Saturday, 21 August 2010

A book a week in 2010: The Girl Who Played With Fire

'Gym? The Girl Who Played with Fire? Both?'

A pretty innocuous Facebook post. Or so I thought. But no. It sparked a massive debate between friends about Stieg Larsson's Millenium trilogy. I had no idea there was such divided opinion.

'Dull, no pacing, weird sexual stuff, badly written, badly translated, badly edited... Am I really the only one who thinks this?' said one friend. I just don't agree.

You may recall my earlier review of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I was ambivalent. I liked the atmosphere, but felt it took a while to build up the story and characters. Now, having read The Girl Who Played with Fire, I get the importance of the trilogy. And I could not put this book down.

The girl is restrained by leather straps on a bed. She's in a room. He visits her daily, trying to get a response. But she will not give him the satisfaction. This drives him mad. So each time he tightens the restraints.

The crusading business journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, has settled into running Millennium magazine with best friend Erika Berger and recently joined board member Harriet Vanger. The magazine has gone from strength to strength since the Wennerstrom affair: a massive expose of a business magnet in the magazine, also published in a best-selling book.

Their reputation attracts a talented journalist, Dag Svensson, and his girlfriend, the academic researcher Mia Johansson, who have an explosive new story they want Millennium to publish. The investigation into sex tafficking reaches into the very heart of the establishment.

Lisbeth Salandar was an investigative researcher who Blomkvist worked with closely on the Wennerstrom affair, but she suddenly broke off contact and disappeared about a year ago. Blomkvist knows that Salandar hates the establishment with a passion. But the brutal murder of three people, with only Salandar's prints linking the crimes, make those around him start to wonder just exactly how deep her hatred runs.

This is a gripping, taut thriller and a huge improvement on the first book, particularly as I was familiar with the characters. It's well written, compelling and cranks up the tension. There's a lot of bizarre sexual stuff in it, but it's central to the story and is balanced by plot, characters and dialogue.

Highly recommend, but you need to read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo first.

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