The Girl Who Played with Fire
Stieg Larsson, trans. Reg Keeland
London, MacLehose, 2009, 569p
I want more. No, I need more. I need to know what happens next. Why is the final part of this series not within arms reach? I am angry that I have to wait until tomorrow to be able to take it from the shelves of my library and start to devour every word Larsson has written. I hate cliffhangers.
The Girl Who Played with Fire is the second in the Millennium series. We rejoin Lisbeth Salander, now rather rich due to some nifty hacking and a bit of dress-up. She has spent a year traveling, having cut all ties with her friends in Sweden, especially Mikael Blomkvist. She is angry with herself for having fallen for Blomkvist, and angry with Blomkvist, as many women find themselves when attracted to someone. When she returns to Stockholm, she manages to land herself in the position of being the prime suspect in a triple murder investigation.
Blomkvist, meanwhile, is working hard at his magazine, continuing his role as a moral force of journalism, when an expose into sex trafficking and drug smuggling lands in his lap. Dag Svensson and Mia Johanssen have unveiled a number of high-ranking policemen, politicians, journalist, etc. who are involved in the abuse of underaged girls. Through the Millennium magazine, they will expose these individuals. And I really can't reveal much else without giving away the whole plot.
But needless to say, it is incredible. Larssen delves deeper into the past of Salander, revealing some of her darkest moments and best kept secrets. I became a little frustrated with the first part of this novel, as Lisbeth seemed to have lost some of her "angry woman" charm from the first book. She was preoccupied with her feelings about Blomkvist (well, preoccupied with suppressing her feelings), and she'd had plastic surgery. I felt like she was losing the things that identified her, and made her a woman to be admired.
But her return to Sweden sees her return to her former self. Within hours, she is using her fighting skills to escape the grasp of a heavy-set blonde thug. She tries to redeem herself, by visiting old friends such as Mimmi, Dragan Armansky and Holger Palmgren (note: she is still avoiding Blomkvist). When she becomes a suspect in the murder trial, she has some brilliant characters around to defend her.
Blomkvist remains loyal, despite Salander's absence. He hangs around by her apartment in the hope of seeing her. When her name becomes entangled in the murder investigation, and her name is smeared through the mud by the press, he stands his ground, insistent upon her innocence. He is almost too moral, but it's impossible to forget the mistakes he made in the first book, proving he is as human as any of us.
As with the Dragon Tattoo, Larsson presents the reader with a load of new characters and plot lines, but is incredibly skilled at keeping the story on track. Despite so many new faces, I found each one was successfully brought to life. The mystery unfolded on a number of fronts, with several teams running parallel investigations - the police, of course, ran the official investigation, whilst Armansky lead a team at Milton Security, and Blomkvist had all hands on deck at Millennium. Each team brought new evidence to the story - every conversation created as many new questions as it did answers. And yet, Larsson clearly knew the direction he was taking - everything was incredibly well planned, and I was impressed that he managed to avoid giving too much away. Every new revelation made me gasp; I was completely engrossed.
I just know the final book in this series will be as incredible as what I have read so far. It's a bittersweet moment to be this close to finishing the novels - I don't want it to end!