This is my book review of The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larrson-so if you have even a microscopic inkling that you might pick-up one of Stieg Larrson’s books in the Millenium trilogy, then I would heartily recommend that you read no further as there are several plot spoilers ahead.
After having a swell time reading the first book in Stieg Larrson’s Millenium trilogy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I immediately began on the second book, which I assumed would be pretty dark. Like the first Star Wars movie, the protagonists in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo pretty much save the day and beat the bad guys. Was there really any doubt that in the second book they would be cut to down to less-than mythological size?
When we last met up with this dynamic duo, the detail oriented Lisbeth Salander saves journalist Mikael Blomkist from what appeared to be certain death at the hands of a serial killer and steals about 3 billion in Swedish Kronars from a sociopathic businessman who recently died. Meanwhile disgraced journalist Mikael Bloomkist has salvaged his reputation and that of the Millennium magazine, which he partly owns and now serves as editor.
The Girl Who Played with Fire starts off slow–like the first novel–as Lisbeth Salander travels the world as she tries to find her place in it while she becomes immersed in the esoteric field of eliptical mathematics. Ominously, a man who raped Salander in the first book is planning revenge, despite Salander having proven that she could pretty much end his legal career by turning over to authorities videographic proof of the said event.
Though a maelstrom of criminality, prostitution, darks secrets and three murders swirl around Salander, she is initially neither consumed by the chaos or manipulated by it. In a way, I think that one theme of this book is Salander’s desire to chart the future in a mathematical fashion by keeping tabs on everyone, the police, the journalists and her would-be killers. In the opening chapter she watches as the weather service charts the approach of an oncoming hurricane and chapters are prefaced by mathematic equations and related quotes.
While some reviewers have criticized the cliche plot devices and web of oddly familiar connections which has ensnared Salander, many of the loose ends hung out in the first book are tied up in this book and some of the little details which appeared minor in the first book take on a life of their own. In terms of character development Salander owns this book front to cover, while Mikael Blomkist bumbles around the police investigation of three murders in which Salander is the prime suspect. Unlike the first book, Salander is more isolated than ever as she makes plans to flee Sweden.
The ever-present theme of violence against women is further explored from different angles and the reader may get the sense of attending several graduate level lectures concerning domestic violence and the exploitation of young women in Sweden while Salander embroils herself in one dangerous situation after another. Rather than slowing the plot down, the description of the real lives of abused women in Sweden by Larrson draws the reader into the book yet again. What really makes the book stand out is the explanation for “All the Evil”, as Salander puts it, which she believes doomed her life since before she was 13. The tragedy of the book is that despite her increasingly independent and interesting adult life, she is still psychologically shackled by childhood traumas.
The end is heartbreaking, and begs the reader to buy the third book in the series if only to see Salander’s recovery, as despite Salander’s genius-level intelligence and no-nonsense approach to enemies, her luck runs out.
In total, this second book in the widely popular Millennium series has more than a little bit of something for everyone who reads it and it tells a story on two different levels-the very personal and at the societal level. As good as, if not better, than the first book.