The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson and Reg Keeland (translator)

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The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson and Reg Keeland (translator)
Buy The Girl Who Played With Fire from Amazon.co.uk

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Genre: Crime
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Paul Curd
Reviewed by Paul Curd
Summary: A triple murder is committed in Stockholm and a legally incompetent young woman with a documented history of violence and mental illness is the chief suspect. Even she does not consider herself to be innocent, but one man does and he sets off on a race to uncover the truth before the cops and an equally determined gang of violent men close in on her. Another atmospheric and enthralling crime novel from the late Stieg Larsson. Recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 572 Date: January 2009
Publisher: Maclehose Press
ISBN: 978-1847245564

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Lisbeth Salander, the character who played second fiddle in the first of Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy, takes centre stage as the eponymous heroine in The Girl Who Played with Fire. Salander is an expert computer hacker. She is also legally incompetent, a vulnerable young person with a history of being abused by men in positions of power over her. But towards the end of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first novel in this series, she secretly stole several billion kronor and the second novel opens with her having left her job at Milton Security and enjoying a globetrotting life of luxury.

Meanwhile, Mikael Blomkvist, the hero of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is now a celebrity journalist. His magazine, Millennium, is about to publish a special edition devoted entirely to cracking open Sweden's sex-trafficking industry. The magazine and an associated book, to be published at the same time, will expose the corruption and double standards within a legal system that is meant to be tackling the problem. But before his colleagues can complete their investigations, Blomkvist stumbles upon the scene of a terrible double murder. At first, Blomkvist himself is a suspect, but soon the fingerprints found on the murder weapon point to Salander, Blomkvist's one-time friend and lover. The discovery of a third murder victim with close links to Salander seems to seal her guilt.

This is the point where the novel really takes off. While always very readable, I found the early chapters a little too full of explication for a book of this nature. Partly, I am sure, this is due to the necessity of bringing new readers up to speed with who the characters are and what happened to them in the earlier book. Partly, I suspect, there is an element of setting up the plot for the third novel in the trilogy (I may be wrong – but why else spend so much time with Salander in the Caribbean, introducing a cast of interesting characters we never hear from again in this book?). Once the murders are committed, though, and Salander becomes Sweden's Most Wanted, the pace is really ratcheted up. Did Salander kill one or more of these people? Blomkvist believes she is innocent, and that the murders have something to do with the Millennium investigation. But the deeper he digs, the less clear it all becomes. And the more dangerous. A gang of ruthless, violent men want her dead and they are closing in on her. In the end, it becomes a race against time to save Salander.

Meanwhile, the official investigation into the murders is being carried out by a satisfyingly familiar group of police officers and a media-friendly careerist prosecutor. It is so hard to avoid the usual clichés when it comes to cops that Larsson seems not to have bothered trying. The police team is led by Inspector Bublanski, a kind of sanitised Martin Beck/Kurt Wallander figure. His most trusted colleague is a female officer who has a running battle with the least-trusted member of the team, the misogynistic Hans Faste. There is also (least convincingly) a secondee from Milton Security with a serious grudge against Salander. These characters are probably less rounded than others in the book, but the author may have decided the development of new characters at this point of the novel would slow the pace – what we need is a simple group of ciphers, and that is exactly what we get. The curious thing is that it all works so well.

While I'm on the subject of curious things, I fear I must mention Reg Keeland's translation. While I found it less jarring than his translation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, there were nevertheless some uncomfortable moments. I can understand that certain Swedish idioms may not have English equivalents, but it really is unforgivable to mistranslate the Swedish translation of a Sherlock Holmes quote (on page 251) so that a 'curious incident' becomes a 'strange thing'!

That aside, this really is a rattling good yarn. There was a lot of publicity about the fact that Stieg Larsson died shortly after delivering his Millennium trilogy to his publisher, and the first book in the series was described in some quarters as a masterpiece of crime writing. Just like the first book in the trilogy, The Girl Who Played with Fire is very long at well over 500 pages, but I found this second instalment an even better read than the first. Once I got past the early explicatory chapters I just had to keep reading – to resort to the cliché, I honestly could not put this book down. There should be a health warning attached to it: don't start reading this too late in the day, or (like me) you will miss an entire night's sleep reading to the gripping, shocking, twisting end.

Recommended.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first in the Millennium trilogy. Nemesis by Jo Nesbø is part of a Norwegian crime trilogy with a less jarring English translation. If you want definitive Swedish crime, though, then try anything by Henning Mankell.

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