"The wise screen writer is he who wears his second-best suit, artistically speaking, and doesn’t take things too much to heart."

- Raymond Chandler
The Girl Who Played With Fire, by Stieg Larsson

If there was ever an author whose work I ought not to enjoy, it would be the late Stieg Larsson. A Swedish journalist whose field of concentration was right-wing and “hate” groups, he was (as far as I can determine from net research) a lifelong, devoted Communist.

And yet I loved his first mystery, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and I snapped up The Girl Who Played With Fire as soon as it came out in paperback, zipping through its 724 pages in a couple days.

I think it's a case of “the enemy of my enemy.” Both I and the author view contemporary Sweden as an unsatisfactory country, but from opposite viewpoints.

The central character of this book, even more than of the first in the series, is Lisbeth Salander, a brilliantly realized character. Lisbeth is a tiny young woman, often mistaken for a teenager, multipally tattooed and pierced (though we're told she's removed one tattoo now, and stopped wearing most of her studs and rings). She's an off-the-charts genius who works on Fermat's Last Theorem in pencil, in a notebook, in her spare time. She's also a world-class computer hacker, skilled in self-defense, socially inept, and slightly crazy, having been the victim of horrendous betrayal and abuse as a child—a history that forms an important element of the plot of this book.

When the story begins, she's vacationing in the Caribbean, having easily and without remorse stolen a fortune from the bank account of the villain of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, a corrupt financier. At the same time, the other main character of that book, Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist, is making a deal with a young researcher to publish an article and a book on human sex trafficking.

But shortly before the release date, the researcher and his wife are murdered in their Stockholm apartment. A fingerprint on the murder gun, found near the scene, links it to Lisbeth Salander. On top of that, her former legal guardian, a man who abused her, has been found murdered with the same gun. Suddenly Lisbeth is the object of a national manhunt. Blomkvist tries to make contact with her and aid her, but Lisbeth will only do things her own way, and trusts no one completely, even Blomkvist.

I found The Girl Who Played With Fire absolutely compelling, from beginning to end. Most riveting was the character of Lisbeth who (as more than one character notes) is an intense, even compulsive, moralist.

“Moralist” should not be understood here in the American sense. The sexual ethics exhibited in this book are conventional Swedish—nothing is taboo, except for rape. Lisbeth herself is bisexual, and carries on a lesbian affair.

Lisbeth's moralism is directed at the powerful who abuse the weak, especially men who abuse women (the Swedish title for the first book of the series means literally, Men Who Hate Women). She is also quick to believe herself betrayed, and almost incapable of forgiveness (much of the plot involves the gradual discovery of the unthinkable, unconscionable betrayals she suffered as a child). Lisbeth is a small Nemesis, a little Mosaic stone dropped into the turbid waters of Swedish society, disturbing the peace, bringing rotting things to the surface.

Oddly for a writer of Larsson's politics and background, I found little or no political posturing in this story.

Maybe he's saving it for the third book.

I'll find out, because I sure plan to read it.

Cautions for language and mature situations.


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Comments on "The Girl Who Played With Fire, by Stieg Larsson":
1. Frank Luke - 04/06/2010 10:18 am EDT

I think it's a case of "the enemy of my enemy." Both I and the author view contemporary Sweden as an unsatisfactory country, but from opposite viewpoints.

As GK Chesterton said (and I paraphrase), "We often agree on what is wrong in a situation. We argue very forcefully about how to make things right. My friend George Bernard Shaw and I agree that England needs to be fixed. But neither of us would look upon an England that had been fixed by the other one."

2. john book - 04/06/2010 1:59 pm EDT

I'm going to ignore the book part of these postings for the moment.

Instead, I must confess I am ...jealous of many of you posters who seem to know a lot about GK Chesterton! From the little I've read on him, he seems like a guy I'd like to get to know better!
Besides, since I look kinda like him...

I've seen a video on CS Lewis and Freud which was great and in this video they mention Chesterton's influence on Lewis.

Since Lars and Phil and this video have all seemed to have known Chesterton since birth, I've tried to look him up in Google, etc... there is so much stuff, I can't begin to know which is the most informative and accurate.

Can any of you point to a good biography for him as well as several of his works which not only point to the works but to the man?


3. Lars Walker - 04/06/2010 2:26 pm EDT

I was first introduced to GKC through a collection which is no longer in print, alas. I guess I'd suggest The Everlasting Man, .

This is a book C.S. Lewis described as having a tremendous influence on his conversion.

4. judy - 04/06/2010 4:13 pm EDT

Well. If she's socially inept I'm sure I would be able to relate.

5. Lars Walker - 04/06/2010 4:47 pm EDT

That's a major reason I relate.

6. Dale - 04/07/2010 10:15 am EDT

John Book, the Chesterton biography by Joseph Pearce would probably be a good bet. As for books by GKC: The Everlasting Man, as Lars suggests, and the unique "novel" The Man Who Was Thursday. I wrote a study guide of a few pages for the latter. If you'd like me to email it to you, write me at extollager2006 AT yahoo.com.

7. Greybeard - 04/07/2010 2:18 pm EDT

Both C.S Lewis, one of my favorite authors and Ravi Zacharias, one of my favorite preachers quote Chesterton frequently. My introduction to his writing was finding a copy of Heretics and Orthodoxy on clearance at CBD a few years back. I found him refuting cutting edge ideas in 1905 that are now mainstream and still need refuting.

Numerous excerpts of his material are available at the Chesterton Society website. http://chesterton.org/

8. john book - 04/07/2010 2:56 pm EDT

Thanks to those who have provided me with Chesterton
info. I now will look to find and see what the fellow has to offer in more detail.

BTW...I did accidentally fib a tad bit... Chesterton had LOTS more hair than me. I saw a photo of him with his hat off... no doubt, Lots of that stuff up there!

Regardless, from the little bit I've read about him, he is one guy I'd have really enjoyed talking to.

Thanks again

9. Sr - 04/07/2010 9:10 pm EDT

The book 'Common Sense 101' by Dale Ahlquist is a good introduction to Chesterton.
- you can find many of his books online for free, at Manybooks.net (The collection called 'The Defendant' is I think a good place to start.)

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