Maclehouse Press, an imprint of Quercus Books, January 2009, ISBN 9781847245564, £16.99
The second in Larrson's Millennium trilogy, The Girl Who Played With Fire has quite a legacy to live up to. The first in the series sold 3 million copies, garnering a huge amount of attention from both critics and readers.
It is clear from the start that the trilogy has been carefully planned by author Larrson, with plot strands from the first book being swiftly picked up as the narrative thunders along. Its a nice change from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo which started a little too slowly for this reviewer's tastes, and shows a confidence in the reader that they will be able to cotton on to what has happened before. In a case like this, then, if you haven't read the first novel it will be best to go and play catch up.
The focus here is clearly on the fascinating Lisbeth Salander; the standout character from Larrson's debut novel. A highly introverted mix of control and anger, Salander is a beautiful excercise in contradiction. At one point, a character claims he would have diagnosed her with Aspergers, but that her condition is far more complicated than even that. And while the events of The Girl Who Played With Fire - a title that eventually proves to have at least two meanings in the course of the narrative - may go some way to explaning who she is and how her mind works, there is still a great deal about her that goes unexplained and that is what adds to the intrigue and mystery here.
Larrson is extremely adept at mixing the personal and the political in his complex and winding plot; something that was a little off kilter in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which occasionally leant more towards the political polemic than the personal. Here the mix is just right, and Salander is the perfect vehicle for what is clearly Larsson's righteous anger at the evils of the world. The original Swedish title for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo apparently translated as Men Who Hate Women, a title that could just as easily apply here. Indeed, Larsson's anger at the way society and individuals can treat people burns through the narrative with a righteous indignation, although it does not mean that he shies away from the evil that people may do. No, he often confronts it painfully and directly. And most appealingly he does so without relying too heavily on the bogey-men psychopaths that many thriller writers opt to stand in for evil. Of course, one character who appears to feel no pain comes close, but manages to stay on just the right side of believable.
While Larsson's political and social motivations are worn on his sleeve, he has learned not to let them overshadow the emotional impact of his second novel. It is rare that a novel has me shouting out in anger at characters or situations, but as this one raced (and for such a large novel, with such complex themes, this one moves with incredible pace) towards its climax, there were several moments that had me reading with jaw dropped.
The Girl Who Played With Fire is an excellent second act in what could prove to be a long talked about classic sequence of the thriller genre. With genuine concerns driving the narrative and a showpiece character in the form of the fascinating Lisbeth Salander, the Millennium Trilogy is shaping up to be an exciting and literate series that should excite and incite readers in equal measure.
Russel D McLean for CrimeSceneScotland.com, 05/01/09