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Bookends: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Strikes Again October 29, 2011

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.

Bookends: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Strikes Again

By Dan Davidson

October 26, 2011

– 820 words –

Star, Oct. 28/11

The Girl Who Played with Fire

By Stieg Larsson

Penguin Books, 724 pages, $13.50

When I saw the movie version (Swedish – with subtitles) of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo I wondered why they had ended the story with Lisbeth Salander in some tropical location instead of her final heartbreaking encounter with Mikael Blomkvist. Reading the second book in the Millennium Trilogy I find that this brief segment of the film is actually an overlapping with The Girl Who Played with Fire, the first section of which takes place on Grenada, during the final weeks of Salander’s round the world odyssey.

One part of Salander’s work with Blomkvist in the first book had involved taking down a corrupt multi-billionaire industrialist named Vanker. In the process Salander had used her talents as a hacker to appropriate some three billion kroner (several hundred million Canadian dollars) for her own use.

Since Salander, an extremely intelligent but socially inept young woman, has been a ward of the state for most of her life (judged incompetent), she has not been able to make a lot of choices up to this point without a great deal of subterfuge and has not had resources. Some of the fun in this book is watching her decide how and where she ought to live in keeping with her new status. She is also able to engage in acts of kindness, something that she has not had much experience with in the past. It turns out that her decisions play an important part in her evading danger later in the story, but she would not have known that at the time.

She has made enemies, some of which she does not even know about, but one which we do know. When her first legal guardian suffered a stroke she was placed under the care of a man, Nils Bjurman, who abused and degraded her. She turned his actions to her advantage and found a way to control him through blackmail, but in the first part of this book we find him scheming to turn the tables, which actions that have extreme consequences later on.

Meanwhile, at Millennium magazine, the editorial board is looking at publishing a special edition and a book on the subject of sex trafficking in Sweden. This is the exploitation of Russian girls by a criminal organization, and the lack of proper response to this situation by the authorities, some of whom are involved.

Within weeks of being ready to go to press, with the book not quite finished, several things happen. Salander, who has returned to Sweden and has been spying on both Blomkvist and her former employer, Milton Securities, by hacking into their computers, becomes aware that this investigation links to a key person in her life, one she had thought dead. She contacts the couple (a professor and a journalist) who are working on the book, and shortly after that they are murdered, execution style.

When Salander’s fingerprints are found on the gun, which in turn is linked to Bjurman, who is also found dead, she becomes the main suspect in a triple murder investigation that takes up most of the book. Indeed, there are three investigations running in parallel as the police attempt to pursue Salander, while Blomkvist and her former employer Dragan Armansky, work to establish her innocence, or at least some benefit of the doubt.

We meet a whole stable of new characters, including more of Armansky’s investigators and a homicide squad. From the time of the murders, about 250 pages in, it is another 200 plus pages before we spend any time with Salander again. The narrative shuttles among the three investigative units, weaving a fascinating story, but leaving us to wonder what the central character thinks of all this.

Slowly but surely the two lead police investigators discover that the official records concerning Salander bear little resemblance to the picture painted by those who know her best and they begin to look for a different answer. It is hard for anyone to ferret out the truth, for Salander’s origins are buried in a tangle of Cold War espionage dealings that have been kept top secret.  Suffice it to say that the book’s title, like much of the mystery in the story, has a double significance.

Salander, meanwhile, is pursuing her own investigation while eluding the authorities, and brings it to a successful, if suspenseful, conclusion.

This was a barnburner of a story, and my only serious complaint with it is that it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger after an extreme denouement. You really do need to be able to move directly into the final book, The Girl Who Kicked Over a Hornet’s Nest. I’m glad I waited to read this one until that one came out in paperback.






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