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The Girl Who Played with Fire ~ Stieg Larsson

July 17, 2009

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Nobody gets under Lisbeth Salander’s skin. No body. Well, just maybe that obnoxious, practical pig of a reporter, Mikael Blomkvist. As Larsson’s second installment of the Millennium trilogy opens, we find a reluctantly heartbroken Salander, terribly out of character, on the beach of Grenada, sipping her cocktail, trying desperately not to think of the one man she’s let herself fall in love with. She has just concluded a personal world tour, the source of funding for which is not quite clear, and she has very little intention of returning to the cold north anytime soon.

When a storm strikes on the island, Salander is forced back from her escapism and returns home, continuing to stay off of Blomkvist’s radar. She contacts a few acquaintances, moves into a new apartment and settles in to hack into Mikael’s computer for old time’s sake.

In the blink of an eye, the story is shot into high gear. Are you sitting down? I’ll give you a minute. Ok, here we go.

Millennium has been working on an expose in the form of a novel and a magazine feature, set to implicate piles of cops, politicians and society men in Sweden’s sex trade. The couple working on the book and accompanying article are found dead days before both pieces are to go to press.

Who would have done such a thing? Who could have killed these smart, sweet, innocent, do-gooders? Well, Lisbetth Salander’s prints are on the gun. But whose gun is it? Oh, it’s Salander’s ex-guardian, Bjurman’s gun and why, he winds up dead as well, soon after the others are found. This does not look good for our Pippi Longstocking.

True to form, Salander remains in hiding, leaving occasional lover, Mimi, former employer, Armansky and our lovable hero, Blomkvist, struggling against the world to somehow prove her innocence. All three have doubts about her involvement but none put it completely past her to commit such violent acts, however well deserved.

Forget the seaside cabin pace of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Put the family drama on hold. This is not the Vanger’s murder mystery. This is a whole new ball game.  Don’t be surprised if you find yourself literally gripping the pages. There are Marvel-worthy villains, corrupt institutions, 20-year vendettas, and plot twists galore.

Of course, only Larsson could create something with this much suspense and intrigue without stamping “campy” on the front cover. He is genuinely committed to the emotional construction of each character, regardless of his or her role in the plot. Even the bartender in Grenada is given her fifteen minutes of emotional fame. In spite of all of the depravity woven throughout the book, it is impossible to disengage. Every player has an intensely complicated backlog of grudge-filled history and it is inconceivable to write of any minor role.

Larsson, true to his roots as a political reporter, digs in to the atrocities within the system. He takes on drug and sex trafficking; immigrant asylum cover-ups, institutional corruption and the over all decay and seediness of the child care system.

If you haven’t read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which you should, you will still be able to read and enjoy The Girl Who Played with Fire as it gives nods to the back story but is relatively self-contained. While that is true, that is not to say that the second book stands detached from the first. Larsson absolutely demolishes the age-old hurdle of creating a sequel worthy of its forerunner.

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Thank you to Pam  at Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group for sending this ARC to me.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. July 17, 2009 10:39 am

    I never got around to reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but I think I would like to skip right to this one.

  2. July 17, 2009 2:19 pm

    Fantastic review! I also thought Girl who Played with Fire was even better than Dragon Tattoo.

    For Nicole (and anyone else) — while you certainly can read the 2nd book without having read the first, I do think that a bit of the mystery from Dragon Tattoo will get spoiled. So I would recommend reading Dragon Tattoo first if you can.

  3. iwriteinbooks permalink*
    July 17, 2009 2:24 pm

    Anna, I’m glad you liked it, too! I usually shy away from series books because I’m always disappointed. So not the case, here. I totally agree that while it does stand alone, if you;re going to read the first (which you should!) you’ll want to read the first one before the second one as the character progression is a bit shrouded in the first. Nicole, I’ll be waiting for your reviews!

  4. July 18, 2009 10:32 am

    I’m jealous that you’ve had the time to read these books. I got The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for Christmas and I still haven’t read it! Maybe I should take it to the beach.

  5. July 19, 2009 12:19 pm

    I know I’m going to have to pick these up soon!!

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