Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Drop Slot Reviews: Sex and violence, pop culture and quadratic equations

The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

The Girl Who Played With Fire is the second novel in a trilogy by a Swedish writer who died shortly after submitting the works for publication. All three books are immensely popular, as are the movies that have been made from two of them.

This novel confirms my belief from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first novel in the series, that sociopathic protagonist Lisbeth Salander is not totally beyond hope. Described by her psychiatrists as lacking in empathy, her character has grown more human through these two novels, and I suspect that will continue in the third, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest, which I eagerly await from the Greene County Library's digital download site. In Played with Fire, we learn that Salander, as well as being an expert computer hacker, is a mathematical genius and a skilled boxer. As in the first novel, there is an abundance of sex and violence.

The plot, which has Salander as a suspect in three murders, once again, is maddeningly complex. At one point, I thought I had the mystery figured out, then I changed my mind. As it turned out, I was right all along, but Larsson had thrown me a curve-ball that threw me off. The ending is surprisingly abrupt, leaving the reader to tie up all the loose ends. I'm still up in the air about that, leaning towards thinking that it works just fine. It shows a certain amount of faith in the intelligence of his readers and that is always a good thing.

Larsson does some strange things that probably amount to violations of some of the rules for fiction writers that I have never seen another writer do. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that the books are translated from the original Swedish, or maybe it's a cultural thing. Whenever he describes someone's abode, he compulsively includes the approximate square footage. Also, his landscape seems to be dotted with American fast food joints and his characters' homes well-stocked with American products. His detectives often stop for a Big Mac when they find themselves famished in the middle of a hot investigation. When they finally have time to relax, it is often with a cup of Lipton tea. Strangely, there is a certain amount of charm in all of this and it does not detract from the plot.

Perhaps the clue to this compulsion for detail lies in Stockholm. After reading the first two novels in this series, I have a strong desire to go there. But, I might just end up following all the streets he has named in detail from every stakeout, car chase and panorama from from someone's apartment window. That could be fun.

Reader reviews of materials available at or through the Yellow Springs Library are encouraged and appreciated.

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