The Girl who Played with Fire and The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson

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It’s been a while since I read the first Girl with a Dragon Tattoo and when the two follow-ups came up as a two-for-one deal as audiobooks, I thought I’d listen to them back-to-back to immerse myself in the world of Swedish super hacker and, basically, superhero Lisbeth Salander for a combined total of nearly 50 hours of Scandinavian noir storytelling.

Well, the faults of the books are amplified when you spend every spare moment for a fortnight on the trilogy. Jarring bad habits were the overlong backstory explanations every time a character or key plot point was about to be introduced or re-introduced later, which sounded suspiciously like author’s background character notes that at best dragged, but at worst just made me wish for a stricter story editor. A couple of incidents seemed highly improbable and many police and legal procedures seemed adapted unrealistically. No matter that so much, but the writing style was third person omniscient, meaning the author was able (and willing) to jump around telling what was going on in everyone’s minds (known as head-hopping in the writing biz, ahem) with the effect that there was little need for the reader to interpret and make their own mind up about what was going on. So to add tension, the author was obliged to just not tell us what was going on or jump to another subplot arbitrarily so that we would have to wait and see what happened. A legitimate writing trick. effective to a point, but sometimes it came off as artless and repetitive over such a long tale.


It all worked and there was much to love. The characters were interestingly flawed and perhaps because of the overlong exposition, were believable. Salander was a fantastic, mysterious lead character whose backstory was able to give the plot enough ammunition, both figuratively and literally, to keep the pages turning. I particularly  enjoyed the understanding of journalism and belief in the power of the right to know that the whole novel was saturated in that seems sadly under threat in these social-media-soaked times.

Far from perfect, but still I’d class the experience of the trilogy as worth it over all.

No. 48 and 49 of 100 books I intend to read and review in 2019.

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Patrick Sherriff publishes a monthly newsletter highlighting good fiction about Japan and featuring an original painting or sketch. He lives in Abiko, Japan, with his wife and two daughters.