"The Girl who Played with Fire" has middle book of a trilogy syndrome. It doesn’t have all the setup and introductions and background and exploration of character that the first book has and it doesn’t have the resolution of a final book. It is the Empire Strikes Back of the Millennium Trilogy — neither an opener nor a closer, but with plenty of "I am your father, Luke" moments. This leaves the book feeling a little bit at loose ends.
My biggest issue with "The Girl who Played with Fire" is that nothing of plot consequence happens for the first full third of the book. It opens with a big "meanwhile" where Lisbeth Salandar does stuff for a while and Mikhael Blomqvist does stuff for a while and the magazine does stuff for a while and really, people do stuff for a while. There’s some good old fashioned lesbian sex, some regular straight sex, and lots of people sitting around drinking and talking. Then people get shot up real good and blood splatters and the book becomes enjoyable. We demand blood splatters! Give us dead bodies or go home!
The book tosses in characters who are so numerous it gets hard to follow after a while: cops, bikers, a professional boxer, the staff at Millennium magazine, the people at Milton Security, some dude named Zala, a big blond giant who goes around hitting people with his fists, government flunkies… and they all have names that end in "… berg." It becomes an exercise in being cross-eyed after a while. The story becomes /super/ exciting when it involves Lisbeth Salandar (our autistic heroine) or Mikael Blomqvist (our intrepid reporter) but then stalls a bit when it flashes to this secondary character or that secondary character. Well, I guess those characters need to have lives, too. Then there are fights — one thing I can say about Stieg Larsson books is the guy knew how to write an exciting fight scene — and implacable villains who are implacable and villainous and an absolutely amazing final 10% of the book full of, to put it bluntly, Empire Strikes Back moments with Big! Gasping! Revelations! GASP! Read that passage again! GASP!!!!
Except Lisbeth Salander gets to keep her hand. Sort of.
For the final 10% I bumped my review from three stars to four simply because the payoff is worth the slog at the beginning. For the most part, "The Girl who Played with Fire" is a three and a half star book. It plods in the beginning and bogs in places where the cops run around coming to incorrect conclusions. It is not as tightly plotted or as cleanly written as "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." It isn’t as enjoyably trashy, either — sure, it has a lesbian sex scene but it is a bit on the tame side and Blomqvist doesn’t sleep with /everyone/. It is trashy, sure, but it is not quite as trashy as the first book. In places it even feels a little conservative. The closing scenes, though, are worth the price of admission.
It also has no resolution. It’s a middle series book. No opening and no closing. Luckily one can get "the Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest" from Amazon and it downloads right to the Kindle…