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The Girl Who Played with Fire

8 Jun
    “The Girl Who Played with Fire” is an elegantly crafted thriller, and the second of the Millenium series of novels by Swedish author Stieg Larsson. This book is a natural continuation to the famous “The girl with the dragon tattoo“.  If one does not want to be scratching their head when some reference is made to an older scene not present in the book, then it is taken from the first book. So, it is better to read these books in order.

    After helping Michael Blomkvist in the Wennerström affair, Lisbeth Salander disappears from Sweden with 3 billion Kronor in a bank account which she laundered from the Wennerstrom group. She roams across the high seas, island hopping and lands in Greneda. She befriends, a localite teenager George Bland, whom she tutors in maths. She lives in the room adjacent to a wife-torturing Dr.Forbes. By hacking, Salander learns that Dr.Forbes is trying to pocket $40 million cash by killing his wife. When a hurricane hits Greneda, Salander finds the couple at the beach with Dr.Forbes trying to kill his wife and stikes him violently. He is later found to be dead. She returns to Stockholm buying a new apartment in Mosebacke Torg through Wasp enterprises, a fake company with a disguised bank account and sells her old apartment in Lundagata to Mariam Wu, her lesbian partner.

    Meanwhile parallelly, Mikael Blomkovist and Millennium wants to release a book by young journalist Dag Svensson and run a parallel story in the magazine that will expose the extent of sex trafficking and abuse of underage girls in Sweden, which could implicate several key figures in the government and society. Nils Bjurman, Salander’s legal guardian wants to take revenge on her at all costs and destroy the CD’s which could implicate him; so much so that he foregoes all clients with his focus on one client alone – Lisbeth Salander. A little big of digging on her background reveals about “All the evil” that had happened when she was 11 years old. Salander hacks in Blomkovist’s computer and reads Dag’s work where she hits upon the name “Zala”, is intrigued and decides to pay Dag a visit. Dag and his wife are found murdered later that night with Salander’s finger-prints on the murder weapon. On the same night Bjurman too is murdered and later is found to be by the same weapon. Now the entire focus of the police department shifts to Salander. But she is no where to be found, as she hides in the new apartment and goes out of the home only under a wig and a fake Norwegian passport.
    Blomkovist is one of the few people along with Dragan Armansky of Milton security, who believe that Salander is innocent. Inspector Jan Bublanski along with Sonja Modig begin the investigation of the incident. Salander’s record show her as a psychotic and violent girl who is into prostitution. But Armansky and Blomkovist insist and create a picture of Salander as an intelligent girl with high cognitive skills and morality. But the prosecutor reveals the medical condition to the press and what follows is a steady and ever-increasing discrimination against Salander as a lesbian-Satanist-prostitute-psychotic triple murderer. Blomkovist meets up with Holger Palmgren – Salander’s ex-guardian and learns about her trauma as a child. Blomkovist comes to know that Salander has hacked into his account and that is the only way of contact with her. With her help, he begins a separate investigation into the killings of his colleague Dag while Salander does what she does best – Fight for her survival when the world is against her. The rest of the story is about how the two protagonists combine to solve the crime. And if “All the evil” that occurred in Salander’s past comeback to haunt her again.
    The story starts at a very slow pace but picks up speed in the latter half of the book. One can observe certain patterns emerging from the book. A simple example: we can come to know if a character is good, bad or lies in-between by each of the characters reaction/talk/thinking about Salander’s character. The plot of this book is even better than the first instalment. For the thriller it is, an 8/10 would do well.

The girl with the dragon tattoo

26 Sep
    This is the first book in the Millennium series trilogy authored by the Swede Stieg Larsson. The book takes us through the two plots that are happening simultaneously. One plot takes us to the protagonist Mikael Blomkvist, journalist and publisher of the Millennium magazine in Stockholm, who is accused and convicted of libel and false-reporting against the Swedish industrialist Hans-Erik Wennerström, head of the Wennerström group. Blomkvist decides to quit the post to save the magazine and almost immediately is approached by Dirch Frode, lawyer and friend to Henrik Vanger, the 82 year old industrialist and former CEO of the crumbling Vanger corporation for a job at hand.

    Parallelly, we are taken into the Milton Security office premises, where our second protagonist Lisbeth Salander, a social outcast with the stereo-typical dark lipstick, myriad tattoos, short hair and a shorter belief in mannerisms & social conduct but with amazing investigative abilities and genius of a hacker, works under the director-cum-father-figure Dragan Armansky. Her past behavior leads to the label “socially incompetent” and thus under the Swedish law is forced to be under an appointed guardian. The death of Lisbeth’s guardian Holger Palmgren, results in her being reassigned under Nils Bjurman, with his powers including the finances of her personal account. Bjurman misuses his powers to sexually assault Lisbeth multiple times when she reaches out to him to take money out of her own account. Lisbeth records a video of the assault and takes revenge on Burjman using a a taser on him and then through blackmail and getting back the control of her account into her own hands. 
    Dirch hires Lisbeth to investigate Blomkvist before he is hired. Blomkvist finally comes to know that the job Henrik is offering is to investigate the disappearance of Harriet Vanger (great-niece) nearly 40 years earlier from a small island in Hedestad, a fictional Swedish town mostly owned by the Vanger family. Henrik is certain that someone in his family murdered Harriet. But to hide the cause, others are made to believe that Blomkvist is writing a book on the history of Vanger family. 40 years of investigation had led to dead ends and at first even Blomkvist treads the same path until by chance, he notices an evidence which turns things around. He takes the help of Lisbeth to solve the mystery and what they find is path fraught with long research hours, grasping at straws sometimes, death threats and even death. The plot ultimately leads them to a rapist and serial-killer. A quiet sleepy country-side in the Swedish Norrland holds such a big mystery which when looked at actually opens up a can of worms. The rest of the story is whether Blomkvist and Lisbeth be able to solve the case of missing Harriet and also whether they can avenge the Wennerström libel case.
    If there is one thing this book is absolutely good at then it has to be the pace of the plot. Sometimes, I found myself running through pages and the next having to slow down to understand the intricacies involved for example when the author explains the finances of a company or how a corrupt industry like the Wennerström group is run. Though some of the characters are stereo-typical, each one of them are brought out well and express themselves. The author also brings out the brutality towards women with a high degree of description and attention to detail. I dont know if the author is trying to pay homage and bring us to reality towards what is happening to women as such in countries like Sweden or he is just trying to bring in the “masala” factor to the book. I believe the former is more suited from whatever I have read and also it is good to note that the actual title of the book in Swedish is “Män som hatar kvinnor” which translates to “Men Who Hate Women“. We can waver between adoration and criticism for vivid details potrayed and some of the contents described in the book. But for the plot and the feminist polemic that the author is or tries to be, I can without a twinge of doubt give an 8/10.