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"Salander alone against the world"
on January 25, 2009
In THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, the second volume in the late Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy, publisher Mikael Blomkvist and the police are conducting parallel investigations into three horrifying murders -- and their initial evidence points straight at young computer genius and social misfit Lisbeth Salander. Kalle Bastard Blomkvist (as Salander has begun referring to him) hasn't seen Salander in nearly two years, except for one night when he happened to witness a huge man attempting to kidnap her and both she and the attacker eluded him. He's bewildered about why she cut him off cold, but had accepted her decision -- until now. He doesn't believe Salander killed these victims. Well, at least not two of them. He has to contact her, find out how she's become embroiled in this, and help her. Salander, as usual, has her own ideas about who she'll see and when....
In THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, Larsson partnered Blomkvist and Salander as they unraveled a twisted tale of corporate greed, Fascist connections, and perverse sex and violence. FIRE highlights another subject on which Larsson wanted to shine light, namely the underbelly of the sex trade, a swill of human misery being forcibly imposed for money and simple loathing of women. Blomkvist's magazine, Millennium, plans an issue devoted to the subject based on the interviews and reporting of a criminologist and a journalist, and there follows much in-house discussion of the lurid material and how it should be presented to the public. But the three murders turn the magazine and its people on their heads.
Meanwhile, Salander travels, changes her appearance, and matures in the early chapters of the 569-page book that covers four months in total and is told in four parts. Among her pursuits: attempting to proof Fermat's Last Theorem in a way Fermat himself might have done, furnishing her new abode, and keeping tabs on Bjurman (whom, recall, she memorably tattooed in DRAGON). Then, she disappears for quite a spell as the murder investigation gets cranking, and finally, she regains the spotlight as the book rushes headlong into a heart-stopping denouement.
The last book in this series -- tentatively entitled THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNETS' NEST in its English translation -- is not scheduled for release until 2010. However, the entire trilogy has already been published in Swedish (naturally), French, and German. Larsson reportedly had planned a ten-volume series. He had written part of the fourth book and had outlined volumes five, six, and seven. Sadly, due to his early death, only the trilogy is complete and will, according to his father, be published. After reading FIRE, the thought creeps in that perhaps the trilogy will not provide closure, and that the reader could be left dangling, unsatisfied. That would be a crying shame because Salander and Blomkvist -- along with other continuing characters -- do burrow themselves deeply into the reader's (at least this reader's) affections. Fortunately, reviewers who have read, in the other aforementioned languages, the entire story arc, including the final novel, seem generally very satisfied. Some claim that the last book, also the longest, is a grand finale that answers all outstanding questions. A few are less effusive, stating that the last book can't meet the anticipatory heights set by the stunning, unusual first one.
This last criticism can be applied to the second book as well. FIRE does not pack quite the punch of uniqueness that DRAGON did. One can perhaps think of the movie trilogy THE MATRIX, MATRIX RELOADED, and THE MATRIX REVOLUTION as an analogy. The smash introductory film awed with its mind-bending perspective. The second and third passes were very solid, even amazing, partners, but they only reiterated the cutting-edge magic so novel in The MATRIX, building on it, not inventing something mind-blowingly fresh. Familiarity takes a bit of the bloom off the rose, but it certainly doesn't breed contempt in these instances. Larsson's FIRE lags a little during the mid-section in which criminal investigation procedure grinds along and the author belabors certain points, seeming to believe his readers novices at crime mysteries. But overall, FIRE accelerates the enthralling story of Lisbeth and Mikael with panache. One can't help thinking the world they inhabit is too slimy, too vicious, but Larsson was a man with many crusades and causes, and his trilogy vividly paints the harsh pictures of society that he hoped to reform. The Millennium Trilogy encompasses uncompromising social critique; prickling thrills; and curious, bittersweet romance. FIRE drew me like a moth, and I can't wait to get my hands on HORNET. 4.4 stars.