Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson

Published: Quercus, 2009
ISBN: 978 1 84724 557 1

First line: She lay on her back fastened by leather straps to a narrow bed with a steel frame.

Lisbeth Salander has been travelling the world after abruptly leaving Sweden a year ago, soon after the events of the previous book, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. She cut her ties with her erstwhile lover, Millennium journalist Mikael Blomqvist, and simply disappeared. When a cyclone interrupts her stay at her most recent destination, Grenada, she decides to return home. Having left Stockholm without saying goodbye to anyone, she slips back in just as quietly.

Millennium magazine is about to publish freelancer Dag Svensson's explosive book about the sex trade in Sweden, in which he exposes a number of prominent and powerful people. While Svensson completes the final chapters of his book, Mikael Blomkvist and his colleagues work on a special edition of the magazine to coincide with the publication.

Meanwhile, Lisbeth's guardian, the sexual predator Nils Bjurman, who has never forgiven her for the revenge she exacted on him, has spent the year gathering information and plotting his own more permanent revenge.

Then Svensson and his girlfriend are found murdered in their flat, and Lisbeth is linked to the scene of the crime. When a third murder occurs she becomes an even stronger suspect in all three deaths. She goes into hiding and uses her singular computer skills to not only keep tabs on the police investigation, but to follow her own leads as she tries to prove her innocence.

This is the eagerly awaited sequel to fabulous THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO and it doesn't disappoint, in fact it is even better. Not to put too fine a point on it, THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE is utterly brilliant – enthralling, compulsive and mesmerising. I would strongly recommend reading the first book before starting this one, however, as it contains a lot of the background to this story.

THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE is Lisbeth's story, and what a story it is. We find out how she came to be the person she is, and in the process learn of her horrific childhood, and what happened in 'All The Evil'. Lisbeth is a fascinating character and one of the most unusual you will ever meet in crime fiction. Intelligent, prickly, intensely private and with a strong moral core, even if that morality is not one that always makes sense to others, she may not seem to be an obviously sympathetic character, but I know I'm not alone in liking her a lot.

THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE has a large cast of characters and is told from multiple viewpoints, but at no stage does this become confusing. In a book like this, it can be easy to lose track of who is who, but the characters are all so real and individual that this never happens. Larsson moves smoothly between characters and points of view to create a story that is complex, dense and detailed, and the result is spellbinding.

The last chapters are a breathtaking race against time, and the ending leaves you counting the days until the next book is published (unfortunately not for another 12 months). THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE is a riveting story that will keep you reading long past your bed time.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

My top 10 books for 2008

It's that time of year when everyone is listing their top 10 reads for 2008, so who am I to buck to the trend! I only read 57 books this year, a little below the total for the last couple of years, but most of them rated very good to excellent. There were many honourable mentions, those that ranked just a fraction below these, but here are my absolute best reads of the last 12 months.

Cross by Ken Bruen
Voodoo Doll by Leah Giarratano
The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indridason
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Shatter by Michael Robotham
Betrayal by Karin Altevegen
The Murder Farm by Andrea Maria Schenkel
Dead Man's Footsteps by Peter James
Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand by Fred Vargas
Black Seconds by Karin Fossum

New to me authors read in 2008

I saw this meme on a few other blogs, including Mysteries in Paradise and Petrona, and thought I'd have a go. A trawl through my 2008 reads revealed that almost half of the books I read last year were by new to me authors. There were 24 authors and 27 books.

I have bolded all first books whether they were 2008 or not, and have marked with an asterisk those authors who have gone on my definitely-want-to-read-again list. My reviews, when there is one, are linked.

*Lenny Bartulin - A Deadly Business
*Tony Black - Paying for It
*Paul Cleave - Cemetery Lake
*Paul Cleave - The Killing Hour
*Colin Cotterill - The Coroner's Lunch (2006)
*Phillip Gwynne - The Build Up
*Anne Holt - The Final Murder
*Stieg Larsson - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Donna Leon - Death at La Fenice (1992)
David Levien - City of the Sun
*Dominique Manotti - Rough Trade (2000)
Guillermo Martinez - The Book of Murder
*Brian McGilloway - Gallows Lane
*Adrian McKinty - Dead I Well May Be (2004)
*Adrian McKinty - The Bloomsday Dead
Camilla Nelson - Crooked
Camilla Noli - Still Waters
*Matt Rees - The Bethlehem Murders (2007)
*Giampiero Rigosi - Night Bus (2006)
*Andrea Maria Schenkel - The Murder Farm
Steve J. Spears - Murder at the Fortnight
*Simone van der Vlugt - The Reunion
Irvine Welsh - Crime
Jincy Willett - The Writing Class
*Chris Womersley - The Low Road (2007)
Edward Wright - Damnation Falls