International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Book Review
Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson
Quercus Pub July 2009
late Stieg Larsson took quite a few risks with his books. Not for
him formulas or stock characters or even a standard beginning middle
and end. I should think Girl with a Dragon Tattoo broke every
literary rule. For a start his hero was the indecisive crusading
tenacious journalist Mikeal Blomkvist and the girl in question didnt
appear for around 200 pages. When she did appear it electrified
the novel and what she did was often shocking, certainly morally
questionable, but always for the right motives in a particularly
nasty situation. It was utterly compelling.
Never had a sociopath seemed so sexy. Petite, brave and abused,
a heroine for our times I suppose.
The Girl Who
Played with Fire takes an opposite approach. He gives the girl,
Lisbeth Salander full reign for 200 pages, graphically detailing her
life as she experiences a year of leisure with her stolen millions.
Sex with a teenage geek in Grenada for example, intervening in a potential
murder during a hurricane there, or enjoying an intense lesbian encounter
with Miriam Wu who she is so enamoured with, she lets her become a part
owner in her Stockholm apartment. Lisbeth is quirky; she buys a huge
new apartment in the best part of the city but doesnt care to
furnish much, her tastes running mainly to IKEA products. She has high
but eccentric morals. We also know that she visited an investigative
journalist who was going to expose the sex traffic trade in Sweden in
Blomkvist's Millennium Magazine along with his PhD girlfriend,
just moments before they were both brutally murdered.
She then vanishes. One feels betrayed. She doesn't even protest her
Now we almost start a completely new novel. Larsson takes great pains
to introduce us to the police team led by Bublanski, investigating the
murders and that of Lisbeths legal guardian. All murdered with
the same gun that has her prints on it and carelessly left at the scene.
The police are convinced of her guilt. At every turn she is the link
and if they don't know her motives they are absolutely sure one will
We read the psychiatric report that exposes Lisbeth as a psychotic lesbian
and violent whore who is mentally incapable of looking after herself.
The police arent looking for anyone else in connection with the
murders. The media have a field day searching for the Lesbian Satnist
Killer. They also have an insider within the police team who is leaking
Mikael Blomkvist, her former lover, is stunned. Did she do it? Why isn't
Lisbeth speaking to him or contacting him? He has no idea why she walked
out of his life or spurns his calls and emails. He knows what violence
she is capable of, but he doesnt believe the evidence against
her, though very strong. He
begins an investigation to uncover the real murderers, puzzled he can't
find any connection between the murdered journalist and Lisbeth, not
realising till too late that she is reading his all his emails.
However, the police team up with Lisbeths former employers to
catch her, believing she is a real danger to society. Eventually some
doubts and cracks in their theory begin to appear and the police team
begin to fight each other. The portrait of the Swedish cops complete
with their prejudices against women, whores and satanic lesbians is
perfectly rendered. Lisbeth remains an enigma to all however and stays
disappeared, despite her image being on every newspaper and TV screen.
This is a girl hunt with a vengeance and Larsson takes us into every
detail of her lifeand it is astonishing just how many people hate her
(the evil psychiatrist Dr Teleborian who wants her sectioned forever)
and equally amazing as to who likes her and seek to help, such as a
famous boxer who risks everything in a battle with a giant who feels
There are many influential
Scandanavian crime writers who have come to dominate the crime scene,
so to speak. There is something about this region that invites intense,
often violent murders. Yet to meet Swedes or Finns one would think they
are passionless. Arrive in Sweden or Finland on a weekend however and
you will discover an alchoholic fueled demonic persuit of pleasure and
Larsson taps into this vein with skill and surgical precision.
Is his fiction
influenced by American culture? Clearly. But equally the Russian stench
of corruption that has infected Estonia and all points beyond is there
too. The law is a very thin veneer that holds everything together, but
only just. Lisbeth Salander has been betrayed by everyone ever sent
to care for her. She knows the weakest thing she could ever do is feel
love for anyone. She hurts everyone she cares for and all she tries
to do is the exact opposite. Miriam Wu's life is probably in ruins from
a simple act of kindness. She tried to protect her mother and ended
up strapped to a bed and tortured by psychiatrists for two years.
to understand. He wants to help. She makes him work for it. She is still
punishing him for making her feel something.
We get to know all these disparate people in incredible intimate detail
and the pace of the investigation by all parties is relentless, the
stress and tension it arouses in just reading it is unbearable. You
just cannot put this book down and it grips you to the very last bloody
line. This is why it is a best seller. This is why Scandanavians are
masters of the crime novel. It's all in the details.
Astonishing. Roll on book three.
© Sam North July 2009
Sam North is the author of Another
Place to Die on the global flu pandemic and editor of hackwriters.com