Stieg Larsson, the late Swedish journalist and author, completed three thriller/mystery manuscripts before he died unexpectedly at age 50 in 2004: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest. Together, they form The Millenium Trilogy. As soon as I completed The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I set it down on the couch, got in the car, and immediately took off to get the second book in the trilogy. (The third is not expected to be published until 2010.)
Before starting the review I should note that while the second book can stand alone, you will not understand the characters as well if you don’t start with the first book. I recommend doing so; the first book is very good, and the second book is even better.
Two characters dominate this story. One is Lisbeth Salander, a traumatized 4’11” ninety-pound 24-year-old with a photographic memory and excellent research skills who can take on anybody and come out ahead. The other is Mikael Blomkvist, a doggedly-naive 44-year-old crusading “do-gooder” journalist who publishes the magazine Millenium, specializing in investigative journalism. Blomkvist thinks he can meet injustice head-on through exposés and make a difference in the world. Mikael and Lisbeth became friends in the first book, but suddenly Lisbeth pulls away from him, and Blomkvist can’t figure out why. Yet their lives continue to be entwined.
Early in the second book, two of Mikael’s reporters are executed right before they break a story on the sex trade. Salander’s prints are found on the gun, and she becomes the focus of a national manhunt. Larsson clearly has little sympathy for the sensationalism employed by the press in these instances, and skewers it mercilessly. He also excoriates corruption in public officials – including police – especially those who collude with the sex trade.
Through all the hullabaloo, Salander calmly goes about her business, eating frozen pizzas and working on solving the murders (as well as the mathematical enigma “Fermat’s Last Theorem”) on her own. (Some of the characters speculate that Salander has Asperger’s Syndrome.) She refuses to contact Blomkvist, but he finds a way to communicate with her and convey his belief in her innocence.
Blomkvist, Salander, the police, and Salander’s former employer all work to find out who has committed the murders. As they race to do so, the murderers race to find them first.
Evaluation: This book is much more of a nail-biter than the first of the trilogy. And the marvelous character of Lisbeth is expanded to take over the story. She is punky and spunky and smart and unforgettable. With her thorns always bared to protect her vulnerable core, she will remind you of the rose in Antoine de Saint Exupery’s The Little Prince. And Blomkvist, determined to protect her from wolves in sheeps’ clothing, is her would-be Prince.
I have really enjoyed book 1 and 2 of this series, but Larsson does have a Quentin-Tarintino-like attitude toward violence, and you must be able to endure some graphic passages involving abuse of women. But it’s darn good writing!
Published in the U.S. by Alfred A. Knopf, 2009