Wednesday, April 25, 2012

100 Books #34 - Stieg Larsson's THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE

Last year I finally got around to taking up the first book in Stieg Larsson's massively bestselling trilogy (see my write up on that experience here), only to discover that what Larsson had written was not so much crime fiction or noir as exceptionally gritty superhero fiction. This second book in the Millennium trilogy only confirmed me in this opinion.

Sooner or later, superhero stories take us two places: into the hero or heroine's back story and origins, and into a bleak and challenging time in his or her (I shall just go ahead and use the one pronoun from here on out) life when she is misunderstood, suspected of being a bad guy, forced to clear her name. In this book, we experience both, right alongside our heroine, the tiny but stupendously badass Lisbeth Salander, and the people whose lives she has touched, for good or ill.

The Girl Who Played with Fire starts off at with an even slower burn than did The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, misdirecting our attention with an early red herring before launching us into the explosive murder mystery that also forces the authorities, the staff of the magazine that printed some but not all of the bombshell revelations made in the first book, and Salander's friend and former lover, Mikael Blomkvist to dig into Salander's past to help her survive her present, in which she is the prime suspect in a spectacular triple homicide and the whole country is hunting for her. In the process, Larsson expertly plays with the reader's expectations, of the genre, of the setting, and of Salander herself, so her guilt or innocence manages to stay something of a mystery for a good 80% of the book.

And yes, her backstory is completely over the top, as any good superhero's must be. And yes, she gets to be a scary badass again, making up in brains for what she lacks in brawn, even at one point taking down two big bad biker gang members with just a can of Mace and a Taser. But, as she demonstrates, you can get more with a kind word and a can of Mace and a Taser than you can with a kind word alone.

This one strained my credulity a bit more than The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo did, but not enough to stop me from reading almost the whole thing in one day. Because the burn, while slow at first, gets hot and powerful soon enough.

I think my eyebrows got singed.

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