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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Book Review

The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson
ISBN: 978-1-906694-15-9
Quercus Pub July 2009
Sam North

The 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 didn’t 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 doesn’t 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 innocence.

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 Lisbeth’s 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 turn up.

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 aren’t 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 prejucidical information.

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 doesn’t 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 Lisbeth’s 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 no pain.

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.

Blomkvist wants 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

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