Thursday, October 14, 2010

Book Review: The Girl Who Played With Fire

The Girl Who Played with Fire
Author: Stieg Larsson
ISBN: 978-0-307-45455-3
Pages: 630
Release Date: July 2009
Publisher: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard
Genre: Crime Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Publisher: Mikael Blomkvist, crusading journalist and publisher of the magazine Millennium, has decided to run a story that will expose an extensive sex trafficking operation between Eastern Europe and Sweden, implicating well-known and highly placed members of Swedish society, business, and government.

But he has no idea just how explosive the story will be until, on the eve of publication, the two investigating reporters are murdered. And even more shocking for Blomkvist: the fingerprints found on the murder weapon belong to Lisbeth Salander—the troubled, wise-beyond-her-years genius hacker who came to his aid in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and who now becomes the focus and fierce heart of The Girl Who Played with Fire.

As Blomkvist, alone in his belief in Salander’s innocence, plunges into an investigation of the slayings, Salander herself is drawn into a murderous hunt in which she is the prey, and which compels her to revisit her dark past in an effort to settle with it once and for all.

My Thoughts: Stieg Larsson has given us another riveting, gripping tale of mystery and suspense that is not only filled with twists and turns and a fascinating ending, but is also well-crafted and intelligent. The Girl Who Played With Fire elevates the standard by which to judge psychological thrillers for three reasons: 1) it is extremely well-written, 2) the story-line is taut, and 3) the suspension of belief required is far less than many books of this genre.

The first point is pretty much self explanatory. Author Stieg Larsson has accomplished no mean feat in that this book, the second installment of a trilogy, can be enjoyed without having to read the first installment, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. In other words, it stands alone. If you did read the first book, you may appreciate Fire on a somewhat "deeper" level, in that Tattoo provides background for some things that aren't explicit (a nickname here, a prior event there), but it's by no means necessary. If you read Fire alone, however, you'll be compelled to pick up Tattoo as well as the third book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. The fact that the story is set in Norway is by no means a drawback as Larsson's characters are universal in their motivations, outlooks, attitudes and actions. Though some characters are clear cut evil, providing plenty of reasons to root for the protagonist, Lisbeth Salander, many others in the story are more complex. They are too involved and important to be considered "secondary". They come off one way and wind up having to change their approach, their attitudes and their minds as the story progresses. Without giving anything away, for example, several of the detectives are initially convinced of Salander's guilt. But they find themselves less and less certain as facts unfold in their investigation. This is why the book is so realistic and relatable: it's characters are complicated and three-dimensional. That's what I call good writing.

The taut story line keeps the reader interested and guessing, if not flat-out trying to figure things out for themselves. At first, the story seems complicated, if not helplessly convoluted. However, Larsson slowly puts the pieces together, giving you enough information to keep you involved and curious, yet packing enough of a punch to shock the reader as truth after truth is revealed. The number of story lines and the depth of the characters (and not just the sheer number of them) as explained above, keeps the story moving. The "good guys" all seem to want the same result. But it's the different ways they go about trying to get there, since they each have different and limited information to go on, that makes this book a page turner. As the story progresses, as one mystery is cleared up, a delicious new one presents itself. Larsson's ability to juggle all this while maintaining a linear story that never lets up in its pace, intensity and ability to keep the reader rapt is nothing short of masterful story telling.

Finally, for me personally, I've read too many mystery thrillers where I've walked away thinking "sorry, but I'm just not buying it". Too many "McGiver" tricks that are just too "out there" to be believed. In this book, I counted two, and even those two weren't so outside the realm of possibility.. If there's a criticism here, that's it, and it's not a very strong one. Very few books that weren't written in 19th Century Russia are perfect, so you might find yourself having to take some, not many, of the facts and events with a grain of salt. There's no solar eclipse at just the right time that allows the hero to fashion a homemade bomb out of a phone book, rubber bands, coca cola and Red Hots! So even though one or two things might seem improbable, they are still possible.

There aren't too many thrillers that match the this book's intelligence, believability, excitement and quality of writing. If you have yet to read any of the books in this trilogy, then it's high time you met Lisbeth Salander, the girl who's earned a well deserved cult following. She's an unlikely heroin for all of us in the computer age in that she's violent, brilliant, volatile, uniquely principled and above all else, fascinating.

I read my own copy of The Girl Who Played with Fire for this review. My husband contributed to this review because he read the book recently.


  1. I've got to start this series! I know what you mean about all the MacGyver moments in mysteries and thrillers these days.

  2. I really enjoyed this series and thought it was so well done. Lisbeth is just so compelling. I agree ... you can read this one without the first one, but I think it helps to read them all in order. each book really builds on the previous one.

  3. It seems I am the last person on the planet to read this series... don't know what I'm waiting for!

  4. I haven't read this series. I can't bring myself to do it. First, it's outside what I normally enjoy -- actually, from a genre I tend not to enjoy -- so I'd be reading it mostly because of the hype. And second, I try to avoid reading things just for the hype! But I'm glad everyone loves this series so much. I'm just still not convinced it's for me :-)

  5. Loved the entire series, but this one was my favorite. The movies, if you haven't seen them, are equally as good!

  6. While I was not a fan of the first book, I am a fan of your review of the second installment here. Terrific! You summarized the plot without spoilers, told me what you loved and then explained why. I won't be reading because I found his writing exasperating and too unbelievable for my tastes - but he did write a great heroine and I think I would probably enjoy the films I've read Sandy review on her blog.