I just finished The Girl Who Played With Fire, by Steig Larsson. It was a bit of a roller coaster ride of a read. For those of you familiar with the Millennium Trilogy, this probably comes as no surprise. I read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo nearly a year ago, but only just now got around to the second installment. Larsson had a talent for intrigue and suspense, and I liked GWDT very much. It was dark, gritty, shocking, and intense; parts literally made me feel sick, but I couldn’t put it down. I’d say that right there is proof positive of great writing.
Larsson’s second novel starring Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist fully benefits from the excellence of the first novel. (Read: Rides on its coat-tails.) This novel does not exactly jump out of the starting gate. We instead join Lisbeth on her travels around the world, during with time she gets a boob job, picks up an underage lover, and leisurely spends the billions of dollars she absconded with in the previous novel. Call me demanding, but I want some action. When it finally comes, it’s a hurricane and an odd scene that seems entirely unconnected to the rest of the novel. Did I miss something? Will these characters matter in the third novel? As far as I can tell at the moment, they were essentially the Nikki and Paolo (LOST’s most random introduce-them-then-kill-them side story EVER) of this novel.
Anyway, this whole first section of the novel was flat-out boring to me. It felt like Larsson was writing random adventures for Lisbeth until he could come up with a real storyline. Also, there’s math. Lots of math. Math that makes no sense to me, and sort of pisses me off. Apparently, the reader is supposed to be impressed with Lisbeth smart, quirky brain that puts all those stuffy mathematicians in their place. I, however, am less than pleased. I do not want to spend every other chapter reading about quantum physics and theoretical mathematics. If I am to be forced into reading that, I want a damn answer key with some explanations in the back of the book.
Honestly, these two traits were strikes one and two for this book, in my opinion. It was mainly because I liked the first book so much that I persevered with this one. I will say that things got more interesting once the narrative moved back to Sweden. The crusading journalists at Millenium have a mission, and I have to say Larsson has got me caring more about these characters than I do about boring old Lisbeth at this point.
Once the mystery kicks off – a triple murder in which Lisbeth is the prime suspect – the story hits its stride. Larsson’s work is brilliantly complex, and there were two times when I was positive I’d figured it out, only to have him crush my theories mere pages later. This is not to say that I loved it unreservedly from there on out. First, I just have to say, I really hate it when authors tell you a woman is pregnant, then kill her moments later. It feels like a ploy to wring emotion out of the reader. Second, I couldn’t stand one of the police officers (take a wild guess which one) and really just wanted him to go drive his misogynistic self off a cliff. Then, when he did decide to check out of the story, I thought it was a bit of a cop out. I wanted some damn answers, and my suspicions are not allayed. Third, if all these people believe in Lisbeth, why don’t they do something rational, like TEAM UP? I get that they’re all doing their own investigations, they have different agendas, blah blah blah, but really. To use a phrase from character Erica Berger, these guys need to stop being “macho cowboys” and just work together already. Finally, the villain’s condition seemed a little James Bond-esque. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t like when a man conveniently happens to not feel pain.
As I said, the unraveling of the mystery was by far the best part of the book. Things also looked up when Boring Lisbeth stepped aside and Badass Lisbeth took the stage again. Now, I am trying to dance around the major plot points and not give spoilers (this book would be boring through and through if you knew everything going into it). So let me just say this: I don’t buy the ending. I’m going to read the final book in the trilogy, but with some reservations. I want some solid groundwork laid for any plot twists or assertions that are made. I want some rational action from the main characters. And, more than anything else, I want the sense of speeding out of control through the dark that made Girl With the Dragon Tattoo so great.