The second novel of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy manages to combine the wonderful pacing that made The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo such a compelling read with the back story of the trilogy’s most mysterious and intriguing character, Lisbeth Salander. The Girl Who Played with Fire, while almost a hundred pages longer than Stieg’s first novel, could go on for another hundred pages and it still wouldn’t lose the reader’s interest.
Picking up almost two years after The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo leaves off, Lisbeth Salander has cut ties with most of the people in her life but none more definitively than Mikael Blomkvist (with no explanation or good-bye, of course). Though Blomkvist is puzzled by her insistence on cutting contact, he and the Millennium staff have been busy in the wake of the Wennerström Affair.
A young journalist, Dag Svensson, has a book and several articles about sex trafficking in Sweden and he wants Millennium to publish them. The staff design a whole issue around the subject and intend to release the book simultaneously, following the same plan that mad the Wennerström Affair a tactical success. Their plans come to an unexpected halt when Svensson and his longtime girlfriend are murdered weeks before the intended release and only days before the deadlines for going to print. The Millennium staff are devastated by the loss but Blomkvist is shocked when the police begin searching for Lisbeth Salander as a suspect in the murders.
The novel can be broken pretty well into three sections. The first third of the book builds up to the murders, the second deals with the immediate investigation and the explosion the search for Salander causes in the media, and the third dealing with the pieces of the puzzle falling together and what little resolution the novel allows (unlike The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, this novel ends quite abruptly and with the clear intention of there being another book to come). Each section has its own pacing.
The second section can drag a little but it’s clearly designed to be that way. The absence of Lisbeth Salander and her unique way of viewing the world screams at the reader. Almost all of the section is about her but she only makes a handful of sort-of appearances. It’s amazing to me how well the book works with Blomkvist and Salander spending so much of the novel not only apart, but not even speaking to one another. To keep the plot that coherent and cohesive takes great skill.
The most satisfying aspect of The Girl Who Played with Fire is the answers to some of the bigger holes in Lisbeth Salander’s background. Flashbacks in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo are fleshed out. Characters from her past return with a vengeance (however short-lived it may be) and others that we only got a small glimpse of in the first novel become characters in their own right.
Once again, Reg Keeland has done a fantastic job with the translation from the original Swedish. I’m both looking forward to and dreading reading the final novel in the trilogy because it is the last with no hope of more. I can only do my best to savor it when I get there. And the next time, I’m definitely going to print off a map of Sweden so I can get a better grasp of the geography. There was a lot more traveling in The Girl Who Played with Fire and based on how it ended, I’m guessing the final installment will have at least as much.