I have to say I did not know much about the three books written by Stieg Larsson except that he died of a heart attack before they made it into print. I didn’t even know they were a trilogy, so I almost stopped reading The Girl Who Played with Fire when I discovered it was a continuation of the first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
I was intrigued, however, and it did not seem like knowledge of the first work was necessary to follow the story so I plunged ahead. As the story progresses, you do get enough information to understand the situation, although there are a few cryptic references to past events. Unlike the first work, which featured crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist as the main character, the second novel focuses on Lisbeth Salander, the tattooed, computer genius who saved his life and got revenge on a rapist in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Here, Lisbeth is the main character, a troubled, socially-challenged young woman who is linked by evidence to the murders of her legal guardian and two journalists who are about to publish a scandalous book about the Swedish sex trade. The police are convinced of her guilt after psychiatric reports emerge painting her as a violent, unstable woman, with links to Satanism, sadism, and psychotic behavior. As their investigation progresses, we learn more and more of Lisbeth’s backstory and the picture doesn’t look good.
The only person who is convinced of her innocence is Mikael Blomkvist, who has reason to believe that her moral code would not allow her to kill someone unless they truly deserved it. Since the authorities are unable to find her, Blomkvist races the investigators to locate her, encountering various “bad guys” in the process, including a giant thug who is incapable of experiencing pain. Suffice it to say that the conclusion of the investigation reveals all and gives shocking details about Lisbeth’s past life and helps to explain her unusual behavior.
Larsson was, of course, Swedish so much of the book is located in that country. Like American books, there are numerous off-hand references to geographic locations that Swedes would immediately know but English readers would be clueless about, but it doesn’t seem to be that much of a problem. I did find the names occasionally confusing and I was always getting the characters named Ekstrom, Sandstrom and Hedstrom confused.
Even so, The Girl Who Played with Fire was a good mystery with just enough edginess to raise it above the average murder who-dunnit and I will probably go on to read the third book. After learning what took place in the first story, however, I’m not sure I want to read the first.