Monday 14 February 2011

BOOK REVIEW: The Girl with who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

Wow! This is such a wonderful book that I didn't want to finish it. I've now nearly finished the third of the trilogy and I shall be berefit what it comes to an end. There are no more Stieg Larsson novels to read: he only wrote three before he died.

If you've haven't discovered this writer yet then I suggest you do so. For me, the Stieg Larsson Trilogy is to the world of writing as The Wire is to the world of television drama. And since I am a Wire devotee, that says a lot.

THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE is a continuation of the first novel in the trilogy - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - after a lapse of a year.It can certainly be read without having read the first novel because a brief summary of what happened and the personalities of the characeters is woven into the story but I would still recommend reading the first one because it's fascinating to see how the characters develop over the three books.

The Girl of the titles is Lisbeth Salander, a most unusual and fascinating of characters. She looks about twelve, skinny and frail but with incredible physical strength, is uncommunicative and anti-social, tattooed and pierced, violent and steely and highly intelligent. For heavens sake, she even reads mathematical books and enjoys working out difficult equations.

But, most important of all, she is a queen hacker and this features prominently in all three books.

She also has her own code of conduct and morales which makes her some lopsided sort of a 'heroine'.

She does not play such a prominent role in the first novel but in this one, she is the central character and we learn far more about her disfunctional childhood and thr treatment doled out to her by the authorities.

She is a formidable adversary and NOTHING gets in her way. Capable of meticulous planning and deception and unhindered by emotions, she is the most resourcful of people. I so wish I had created her! Every scene she is in is riveting.

The main 'hero' is the likeable investigative reporter Mikael Blomkvist who is part of The Millenium magazine set up, it's goal being to expose corruption in all its forms. Corruption, so it seems, is rife in Sweden, including 'respectable' businesses, the police, the health authorities, government offices etc. Therefore, any attempt to expose wrong doing is met with great resistance.

In this novel, it is sex trafficking that comes under the spot light and this has particular interest for Salander. But when a Millenium reporter who is near to completing his article about the sex trade is murdered along with his partner, all the evidence leads to Salander as the murderer. Thus, most of the novel concentrates on Salander's attempts to avoid arrest, and Blomkvist's dilemna as to whether he believes her or not.

I really, really like Larsson's style of writing. Perhaps it's because he was a journalist that he tells the story 'straight', using descriptions only where they are needed, which makes them highly successful. Too many modern writers, I find, get so wrapped up with the language they use that it becomes far more important than plot or characterisation.

I suspect that Larsson learnt a lot about the process of fiction writing whilst writing the first novel because the pace is much faster in this second novel. In the first, there are too many chunks of information which become rather tedious (John used to skip these sections) but that's not the case in this novel. Any information given is short and then the plot moves foreward again, very often in quick sections moving from situation to situation, giving the impression of rising tension and urgency.

Finally, I must make mention of the setting of all three novels: Stockholm, Sweden. I've never been to Stockholm but I felt comfotable 'being' there because Larsson mainly describes the city through street/district names, which I find works well. Don't know why but it just seems to make the city familiar.

And finally, finally, there's a lot of coffee drinking at home, at work, in cafes. Plus occasional descriptions of snacks eaten. It's surprising how much you can learn about characters through such seemingly unimportant details. Blomkvist, for example, nearly always has a pot of coffee on the go and I love him for that.

Thursday 10 February 2011


This is one heck of a wierd novel. Written by ex-CIA agent, Jim Thompson, and published in 1952, it is a first person narrative telling the story of the brutal murder/attempted murder of two very beautiful women. Lou Ford is the narrator and he knows all about the crimes because he's the one who committed them.

It's set in a back-water of a town in Texas and you get a real sense of how dismal the place was.

Under the surface of respectability, Lou Ford is a nasty piece of work, detailing his crimes in a cold, calculating way. I didn't like him one little bit and I've no idea why the two women were attracted to him because he treats neither very well. It's not the kind of behaviour you expect from a deputy sheriff.

The first person narrative works well read in small doses. It certainly is in an unusual style and you get a sense of Lou Ford's personality and his distinctive way of talking. Plus, there are hints as to his motivation. But I found it tedious if I read more than one chapter at a time and at times there is a lack of continuity.

So, I have no intention of reading his other novels, which include The Grifters and The Getaway (both made into excellent films), despite Stephen Kings' claim that Jim Thompson is 'my favourite crime novelist.' However, I would like to see the film based on the novel, starring Casey Affleck,Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson. It's probably very moody and extremely gory.

What I find far more interesting is Jim Thompson's history as related to me by John. Whilst visiting Bangkok some years ago, he came across a Jim Thompson shop selling a whole range of exquisite silk products: scarves, bags etc and spent some time buying presents and talking to the staff.

Apparently, Jim Thompson settled in Bangkok and totally revitalised the silk industry in Thailand (no idea why). Quite a contrast to his CIA/author background. But, and this is years ago, he disappeared and has never been seen again. Now that would be a cracker of a story.

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