The Girl Who Played With Fire – Novel Review
By Chris Kromphardt
Staff Writer, Justice Administrator
Meatballs. That Muppet chef. Fish. With these pedestrian things dominating most Americans’ perceptions of all things Swedish, you probably wouldn’t expect their crime fiction to be badass. But it is.
The Girl Who Played With Fire is the second book in the Millennium trilogy written by the late Stieg Larsson. Larsson, a former journalist, had originally planned for the series to be up to 10 books, but his death in 2004 cut short those ambitious plans. However, the three books he did complete have gone on to sell more than 40 million copies worldwide.
But why should American audiences care about any of this? We’re notorious with the rest of the world for our insularity—“here, watch our Avatar, but, what’s that in your film? Subtitles? No, thank you”—and things often have to be repackaged to meet our sheltered needs if we’re going to pay attention to them (see: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone). But I digress.
The reasons why Americans need to get on the Millenium train is that these are smart, action-packed books—and there may be a movie coming. Directed by David Fincher. With Brad Pitt rumored to play the lead male protagonist. As if those two pairing up again wasn’t enough, the part of the other lead protagonist, hell-on-wheels asocial hacker Lisbeth Salander—one of the most compelling deviants this side of Heath Ledger’s Joker—is up for grabs among actresses from Carey Mulligan to Natalie Portman to Kristen Stewart.
So what’s the book even about? Well, a lot. Fire weighs in at 630 pages, and a large part of the first two books is dedicated to getting all of the players in order. Larsson likes to be sure his powderkeg is well-prepared before he lights it, and although it might be a bit frustrating for impatient readers getting to that point, the action and the revelations when they come are as satisfying as any thriller I’ve ever read. And because Larsson shifts the narrative’s perspective regularly—sometimes it’s Salander, sometimes it’s people talking about or searching for Salander, which gets really interesting when she’s implicated in a triple homicide—the reader enjoys a meaty understanding of what all is going on.
Additionally, Fire’s themes revolve around everything from bureaucratic corruption to family rivalries to sex trafficking to the cold war. Given this range of subject matter, it’s not surprising that so many people have found something they like in these books.
It should be said though, that these books aren’t for everyone. While their cultural affinity is closest in my opinion with the Harry Potter books—international appeal, layered timeline-driven narrative, startling reveals that resonate across volumes—the Millennium trilogy is very much for those readers who are at least in high school. Fire deals with heady topics like torture, and characters’ perspectives lean from chauvinistic to indifferent. Larsson has created a morally-charged universe, and questions about right and wrong don’t always come easily. You’ve been forewarned.
The Girl Who Played With Fire is almost as good as its absolutely brilliant predecessor, but sometimes Larsson’s slow-boil storytelling method could use a bit more heat. But, once the story gets going, you’ll never look back, hurtling toward Fire’s resolution, and May 25, when The Girl Who Shook a Hornet’s Nest, the final book, is released in hardcover.