The Girl Who Played With Fire, part two of the Millennium trilogy has, in common with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a bewildering array of secondary characters. In my review of that book I praised the strength of the characterisation of Lisbeth Salander. But by the end of book two, the once vulnerable (and compelling) Salander has turned into a creature resembling a cyborg – with superhuman strengths and an IQ capable of solving Fermat’s Last Theorem. As one commentator puts it on www.stieglarsson.com, “Larsson could have unwittingly done (Salander) a disservice by making her almost invincible, which makes readers unable to relate to her in the end.”
Stieg Larsson was a flawed genius. Sometimes he goes off on a tangent and perhaps the biggest tangent of all in this book is Lisbeth’s idea of light reading – the invented non-fiction book, Dimensions in Mathematics. Larsson got away with it as this is the middle book of the series and if, like me, all you want to find out about is what happens to Salander, you can easily skip it. I can just imagine what would have happened to this manuscript if the maths bit had been in the first book; ending up in the agent’s slush pile faster than you could say, “next.” But I admire Larsson for including it – the only way you learn as a novelist (or in any other profession for matter) is to try out what works and what doesn’t and it would be a dull old world if we played it safe all the time.
Instead of restricting the points of view to just Salander and Blomkvist, as he does in the first, Larsson can’t resist getting into the minds of a number of the villains – although in one particular case, it’s a waste of time as there doesn’t seem to be much going on in the head of one of them who comes across more like a cartoon villain than a real person.
The strength of the second book was the tight plotting and the way that everything planted at the beginning paid off in the end. That is, no doubt to Larsson’s journalistic training and is a good lesson for anyone in the process of writing a book series. He wrote a detailed synopsis of all of these books before he began to write so would have worked out what happened when and in which book, in the same way that a complicated plot of a TV series is storylined.
Despite the flaws, it was the twists and turns that had me sucked in and I read the last 200 pages almost in one sitting. Yet again, Larsson delivers.