Title: The Girl Who Played With Fire
Author: Stieg Larsson
Publisher: Maclehose Press 
The Girl Who Played With Fire starts about a year after the events in the first book in the series. Lisbeth Salandar has cut off all contact from Mikael Blomkvist for reasons he cannot fathom. While she travels the world Mikael faithfully but fruitlessly visits her apartment regularly and, at the same time, becomes something of a celebrity as everyone wants to interview him about the explosive events known as the Wennerstrom affair. As Mikael becomes somewhat jaded by the attention he’s asked to consider a proposition from a young journalist: publish a well-researched book about the awful trade in the trafficking of teenage girls into the country. The journalist is prepared to name names of powerful people in Sweden but before the book can be published events take a dramatic turn.
Larsson is a first rate story teller. He spins a page-turning, edge-of-your-seat yarn and has, if anything improved since The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (his first book in this series which was no slouch in the great story stakes). In this outing there are still multiple threads but he seems to have a better handle on them all and he connects them better than in the first book. There are, again, stories within a story, but they’re satisfyingly resolved and don’t detract from the overall novel even when they have little to do with the main events (such as Lisbeth’s adventure on the night a tornado levels a tropical island at the beginning of the book). The best thing of all is that he doesn’t take the predictable course of action and for that I, as a reader, am eternally grateful.
However, no matter how good the stories, I’ll always remember this series for the characters. Lisbeth Salandar again features as the troubled young woman with disconcerting, sometimes downright abnormal, social skills. She’s also intelligent, determined and highly moral. She’s quite unforgettable. But the other characters too are well depicted. It doesn’t matter if they’ve a bit part to play or a starring role, whether they’re bad guys or good they are believable and complex and rounded rather than the caricatures that appear in a lot of fiction.
Importantly, for me anyway, Larsson has a much better control of his social conscience in this book. My only big criticism of the first book was that he stepped outside the narrative more than once to lecture readers about his undoubtedly important message. Here though that message is in some ways stronger it is far more delicately incorporated into the story and, consequently, packs a more powerful punch. I have no objection to an author with a message, especially not one as close to home as the ongoing mistreatment of women across the world is to me, but I hate being badly preached at in my fiction.
I’m glad I read the book with as little expectation as I could achieve by not reading reviews or any of the chat that’s been clogging up the corner of the internet where I hang out. I started the book with a tingly anticipation of re-visiting characters I’d enjoyed but no more than that and was able to dive right into the book and appreciate it on whatever merits I could find. For the record I don’t think it’s perfect. The first 100-150 pages could easily have been more tightly edited for example. But I don’t care. I love it despite, or perhaps because of, its flaws. As I raced towards the end I started experiencing that internal conundrum where you want to keep reading because you have to know what happens but you don’t want to finish because you don’t want to say goodbye. I am quite inconsolable that I have to wait 12 months for book three in the series.
My rating 5/5 (second one for the year and it’s only January)