Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The tattooed girl returns

Don't you just love it when you go to a bookstore and discover that the second installment of a much-loved is on its shelves? You figuratively lose your shit when that happens. The second novel of Stieg Larsson's Millennium series, The Girl Who Played with Fire, once again brings back all the characters I've grown to love and hate since I read the first novel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I think the Millennium series is shaping up to become a truly landmark work of Swedish detective-slash-thriller fiction. (Scandinavian novelists have been making waves in this genre recently.)

Lisbeth Salander, the polarizing heroine in the first book, is back, but this time she takes center stage in the novel. At the novel's beginning, she cuts off all ties with the journalist Mikael Blomkvist when she discovers him romantically involved with his editor-in-chief. Blomkvist's magazine, Millennium, is at the cusp of revealing an expose on sex trafficking in Sweden, an issue that the government doesn't pay much attention to. When the two people involved in the research (a couple actually) get shot in their apartment, all eyes lead to Salander as the murderer. On the same day, Salander's legal guardian, Nils Erik Bjurman, is also found dead in his apartment, also shot at close range. Naturally, Salander becomes the prime suspect to that too.

Having known Salander intimately, Blomkvist insists to the police that Salander doesn't have anything to do with the murders. But all evidence points to Salander and no one else. The gun has Salander's prints. Salander also visited the couple just before the murder. The police also found sex tapes showing Bjurman brutally raping Salander, which the investigators think is enough to serve as Salander's motive. Blomkvist eventually finds out that Salander knew about Millennium's investigation on prostitution and tries his best to find a link between the murders and Salander. He eventually discovers a connection, particularly between a shadowy figure in Sweden's criminal underworld named Zala and Salander.

As you progress through the novel, you realize how the criminal web gets larger as more people in high places are involved. Despite the growing number of characters, Larsson never fails to focus the reader's attention to Salander. It is this focus that makes the novel more plot driven than the first. The novel starts a bit slowly though, with the first few chapters being used to bring the reader up to speed on Salander's many quirks and talents (hacker, spy, amateur mathematician, detached, and weirdly bisexual). It's all worth it though, as the stage is set for all the cat-and-mouse chase sequences that follow.

In The Girl Who Played with Fire, there's none of the closed murder mystery theme that was pivotal in the first novel. The second installment is more edgy and would definitely appeal more to avid readers of Robert Ludlum's Bourne novels than fans of Agatha Christie's elegant murder mysteries. You may be expecting an ending appropriate to the complex web that Larsson wove throughout the novel's 650 pages. Instead, Larsson dismantles this web, revealing how everything is tied to Salander. He even manages to effectively add a few twists regarding the mysterious character of Zala, who only appeared in the last chapters of the book.

I am eagerly anticipating the third novel, which will also be the last novel by Larsson. It seems unfortunate that a writer, who is capable of writing superb plot lines and developing characters you could relate to, die after submitting his manuscripts to his publisher.

Read this book if:
  1. You like unpredictable protagonists.
  2. You have no qualms reading violent scenes.
  3. You always root for the underdog.


sumthinblue said...

Ooh, there's a sequel already? I don't even have the first book yet!

Anonymous said...

I haven't read the first book and am looking forward to reading it sometime soon. I think I would have benefitted a lot by reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo first, but I still enjoyed the sequel!

Thanks for visiting my blog and the review of Girl Who Played with Fire. I like your detail review!

I agree that it's sad that Larsson died after completing his three books. But I think they are making waves in Sweden.