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R&R 088 | The Girl Who Played with Fire (Millennium #2)

If you haven't read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo yet, stay clear from this review; my review mentions things that happened in part 1.

Stieg Larsson
The Girl Who Played with Fire (Millennium #2)
First published in: 2006
This edition: Quercus, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-906695-15-9
Genre: crime
649 pages
Cover photography by Andy Vella

R&R 088 | The Girl Who Played with Fire (Millennium #2)
I felt Lisbeth matured some more in part 2, and this showed in her style of dress and her new"found" femininity. So I dropped the nose ring and other stuff for this photo.

After finishing the phenomenal success that is THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, I decided to get on with the rest of the Millennium Trilogy as well, and committed to reading them all before summer. (This seems to be going well; as I'm publishing this review, I'm reading the final book.)

THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE doesn't pick up where the previous novel left off; a new plot line is introduced.
Whereas TATTOO dealt with corporate corruption and the hunt for a serial killer, FIRE rather focuses its attention on one of Millennium's main characters: Lisbeth Salander and the injustice she has had to endure, the injustice she is about to endure. This book explains a lot about her. Questions raised from reading TATTOO are dealt with for a large part.

It takes a while before we get there, but in my experience the pace of this book was just fine. FIRE starts with Salander's "break" from Sweden; she travels around under a false identity in order to clear her mind, to escape. Already this beginning is infinitely more interesting than the start of TATTOO, because it's about Lisbeth (TATTOO focused mostly on Blomkvist) – and she's just got that thing to keep you intrigued. Okay, she goes shopping at IKEA and details of these purchases and other activities are described ad nauseam. The plot doesn't move much at first. But you know, it still interested me.

Lisbeth's in quite a lot of turmoil, having her heart broken, not knowing how to deal with it. She's going through the motions while trying to find out who she wants to be. She's just very insecure and awkward. Without being overly emotional, Stieg Larsson made Lisbeth understandable to me, and evoked an eagerness to keep learning more. So plot was virtually non-exisitent at first, but I sure did enjoy learning more about Lisbeth.

Blomkvist, on the other hand, I find him to be a complete snoozer. Larsson tries to make up for it by allowing Blomkvist to plunge in to as many women…'s beds as possible. Sex sells, of course. But at some point Larsson devotes a few pages to Berger (Blomkvist's regular – and married, but wait, her husband approves – booty call) and her thoughts on threesomes, and there is some gratuitous lesbian loving. Oh, brother.

A lot of readers weren't too fond of the fact that there was barely any interaction between Blomkvist and Salander.
I personally liked this. Don't get me wrong – I liked them as a team in the first book; they worked because they are so different. But Larsson quickly turned "working together" into something else, and a break was welcome for me. I do hope, however, that the road has been paved for Blomkvist and Salander to have a better mutual understanding (and trust) in the third book, which I cannot wait – by the way – to read more of.

I do have to admit that I found FIRE to be inferior to its predecessor, specifically when looking at the writing itself. TATTOO has a far better build-up and the plot has a more natural progress to it. TATTOO is atmospheric, intriguing and has more natural character interactions. The book struck me as very intelligent and it is one of the better crime novels I've ever read because it is unique.
FIRE almost seems to be written by a different author with a different goal in mind. There's more action and sensationalism. Some elements were over the top even, and unrealistic, but to be fair I definitely felt more entertained by this volume. FIRE's a little more mainstream – but that's not meant negatively. It's just very readable. It's thrilling. It's a good book for the genre.

Admittedly one of the major mysteries wasn't such a big mystery after all; one and one were easily put together. Then again, perhaps I was relieved that my instincts were correct when they were confirmed. (Instead of having weird twist after weird twist thrown at me, it all still made sense to me.)
Other things about FIRE surprised me and left me hanging on Larsson's every word.

A big downside in my opinion is the abundance of "men who hate women" in this book. It's funny, because that's the original Swedish title of the first book, but it seems a lot more apt for the second volume, where every possible nasty word to describe women is used all too regularly.
Knowing Larsson didn't hate women (his male characters did), I still can't help but feel a bit miffed. It didn't sit well with me when, for the umpteenth time and at a completely random moment, the words "dyke" and "whore" flashed by. There was no point to having police officers react in such a hostile manner to any woman (suspects, but also collegues and witnesses).
I don't feel offended, that's not it, but I am irritated because it bordered on the extreme: most men in this book hated women, and they really hated women. And why? To make the book more edgy?

But generally speaking for a moment, I couldn't put this book down. Another important tidbit is that I didn't own volume 3 yet. So when FIRE ended, for a moment I a) was incredulous and b) didn't know what to do with myself. This volume ended abruptly, and you'll want to keep going immediately by starting with the last book. Now that's a good sign.

Basically, there's always a favorite volume in any series; my conclusion is simply that THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO and THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE so far are just very different; FIRE has gone its own way. I liked both books for very different reasons, one more than the other, but on the whole I'm a happy reader. The trilogy has been worth it for me so far.

I can't resist wordplay for this one; THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE misses the icy cool atmosphere and style of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, but it does offer something else: a plot that's on fire, leaving you with a burning desire to read the series' concluding volume: THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET'S NEST.

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R&R series © Karin E. Lips 2008-2010 (and beyond)

R&R 081 | The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Happy Valentine's Day!
Sorry this review took me so long. I've been hit with a few colds in a row since the beginning of the year and finally felt up for an update today. Thank you for continuing to follow this project on flickr or this blog!

Stieg Larsson
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoon (Millennium Trilogy #1)
Translation: Reg Keeland
First published in: 2005 (Sweden)
This edition: Vintage Crime / Black Lizard (of RandomHouse), 2009
ISBN: 978-0-307-45454-6
Cover design by Peter Mendelsund

book081
This review is not yet available at flickr. The photo is uploaded there privately.

Stieg Larsson did not get be there to witness what became of the three manuscripts he has left behind when he passed away in November 20041. The posthumous publication of the Millennium Trilogy has been a raging success ever since the first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, came out in Sweden in 2005. International success followed suit, and now the whole trilogy has now been published in English2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has been recommended to me several times by avid readers of the trilogy, and my interest was peaked by multiple assurances that this is good stuff.

I'm not a huge reader of the crime genre; apart from Dan Brown's recent blunder (The Lost Symbol), I've only been truly invested in one crime author the past couple of years: Kathy Reichs. She's unique and her expertise in the field of forensic anthropology give her books credibility and humanity – as she has examined victims in her own lab for years on end. It's hers, and recognizably so. Stieg Larsson wrote something unique, as well. Something that is his. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a crime novel, but it is so much more than that at the same time: tale of business corruption, but more so an intricate family saga, set in Scandinavia.

When Harriet Vanger, granddaughter of Henrik Vanger (one of the most influential businessmen in Sweden) disappears in the sixties, no one knows what happened. Did she run away? Commit suicide? Or was she murdered? Almost forty years later, there are still no answers. Convinced it was murder, Henrik Vanger hires economic journalist Michael Blomkvist, a good man who was recently set up and convicted of libel, to investigate what happened and who was responsible. A massive undertaking, Blomkvist decides to hire punk hacker genius Lisbeth Salander to assist him.

It sounded interesting, and it delivered. It just took a while. It's part one of a trilogy, so naturally a large chunk of the first book will serve as a general introduction; the trilogy requires a proper build-up, and that in turn requires a patient reader. I for one appreciate a solid back story, instead of being thrown in the deep-end, especially in this genre. The lead characters Blomkvist and Salander don't start collaborating until more than halfway through the book, but their characters have been properly introduced and – while leaving enough to be discovered about these people – their actions later on in the book are properly explained, their motivations understandable.

Lisbeth Salander is a complex character, and unusual in her psyche. She is meticulous and careful, and there's a clear toughness and self-reliance there, yet she relinquishes control over herself to the justice system even though she doesn't actually need a legal guardian. There's a duality there. I want to know more about her and that alone makes me want to read the next books.
Blomkvist, meh. He's a bit simplified, in that he's pretty much another Robert Langdon (except Blomkvist is a bit of a himbo in comparison, frequent sexcapades and what not). Middle-aged, serious in his career, intelligent but slightly naive – the epitome of "The Good Guy". I am only thankful for Salander's presence, because Blomkvist's character alone does not have what it takes to carry this novel.

Honestly, I wasn't as taken with the translation by Reg Keeland. I haven't read other translations if there are any, so I cannot compare, but as is, this translation is robotic, with a mechanical sentence structure which hampers the flow of the text. It's quite business-like at times. But as with the beginning of the story, this is a "bear with it for a while" situation, and it becomes less bothersome as you go – because by then, the plot picks up, and that has your attention, not the grammar.

And when the plot does start to take off, so much information has already been bestowed upon the reader; the reader has enough material to actually think for themselves and to connect the dots. To me this is the reason why this book is a successful crime novel: the novel swept me away to Sweden and I felt like I was part of the investigation.

The few times I was able to put down this book had to do with the subplot involving corruption in business; in the days of the almost worldwide economic crisis, I've sort of had enough of hearing about men in suits who selfishly disregard all others in their ascension to wealth and power. Larsson, however, wrote this years before then. It's not his fault that in 2010, the subject of economy leaves a bad taste in my mouth. No, that whole subplot did not interest me; however, I was completely enthralled with the case of Harriet Vanger's disappearance.

The book's primary setting was pretty much brilliant. Blomkvist and later on Salander for the duration of the investigation live on a very remote island in the northern-Sweden, where Harriet actually disappeared in the sixties, where a large portion of the Vanger clan still lives today. And it's getting all the more likely that whomever is responsible for Harriet's disappearance might still live among them all. Peaceful and eerie at the same time, the location of most of the story was responsible for creating the book's tense atmosphere.
The Harriet Vanger part of the book becomes increasingly better plotted as you go and it gets harder to pause from reading. The resolution is surprising, but the reader does understand it and could very well have guessed it partially, making the reader feel a little accomplished, even. Unpredictability and plot twists are only good, in my opinion, when they make sense to the reader, in such a way as to make the previous 400 pages seem relevant still, not redundant. Too often a writer will want to shock his readers, in the process disregarding everything previously written and thus read. Stieg Larsson handled it well; he surprised, but it made sense. And that is what is called proper build up in a crime novel. This is a writer who took care of his work, who thought out his plot line before he started.

So trust me on this as I come back to what I stated earlier. This book takes time and patience. But the build up is magnificently done. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an icy, cool read, and it takes a while to warm up to it. But once the book gets going, it is on fire.3

One side note: there are a few graphic, violent sexual scenes in this book (sexual abuse, rape). I don't enjoy them, but I'm not against sexual scenes in general or against violence in books. This is not a complaint. However, these scenes could be quite confrontational and thus unwelcome to some readers, especially when those readers don't see it coming. I wouldn't feel comfortable not mentioning this.

1. He passed away from a heart attack. Larsson left three finished manuscripts, now known as the Millennium Trilogy. He had also left an unfinished 4th manuscript and had planned to write more books beyond that.
2. The Girl Who Played with Fire has been published in English in January 2009; The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest has been available in English from October 2009.

3. Hello metaphor talk 😛 Icy.. cool… warm up to… on fire. J/K. Just testing if you actually read these notes. Might make a habit out of adding additional info this way.

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R&R series © Karin E. Lips 2008, 2009 and beyond