Literary Corner Cafe

Friday, January 28, 2011

Book Review - Thrillers and Bestsellers - The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson

The Girl Who Played With Fire is Stieg Larsson’s second installment in his bestselling “Millennium Trilogy.” In The Girl Who Played With Fire, Lisbeth Salander, the character we met in the first book of the trilogy, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, plays a far more central role. She’s the focus of attention even more than liberal journalist, Mikael Blomkvist. However, in this book, she’s not so much the hunter as the hunted. In fact, in The Girl Who Played With Fire, Lisbeth Salander is the chief suspect in a trio of murders.

The three people murdered – Nils Erik Bjurman, Dag Svensson, and Mia Johansson – all have connections to both Salander and Blomkvist – and the Swedish/Eastern European sex trafficking trade. It’s Salander’s fingerprints, however, that are found on a weapon near the crime scene. It seems that all of Sweden believes her guilty – all except Blomkvist, of course, and even he has his doubts, but only at first.

The Lisbeth Salander we meet in The Girl Who Played With Fire is a different Lisbeth Salander than we met in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. She’s still brilliant, and she’s still Goth; she’s still punk, and she can still hack with the best of them. However, after appropriating a fortune and traveling the world, Lisbeth has grown out her spiky hair, has had a few of her tattoos and piercings removed, dresses better on occasion, and is becoming even better acquainted with higher mathematics. Salander, though is still lonely, still a loner, and still emotionally damaged. Adding to that damage is the fact that before going away, she let herself care about Blomkvist, and now he doesn’t seem to care about her. Or so she thinks. And she’s really beating herself up about that.

Eventually, though, you know Blomkvist and Salander are going to join forces or at least be chasing the same goal. (They don’t have many scenes together.) While the budding romance and sexual tension that existed between the two in the first book is non-existent in this one, both characters are still just as engaging and appealing.
Blomkvist is pretty much the same as he was in the first book: a fairly ordinary man, who’s extraordinarily honest, and whose life has become terribly complicated. As a journalist out to expose far right-wing Swedish politics, he’s “obstinate and almost pathologically focused on the job in hand. He took hold of a story and worked his way forward to the point where it approached perfection, and then he tied up all the loose ends…. When he was at his best he was brilliant, and when he was not at his best he was always far better than average.”

While The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo revolves around Blomkvist’s search for Harriet Vanger’s “killer,” The Girl Who Played With Fire centers around Lisbeth Salander’s own family. We learn more about her origins, however, while we learn more about her, we really don’t get to know her any better than we did in the first book. She’s still very mysterious and Larsson still keeps her at arm’s length.

The plot of The Girl Who Played With Fire is more suspenseful and more intricate than the plot of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, though it’s not perfect. It’s marred by some unbelievable and clichéd characterization (of the secondary characters) and by the excessive use of coincidence, though people who loved the first book definitely won’t let that stop them from loving the second, and they won’t be disappointed. The greatest improvement about the second book over the first, in my opinion, is the fact that the second is really a thriller. It’s not bracketed by two hundred boring pages – beginning and end – describing Bloomkvist’s problems – in detail – with “Millennium.”

The ending of The Girl Who Played With Fire was too melodramatic and over-the-top for me, but some readers are going to love it. I do have to say, the wonderful characterization of Blomkvist and Salander helped greatly to offset any other problems the book might have. Outlandish as the premise is, in the end, the book works because readers really do care about Blomkvist and Salander and can believe in them.

I don’t know why, but translations of Nordic crime novels always seem a bit flat. This holds true for The Girl Who Played With Fire as well. The prose isn’t the worst I’ve encountered by far, but it’s rather clunky and it’s riddled with needless clichés, e.g., “nutty as a fruitcake,” “eyes that burned like fire,” etc. And just as in the first book, the Swedish names are going to be a bit puzzling to most Americans. The ones I couldn’t readily pronounce, I just skipped over, though I had an easier time with some since I speak/read/write German and Swedish and German share much in common. Fans of the trilogy will do the same.

Though The Girl Who Played With Fire is a better book than The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, if you’re new to the series, don’t start with this one. It’s only a trilogy, and each book continues the story begun in the previous book. Start with the first book and read the three in order. In fact, to fully enjoy each book, that’s exactly what you have to do.

Larsson was a man who possessed innate, first-rate storytelling skills. Had he
lived, he would have developed into a first-rate novelist as well, one who thoroughly mastered his craft. It’s a pity the world lost him at such a young age, but at least we have the three books that make up the “Millennium Trilogy.” That’s a lot better than nothing.


Recommended: Definitely to fans of the series. This book is better than the first, and there’s less social commentary. Readers who like Lisbeth Salander will by happy to find she’s the focus of the book.


Carol said...

I still haven't read it. I just can't seem to get enough ambition, since I didn't particularly like the Dragon Tattoo.
Someday maybe, but your review gives me quite a bit information, so I will not be in any hurry. hahahahaha

epicblackcar said...

Good review, and nice blog. I SALUTE YOU.

As a Swede, and a writer, I am happy that Stieg did so well and sad that he died. HOWEVER: you're right about his writing.

I just couldn't get past the bad craftsmanship. Reading the first book was a long, hard slog.

Gabrielle Renoir-Large said...
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