The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson

The second installment of the Millenium trilogy picks up about two years after the first. Lisbeth Salander has been travelling for a year, first to Europe where she had breast augmentation surgery, then on to the Caribbean. There she relaxes, studies math equations, and saves a woman from being murdered by her husband during a hurricane.

Back in Stockholm, Mikael Blomkvist is making a deal with freelance journalist Dag Svensson, who is doing a powerful expose on the Swedish sex trade. Naming names, its publication will bring down many of the rich and powerful. When he and his girlfriend Mia Johanssen are executed in their apartment, Blomkvist is devastated. When word leaks out that Lisbeth’s fingerprints are on the murder weapon the bewildered Mikael and former boss Dagon Armansky launch their own investigations into the murders.

I admit that I did not find this book as enjoyable as The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo.  It comes down to a simple matter of taste. I just don’t care for mistaken identity, cops-looking-for-the-wrong-perp, plot situations. The Fugitive worked well but on the whole, they are formulaic and predictable. I also have my doubts that detectives are that dumb and narrow-minded.

But it definitely had its moments. Most are at the middle and towards the end so I don’t want to give spoilers. It’s not a bad book, not by a longshot.  But if I were to recommend one to a friend, it would be The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo.

The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo by Stieg Larsson

Business tycoon and retired CEO Henrik Vanger has recieved the same anonymous birthday present for forty odd years,  a rare pressed flower in a homemade frame. The first one was a gift from his beloved niece Harriet.  The year after she disappeared without a trace he began to get them every birthday.

Mikael Blomkvist is in a bit of trouble. He has lost a libel case against a bitter enemy and has to go to jail for a couple months as well as pay a stiff fine. This is nothing compared to a tarnished reputation, loss of credibility, and the possible bankruptcy of his baby, the magazine Millenium. When Vanger offers him a year-long  job writing about the powerful and extremely dysfunctional Vanger family while investigating the disappearance of Harriet, Mikael decides its a good time for a sabbatical.

Lisbeth Salander is a genius and unlikely heroine. A ward of the state with extremely limited social skills, most people believe Lisbeth is mentally retarded. When she gets a chance to work with Dragon Armansky in his highly respected security firm, she is nearly let go before revealing her skills at doing background investigations.  Armansky gives her a chance and Lisbeth soon becomes his best investigator.

Mikail unexpectedly unearths new evidence in the disappearance case and he and Lisbeth’s paths cross to investigate an increasingly dangerous, perverted, and sadistic criminal. That is all I want to say about the plot.

I have two main things to say about this book. First, the story is good. Very good.  This is not your normal whodunit that once the perp is revealed, the story wraps up and we all go home. Far from it. In fact, the big reveal is only the beginning of the twists and turns this book takes.  I could not put it down and the moment was finished,  went to the store to get The Girl Who Played With Fire, the next installment in the trilogy.

Second thing: This book is not for the faint of heart. It deals with sexual sadism and deep, dark places in the psyche. Graphically. There is Nazism, perversion, and parental betrayal on a level rarely seen. The heroine, because of her limitations also becomes a victim.  It was so disturbing in places I wanted to call my daughters just to check in.  Many of the negative reviews on Amazon were precisely because of these issues.

But I am hooked. Maybe I’m just going through a dark streak right now. But I started The Girl Who Played With Fire and will probably be up late tonight reading.