“The Girl Who Played with Fire” by Stieg Larsson

The Girl Who Played with Fire (Millennium, #2)My rating: 4 of 5 stars
As was the case with “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” this one takes about 200 or so pages to really get rolling, but once it does, it’s a pretty entertaining ride all the way to the end. The big difference is that with the characters of Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist firmly established from the first book, we have a quicker entry into the world of “Fire.”

It’s been a year since the events of “Dragon Tattoo” and in that time, the friendship between Salandar and Blomkvist has eroded. Salandar decides to travel the world with her new-found wealth and continues her obsession with becoming nearly invisible to the world-at-large.

Meanwhile, Blomkvist is working with a couple on a book and articles about the sex-trafficking trade in Sweden. The expose could prove to be explosive and damning to many of those discussed in the trade, but what Blomkvist doesn’t know is the roads will all lead back to Salandar and an incident that happened to her when she was 12 years old. (The book constantly refers to it before finally revealing what happened in the last third of the story. The foreshadowing is a bit obvious at times and it feels like Laarson is trying to say, “Pay attention because this will be important later.”)

Returning from her trip, Salandar hacks into Blomkvist’s hard drive and discovers what’s going on. She goes to confront the couple writing the articles, to give them a piece of the puzzle. Then the couple is found killed as well as her guardian. Saldandar becomes the prime suspect, but thanks to her efforts early in the book to stay off the grid, she can go to ground without much trouble and elude the authorities. She and Blomkvist also are able to correspond via her hack of his computer and he sets about proving her innocence in the affair, all while uncovering how it all ties back to her.

As with “Dragon,” I found myself wondering how much of Blomkvist was based on Larsson’s life and how he viewed himself. At one point, Saldandar reflects on her various romantic entanglements and sees how she never let anyone get to her, except, of course Blomkvist. And, of course, his status as that middle-aged stud who the women can’t resist continues. There’s also a section where his lover, Berger, reflects on his skills and how she needs what he provides as well as what her husband provides.

Those details aside, the novel works well enough and while we know that Salandar didn’t commit either murder, the central mystery of who did and why keeps the book going. The novel does stumble a bit in the middle segment, while Salandar is the prime suspect in that it moves her off-stage for this segment. She’s referred to and speculated on, but not seen or heard from. This leads to the story having to double back a bit and repeat some portions once she does enter the story again, much to my frustration.

The book is a good one and Salandar is an intriguing character. The moments when the story explores her and what makes her tick are fascinating and the final third as the mystery begins to finally unravel is worth the investment.

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