Stieg Larsson gleaned a remarkable degree of success before his too-early death in 2004. He had delivered to his publisher three remarkable crime novels; the initial book in his ‘Millennium’ sequence, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, had enjoyed an unprecedented success in his native Sweden before the translation took the UK by storm. Larsson had made a considerable mark as a crusading journalist, with a speciality in tackling political extremist groups. But he offered assistance to many people and groups who he felt were vulnerable – something of a modern hero, in fact.
One of Larsson’s key achievements as a writer was to create an innovative kind of heroine for the crime novel. His unconventional sleuth, the highly intelligent computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, is a confrontational young woman, whose Goth accoutrements sometimes alienate those around her (except the individuals she opts to have sexual relations with – strictly, that is, according to the rules she lays down). In the second book in the Millennium sequence, The Girl Who Played with Fire (as in its its predecessor), Lisbeth’s closest ally is the older journalist Mikael Blomqvist, even though she has abruptly ended her emotional relationship with him. Lisbeth has left all she knows behinds her and has begun a relationship with a gauche young lover. But after a grim revenge run-in with a man who has abused her, she becomes a suspect in three murders, and is the subject of a nationwide search. Blomqvist, however, is convinced of her innocence (he has just been responsible for a blistering report on the sex trafficking industry in Sweden), and is determined to help her – whether she wants his help or not.
As with Larsson’s earlier book, this is highly compelling fare, with tautly orchestrated suspense; it’s often grisly and uncompromising (not a problem for many readers), and the massive text may be longer than is good for it, but Larsson admirers won’t begrudge the late author a word,and will be impatient for the third (and, regrettably, concluding) book in the sequence.