions about how he ended up in such a bad situation. Here, Blomkvist perceives his discussion with Lindberg to be the starting place for the whole mess. Through this flashback, Larsson is able to contrast Blomkvist's old self with his current self; clearly the ordeal he's been through has made him more critical of himself and his willingness to trust others.
Moreover, the issue of trust pervades Chapter 1. Trust first comes into play when Blomkvist contemplates how he's going to recover from his financial and career problems. He knows that key to continuing his journalistic career is regaining the trust of editors. Blomkvist is unsure how to rebuild the trust, especially since he now sees that his ability to trust himself has been called into question. The reporter is forced to question not only his own judgment, but also the motives of people such as Lindberg, whom he considered a trusted friend. Issues of trust will continue to surface as Blomkvist tries to return his life to some semblance of normalcy.