The first book in Stieg Larsson’s trilogy centering on Lisbeth Salander, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” was slow and often clumsily written. This second installment “The Girl Who Played with Fire” is much, much better.
Let me add quickly that, like “Tattoo,” this books starts off very slowly. In fact, at page 130 or so, I was getting fed up with the many detailed lists of purchases that Salander was making. As if I needed to know that, on one shopping trip, she bought a mop, a vacuum cleaner and a giant package of toilet paper.
But, then, on page 141, things started to happen. And kept right on happening to the very last page (unlike “Tattoo” which took about 100 pages to very slowly tie up loose ends).
Not only was there a lot of action in the final nearly 500 pages of “Fire,” but two really interesting characters were introduced — one, a creepy bad guy, a blond giant with muscles upon muscles and an insensitivity to pain; the other, a personable good guy, Paolo Roberto, a former prize-fighter, who has humor, loyalty and good will, something that many of the people throughout Salander’s life have lacked.
Salander is even more Salander in this book. And that’s a very good thing for the reader.
She is odd and complex and compellingly so. And violent. Let’s not forget that.
One or two degrees more off kilter, and she’d be a monster or caricature. There are gaps in her emotional makeup, and she had a difficult time understanding normal social interaction. But she’s a survivor. Plucky, in a dangerous sort of way.
At least, dangerous to those who harm or threaten to harm her.
Now, I’m looking forward to getting into the third book. I suspect that we haven’t heard the last of the blond giant and his evil boss.
And I want to know what Lisbeth will do next.
Patrick T. Reardon