Friday, May 28, 2010

The Girl who Played with Fire

In the words of Randy Jackson from American Idol " Yo! Yo! Yo! Listen up y'all. Give it up for Lisbeth Salander". Those are the words that typically come to your mind as you read through the second edition of the Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy - The Girl who played with Fire.

Larsson tries to make this a stand alone book so that readers who have not read the first part can still enjoy the book. He takes his sweet time to re-establish the characters and give them some background. If you've read the first part it takes some patience to get through the first 215 pages of this book. You learn and re-learn some of the characters and get to know what has happened in their lives since the last one - mainly the two important ones, Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist. Both have gone their separate ways - Blomkvist with his publishing job & Salander with her millions that she's expertly siphoned off from Wenestrom.

The Girl who Played with Fire is at its core a prequel of who Salander is and why she is the way she is. Sex trade and the illegal smuggling of prostitutes from the erstwhile Russian states to Sweden and beyond forms the basis for the story. Millennium magazine is about to publish the works of the couple Dag Svensson & Mia Johansson. Mia is a doctorate student who has researched and written a thesis on the sex trade. Dag takes the thesis and develops it into a book that he wants Millennium to publish. Dag and Mia's research will clearly expose a whole slew of officials from the Swedish Police force to Security Police to Judges and the lot.

The book takes it regular explosive turn when Dag and Mia are brutally murdered in their apartment. The gun used for the killing is discovered with Lisbeth's fingerprints on it and she becomes the main suspect. But when a few days later the body of her guardian Nils Bjurman is also discovered murdered in a similar manner, Lisbeth Salander becomes the most wanted criminal across Sweden. Its easy to implicate her as well given her history of psychotic illness and documented declaration of incompetence by authorities. The book wanders through the next 150 pages as the police try to locate Lisbeth is what is an open-and-shut case. But we all know how difficult that would be.

When Lisbeth comes to the scene again, the books pace picks up considerably and becomes a page turner. But from here the book does become a bit predictable. Like every crime thriller there is a ghostly figure of a Godfather, in this case a figure called Zala that does not exist in any database but is feared by the sex trade punters and the exploited prostitutes as well. Then there is a 300-pound gorilla who is Zala's feet-on-the-street and who does not feel any pain. Larsson then takes the book on four parallel investigations - Lisbeth, who obviously wants to prove her innocence while running from the authorities; Mikael, who believes that Lisbeth is innocent and wants to find out who murdered his friends; Armansky, Lisbeth's employer who also believes in Lisbeth's innocence and of course the Police who want to apprehend Lisbeth and close the case. What the Police believe is a simple open-and-shut case becomes more and more complex as the investigation proceeds and the truth of Lisbeth emerges.

Larsson's writing is interesting as he moves from one investigation to another and links the story together. Unlike the first book, however, this one takes on a bit of liberty with the characters, especially that of Lisbeth. Larsson's inability seems to be to tie the climax together. If 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' had a climax that seemed to be hastily written, this book's climax almost makes Lisbeth superhuman. She takes a bullet to her shoulder and head, gets buried alive and still comes out to vanquish the villians. It is a bit too much to take and does come as a shocker. One wonders why Larsson needs to go into a super-hero mode for Lisbeth when he has already established her as an intelligent, smart thinking person. Then, of course, is the Star-Wars-Darth Vader-Luke Skywalker takeoff on Lisbeth and Zala.

The second edition does not tie in easily with the first one. Maybe that was the intent to make this a stand alone book while at the same time tenuously connected to the first one. Its a great crime thriller to read even if you haven't read the first one.

I rate it 4/5.

By now Lisbeth Salander is a spunky, small built, intelligent, psychotic, socially incompetent, computer hacker extraordinaire, super human heroine of the series. What is in store for Book 3?

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