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Blomkvist is the reluctant detective of the piece. He's about 42 years old and, unlike young Salander, he hasn't come to terms with his inner investigator. Blomkvist is managing editor of Millennium magazine and, first and foremost, a financial journalist. He's published two books in his field when the novel opens, and has published a third, The Mafia Banker, at the end.
Millennium magazine and Blomkvist himself are dedicated to exposing corrupt financiers, and taking to task corrupt financial journalists who glorify the rich swindlers. The Mafia Banker is about Hans-Erik Wennerström, the corrupt financier we never meet.
Yes, some readers stifle the yawns getting through Chapter 1 of the novel, where Blomkvist flashes back on the conversation that leads to his pre-Salander investigation of Wennerström. As important as his financial journalist work is, Blomkvist will have to venture from it, at least temporarily, if he wants to be a literary hero.
And venture he does, though almost against his will. The disgrace over the Wennerström affair leaves Blomkvist vulnerable and opens him to new experiences. Sure, he'd rather not have been chained up in Martin Vanger's dungeon on Hedeby Island, and can hardly talk about it afterwards. To be a hero in this book, he has to be put through a series of grueling exercises meant to build character and educate him about the world. The experiences change the course of his life and, as we see in future installments, his work and his magazine. As a reward, all his financial journalist dreams come true at the end, thanks to Salander's great hacking.
"I just want you to realize. I'm not a private detective." (2.57)
In a rare interview, Larsson revealed that, like Salander, Blomkvist is inspired by a character from Swedish author Astrid Lindgren. Known as Bill Bergson in English language translations, Blomkvist's namesake Kalle Blomkvist is a child detective featured in three stories. Our Blomkvist earns the nickname "Kalle" Blomkvist when he foils a gang of bank robbers at age 23. Since then, he's been fighting his nickname – and his inner detective – even though all he seems to do is detective work.
How does he uncover corrupt financiers and expose crooked financial journalists? By detecting, of course! Being a detective means collecting information, exposing it to technology and/or to intense mental pondering. The detective must toss out pieces that don't belong in the puzzle and put the pieces that do belong in their proper places. This also happens to be the job of the journalist. Henrik recognizes this fact as well as Blomkvist's inner detective when he contacts him to solve the mystery of Harriet. Like all great detectives, Blomkvist's curiosity, and his need to get to the root of the situations he encounters, drive him to successfully solve mysteries.
Stieg Larsson's original title, Men Who Hate Women, helps Blomkvist's character fall more easily into place. He's meant to be an extreme foil for the abusers, rapists, and serial killers of women who start springing up all around him when he takes the Vanger assignment. This experience brutally introduces him to the problem of violence and sexual assault against women in a way he'll (and we'll) never forget.
Overall, Blomkvist is a sympathetic guy we can't help but appreciate. But, some readers don't like the way he treats the ladies in his life, and find him a tad promiscuous. Next to, say, James Bond (51 lovers) or Captain Kirk or Californication's Hank Moody, Blomkvist is practically a nun. Still, his sex life is probably meant to provoke us, particularly his relationship with Erika Berger. We also notice that his three lovers in the novel fall across the age spectrum. Erika is his age, Salander twenty years younger, and Cecilia around ten years older.
In contrast to Salander, Blomkvist never seems to be the initiator in sexual encounters. This doesn't seem to be a playing-hard-to-get thing, but a matter of a) personal style, and b) desire to not place women in situations that might be uncomfortable to them. This is definitely part of what attracts Salander to him, and gives her the courage to show herself to him in spite of her extreme self-doubt. Whatever happens in the end, his sexual relationship with Salander does seem to help her heal from the all-too-recent rape and abuse at the hands of Nils Bjurman.
At least in this novel, Blomkvist isn't all that introspective about his sex life, and certainly less so than Salander. He seems to value friendship with women even more than he values sex with them, but he doesn't seem to angst about these matters. He seems to have a fairly uncomplicated attitude toward sex, though not un-thoughtful.
He loves sex and believes in experimentation, multiple partners, and consensual, non-manipulative encounters grounded in respect and friendship. He doesn't judge the sex lives of his partners or others, so long as there's no abuse. Still, plenty of readers think Blomkvist has problems with intimacy and commitment. Critic Alex Berenson says,
Even after 460 pages, it's not clear whether Blomkvist cares, whether he's troubled by his lack of intimacy or simply resigned to it. Is he stoic or merely Swedish? Either way, he seems more a stock character than a real person. (source)
This same complaint is often leveled at other fictional detectives, including one of the originals, Edgar Alan Poe's C. Auguste Dupin. These detectives spend much of their time pondering, researching, and getting into predicaments. Blomkvist is a lot like them, perhaps more mystery machine than man. We also want to reserve our judgment on the matter – we have two more books to consider before we have his complete profile.
The fact was that they functioned well together, and they had a connection as addictive as heroin. (3.39)
Mikael Blomkvist's and Erika Berger have been friends with benefits since back in journalism school. She's married; he's divorced. She's his boss; they're also lovers and BFFs. And surprisingly enough, her hubby doesn't mind.
Twenty years […]. That's how long it had been. As far as he was concerned they could go on sleeping together for another two decades. At least. (3.37)
The novel suggests this is an unusual relationship in Sweden. Sweden is represented as having conservative social norms and rules regarding sex, sexuality, and marriage. Their relationship causes consternation for most of their other partners. The only person able to handle it so far is Greger Beckman, Erika's scandalous artist husband.
Both Cecilia and Salander stop seeing Blomkvist because they can't deal with the Erika factor. In all cases we see, Blomkvist is honest about his relationship with Erika. But for readers who frown on the arrangement, this might not be enough to make him sympathetic, at least in terms of his sex life. Though it's probably not intentional on his part, the relationship with Berger gives him a certain power over his other lovers.
Some readers feel that Blomkvist chooses Erika over Salander at the end of the novel. As we suggest in "What's Up With the Ending?" this might be a misreading, though there's room to argue. At least at this point in Blomkvist's life, Erika is his "best friend" (28.232) and someone he couldn't stop having sex with if he tried. Blomkvist has been busy all year, and scarcely had time to see Erika. Blomkvist never drops one woman for another, as we see when Erika surprises him when he's in bed with Cecilia.
"Congratulations. You've managed to corrupt me. I'm going to destroy all my notes and tape recordings I've made of our conversations." (Epilogue.89)
How do you feel about the fact that Blomkvist agrees not to publish what he learns about the Vanger family? According to Salander and Henrik Vanger, more harm (particularly to Harriet) than good can come of revealing the story. Henrik believes that the Vanger empire will crumble, leaving his employees jobless.
Henrik's larger concern is Harriet. Like Salander, he believes that Harriet would be destroyed by having her story subjected to print. Even though Salander believes Harriet was in the wrong when she hid Martin's crimes against her, now that Martin is dead, she wants to protect Harriet as a victim. And though she doesn't say it outright, Salander seems also to want to protect the other victims' families from the knowledge of how the girls died.
Blomkvist accedes to their desires, but might never really believe in his decision. When Salander argues the point with him, we are told,
Blomkvist felt only despair. His professional life he had devoted to uncovering things which other people had tried to hide, and he could not be party to the covering up of the crimes committed in Martin Vanger's basement. (27.196)
We do see his point here. Also, Blomkvist himself was one of Martin's victims. Salander believes that making this public would hurt his career. But the cover-up also denies Blomkvist the choice to officially report what happens to him. If you were Blomkvist, what would you do? Do you think he makes the right decision here?
Blomkvist seems to genuinely appreciate Salander from the moment he meets her. This appreciation shows through and even she can't miss it. Blomkvist and Salander meet not long after Nils Bjurman rapes her, so most readers are feeling pretty protective of her at that point in the story. We know Blomkvist won't physically hurt her or anything like that, but we're afraid he might hurt her feelings. He doesn't, though, and this probably increases sympathy for him in the eyes of readers.
In trying to understand their relationship, it helps to remember that he knows little about Salander – much less than the readers. We think he would like to know more, but respecting her privacy is more important. When she tries to reveal her deepening feelings for him, she probably realizes that if she wants intimacy with Blomkvist, she has to let him know. In this novel, we don't really learn how Blomkvist feels about Salander, though we know he feels indebted to her for saving his life. Maybe future books will shed light on the mystery.