The Girl Who Played With Fire – Stieg Larsson
This is the sequel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a thriller I really enjoyed. The protagonists of the first book, computer genius Lisbeth Salander and journalist Mikhail Blomkvist, are living separate lives since the events of the first book, when Blomkvist’s life starts getting interesting again as he starts working with another journalist investigating sex trafficking. From there, events lead to murder, mystery, conspiracy, and revelations about Salander’s past.
For the most part, I really didn’t like this book as much as the first one. The style of the prose in both books is almost exactly the same – simple, straightforward, not very lively, creating images of dull, dark, cold environments. This wasn’t so bad in the first book, which had an interesting story with enough mystery and action to keep me reading; since this one doesn’t so much, the flaws with the prose are more noticeable.
The pacing of the story for the first two acts is very slow – the blurb makes a reference to Salander being wanted for murder, but said murder doesn’t actually happen until a third of the way through this 600+ page book. The ensuing mystery and investigation that make up the second act just aren’t terribly compelling. Granted, in the third act, things really pick up, with more action and revelations and a faster pace, which got me reading a lot faster and more enthusiastically – but it’s a long slog to get there. And there are some little disappointments there too: some of the secrets about Lisbeth’s past feel a bit anticlimactic given all the build-up, but maybe that’s just the way they were delivered.
The characters aren’t that great, either. Having already met Lisbeth Salander in the first book, the novelty of her behavioural peculiarities had worn off and she didn’t interest me as much, except when she was doing extreme things again like interrogating a man. We get plenty of new characters connected to the police investigation and Millennium magazine, but they’re mostly so one-note and uninteresting that they just blend together. One of the few new characters who really has potential is the villainous blonde giant whose name isn’t revealed until towards the end; he certainly stands out in both his appearance and his actions, but he’s still flawed in terms of character creation. On the one hand, he’s an experienced, effective criminal; on the other, he doesn’t like the dark and sometimes imagines things that aren’t there – there’s no real effort to make these different elements of his mind come together smoothly; it just feels like they were thrown together.
So ultimately, I wish The Girl Who Played With Fire had displayed the tone of its third act all the way through. But since it ends with…well, not really a cliffhanger, more an unresolved situation without enough tension to be called a cliffhanger, I’ll probably still end up reading the third book at some point. Rating: 2.5/5.