In The Girl Who Played With Fire, the second novel in Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy, Lisbeth Salander takes center stage. We learn more about her background and how she lives her life, how meeting Mikael Blomkvist changed her life, and how she resolves the major problems in her life. This novel is also a murder mystery that involves Blomkvist, some of Stockholm’s finest detectives and Lisbeth’s former employer. Those who have read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo know already that nothing about Salander is conventional, which becomes a major element in the second novel.
First, I LOVED this novel as much as the Dragon Tattoo, if not more because Salander drives the story. Her different way of thinking and behaving keeps us wondering what will happen next. In fact, the only time the story lagged was the section when Salander disappears for a while and no one knows where she is. The cops’ misadventures and stumbling hold our interest, and Blomkvist’s investigation, but the story still loses its intensity there. Never fear, Lisbeth returns for the climax and resolution that will stun readers who haven’t been paying close attention. Those who caught the foreshadowing in the beginning won’t be as surprised. But Larsson still has some fun tricks up his sleeve for the ending.
Second, Larsson insures that the police are neither all lily white nor pitch black. In fact, one detective, Faste, challenges patience, and yet his idiocy is supremely human. I enjoyed having more of a police presence in this story, and spending more time in Stockholm. Larsson does a good job of aiming his focus on the attitudes and beliefs of his characters, including the police, and how they affect behavior and relationships. This is probably the most thought-provoking aspect of this novel.
Third, Mikael Blomkvist provides a strong counterpoint to the other men in Lisbeth’s life, and for us. He’s not perfect, but he’s more self-aware than he gives himself credit for and he respects Lisbeth. He’s much needed in this story. Larsson peels away the layers of behavior and the motivating attitudes of the criminal men. What struck me was the stark contrast between Blomkvist’s ability to empathize and the criminals’ total inability. Larsson shows that the criminals are human beings who are missing what they need to be positive, productive citizens and full human beings. He does not want us to like them, however, only to understand.
Fourth, Larsson structures the novel in a clever way that’s difficult to do — Lisbeth’s actions structure the overall story which is on top of the police procedural structure that propels Blomkvist and the police. They meet in an elegant way at the end. It’s all masterfully done. Bravo. I wonder, however, if Larsson didn’t actually plan it that way but simply followed his characters, discovering after the first draft what he’d done. By grounding the story with the characters and their actions rather than the events of the story, he increases suspense and strengthens the story.
I could not put this novel down, tearing myself away from it to eat, sleep, work. My only quibble is a small one: in the beginning, when Lisbeth is in the Caribbean, Larsson writes in a hurricane that has formed over two weeks after hurricane season ends in the Caribbean. It really bugged me. He could have set this part of the novel a month earlier. I don’t think it would have made much difference and the storm would have been a more accurate detail. Overall, I’d strongly recommend this novel, and I look forward with great anticipation to the final installment in the trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest……