The second book in the so-called Millennium trilogy picks up right where the last one left off, more or less. It follows the main players — Salander, Blomkvist, and Vanger — and brings us up to speed on what’s happened to them since the mystery of the first novel resolved itself. It also takes a bit of a turn, with a new story developing that involves Salander, Blomkvist, and a criminal mastermind who goes by the name of Zala. It involves murder, intrigue, espionage, and adventure, much like a Bond film. And, truth be told, this sort of does read like a Bond story, though without the suave, debonair approach that Bond typically brings to such stories.
Like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire gets off to a very slow start, and almost plods along at certain points as the author goes far off target and goes into excruciating detail about … well, nearly everything. He talks about what people do when they get ready in the morning. He writes about what kinds of furniture and appliance brands people buy for their apartments. He writes about the insects and worms that live in the dirt surrounding the buildings where the crimes take place. (OK, no, not really. But I’m a little surprised that he didn’t.) When he focuses on the story and the plot, the book sings as it zips along, but there’s just so much detail in the books that it becomes almost distracting.
I do find it interesting that the story has such a different feel than the first book in the series. In Tattoo, the book is a big mystery with a large cast of characters; in Fire, the book is more a political intrigue thriller, with a smaller cast of characters. I could be all coy and predict that the third book will be something different from these two books, but truth be told, I’m almost halfway through the third book already, and I can already tell that this might be the case. So I have to give the author credit for pulling off that sort of diversity in the series.
Still, the novel ain’t perfect. Tedium of detail aside, the characters are almost Koontz-ian in their perfection, to the point where I have to say that I don’t know people like this in real life. It has nothing to do with the situations they find themselves in; it’s more that I don’t know people who have the perfect answer to every question, and know all the right people, who have the perfect answer to the questions you couldn’t answer yourself. These are all moral, uplifting, smart, perfect people, and in the end, it’s difficult to read stories like that, because I can’t relate to the characters. It becomes a little frustrating, but once I get caught up in the story, I sort of forget about it all.
In addition, the story was a lot less interesting than that of the first novel in the series. This might be because the character development stopped to some degree (we find out much more about Salander, but Blomkvist is already a painted canvas), or because the idea of a political thriller is less interesting to me than a Gothic mystery. Either way, it took a little more dedication to get through the novel, which was a bit of a bummer. I figure it’s never a good sign to find that, while I’m reading one book, I’m thinking of another book I’d rather be reading.
Still, once it gets going, it’s pretty good, and once it gets on course, it keeps your attention. I just wish it had been able to maintain that sense of something new and fresh that was evident in the first novel.