Title: The Girl Who Played with Fire
Author: Stieg Larsson
Summary: Mikael Blomkvist, crusading publisher of the magazine Millennium, has decided to run a story that will expose an extensive sex trafficking operation. On the eve of its publication, the two reporters responsible for the article are murdered, and the fingerprints found on the murder weapon belong to his friend, the troubled genius hacker Lisbeth Salander. Blomkvist, convinced of Salander’s innocence, plunges into an investigation. Meanwhile, Salander herself is drawn into a murderous game of cat and mouse, which forces her to face her dark past.
Here’s the thing about Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy – the characters are well-formed and the plots are engaging and suspenseful, but the execution is terrible. I stated in my video for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo that Larsson’s writing was unnecessarily specific, something which not only completely grated my nerves but also forced me out of the story (if just to form a “UGH. WTF.” reaction). In writing The Girl Who Played with Fire, however, Larsson either stopped with the incessant descriptions or else I stopped noticing – because, again, engaging and suspenseful plot. Does this mean Larsson got better at writing? That someone like an editor stepped in and said, “Hey, you kind of need to stop”? Did he just overly explain everything he needed to (overly) explain in The Girl Who Played with Fire?
I don’t know – and, frankly, don’t really care. To me, the Millennium trilogy is a great, fun three-part read but not necessarily something I’m going to love years down the road or even re-visit. I’ve seen the Swedish adaptation of the trilogy – so I totally knew what was really happening or going to happen, both within one book but also throughout the series – but I was still so unbelievably engrossed in the novel’s plot and read the last fourth or so in one sitting. Even if Larsson has his quirks, there’s something to be said for nail-biting suspense and engaged reading. It’s very hard to go into a horror flick or thriller knowing where the scares or adrenaline-pumping sequences are going to be and STILL jump out of your seat or have your heart race. That takes considerable talent – and, as I keep mentioning, Larsson has that talent – I just wish he could have perfected it a bit before he passed away.
All in all, The Girl Who Played with Fire is a fantastic example of a psychological suspense-thriller (with some good old mystery thrown in). As much as I complain, it has way less annoying quirks than The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and, in effect, you can read the former without reading the latter, but I would highly recommend you don’t. You learn things in Millennium’s first installment that you’re expected to know in its second, and, like J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Larsson’s books (including the trilogy’s conclusion, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest) are stand-alone stories but fit snugly within a larger narrative, exploring the lives and relationships of the same characters over multiple years. The Girl Who Played with Fire is worth a looksie – but remember to do your homework.