Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Girl Who Played with Fire, Stieg Larsson

I was really eager to start this book, and even more eager to finish it. I had high hopes for this book, having read the first novel in the Millennium Series (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) by Stieg Larsson, and enjoying it so much.

That said, this book was a huge disappointment. I’m going to review it based on the premise that most readers will have read the first book like I did before taking up this sequel. What worked so well for the first were the two fascinating characters of Mikael Blomquist and Lisbeth Salander. They were unusual on their own but as they worked together to solve a mystery they became intriguing. They solved a complicated problem using common sense, detective skills, some computer hacking, and hard work. While there was a large cast of assorted lesser characters, it was a great read.

The problem with the sequel is that Mikael is virtually non-existent. He shows up here and there with a role verging on incidental. Rather the focus is on Lisbeth, and while that might have been interesting to see how she’s grown and what she’s overcome, it never gets to that. It discusses her newfound wealth (shopping spree at IKEA, new boobs) and what she does for a few days. But it never gets into what makes up her personality and why she behaves as she does. Sure, there’s the big mystery of “All the Evil”, but it’s foreshadowed so much in the first ¾ of the book that once you found out you really aren’t interested anymore. Further revelations about her were also unsurprising.

Besides Lisbeth, there’s an enormous amount of new characters as well as repeats from the previous book. It seems most of the characters are either very, very good or very, very bad. Not much of a middle ground and none of them become fleshed out enough to seem real. Some were dumbed down caricatures (i.e. the sexist cop, the introspective and troubled captain, the good hearted and selfless female detective, the bumbling and fame hungry prosecutor). And the mystery that unfolds has so many subplots that it seems like an especially complex Venn diagram that becomes ridiculous and unbelievable after awhile. The new characters are intertwined in such a complicated way that normally I would have kept notes on who was who. But at that point, I really didn’t care anymore.

Another letdown was that none of the puzzles were solved by deduction and clever questions or even thinking outside of the box. Instead, Lisbeth basically hacks everyone else’s computer to view their research. And there is not a single scene where Mikael and Lisbeth interact, so the partnership that was so enthralling before doesn’t exist anymore.

In the first book, everything seemed clever. But in this, simple mistakes are made that seem jarring: Lisbeth’s leaving the keys with Mikael, the police not interviewing Palmgren, etc. Essentially every twist could be predicted (when Lisbeth moves out of her apartment and Mimmi moves in? Anyone could see that coming). And while this may seem trivial, this book had no sense of place like the first. Sweden was as much a character as Mikael in the former, and descriptions of the land and people added depth and meat to the story.

All said, I’d wish I’d stopped after the first book. Just for reference, here is a photo of Kalle by Astrid Lindgren that is repeatedly referred to in the book (and that gets annoying too).

special thanks to Lauren Helman at Knopf for the Advance Review Copy


  1. I hate when I am super excited to read something and it turns out to be really crappy. good review.

  2. Yep, this was tough. I hope I didn't totally alienate my publishing source that sends me the review copies!