Flickan som lekte med elden (The Girl Who Played with Fire) – Stieg Larsson

I read this novel in the original Swedish.

The sequel to Män som hatar kvinnor (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) has a slow start. At the newspaper Millenium, new collaborator Dag Svensson is preparing a big exposé on trafficking. A number of policemen, judges and other prominent individuals will be named as having had liaisons with underaged sex slaves. Out of the blue, Dag and his domestic partner are brutally murdered. Lisbeth Salander’s legal guardian (she is declared incompetent) and torturer from the first book is also murdered with the same gun. Lisbeth Salander has just returned to Sweden and, through a series of unfortunate coincidences, finds herself wanted for the murders. The story then follows the police investigation as well as the actions of Lisbeth and journalist Michael Blomkvist. There is a lot of deep diving into Lisbeth’s mysterious background.

While Män som hatar kvinnor (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) was a relatively self-contained story, this one is much more wide ranging. The ending does not neatly tie up all loose ends, but distinctly leads into the next novel. The excuisitely crafted character of Lisbeth Salander is further explored, and while Blomkvist was the focus in the first novel, she is very clearly the center of this one. One of the more prominent themes is how society dismisses and discriminates against people with alternative lifestyles. Several of the policemen are extremely resistant to taking Lisbeth (allegedly a bisexual) and Miriam Wu (an ostentatiously lesbian artist) seriously, especially since they are into fem-rock of the darker variety with alleged satanist influences. The mainstream press is no better than the police, feeding the masses with shock headlines instead of reporting the facts. An interesting indictment of the mainstream which rings very true.

I enjoyed this novel almost as much as the first one. The second half is a real page turner. However the story feels a bit more contrived and there is a lack of focus in the first half. A lot of setup, if you will. Still, even if it didn’t satisfy as much as the first one it is very good stuff.

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