The Girl Who Played with Fire

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Stieg Larsson, Maclehose Press, £16.99

The second crime novel in Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy is a page turner of the highest quality.

Hacker and researcher Lisbeth Salander returns to Sweden after a longer stay abroad. Meanwhile, journalist Mikael Blomkvist is about to publish an exposé of the extensive Swedish sex trafficking underworld. His scoop names Swedish policemen, judges and politicians who have all used and abused women trafficked from Eastern Europe. The paths of Blomkvist and Salander cross when the report's author and two other people are murdered before publication.

A countrywide manhunt for Salander is launched when her fingerprints are found on the murder weapon. As the murder-mystery unfolds so does Salander's past. Blomkvist, one of the few people to know the solitary Salander, refuses to believe that she's guilty and launches his own murder investigation.

To his astonishment he unearths how Salander spent most of her life locked up in various mental institutions to be kept from revealing a state secret. But what's the secret? And what connection does it have to the three murder victims?

Stieg Larsson, who died at the age of 50 after delivering the third Millennium manuscript, was editor in chief of anti-racist magazine Expo (which is also a foundation working against anti-democratic movements). He was a respected expert on right wing extremism and Nazi movements as well as an activist for the Trotskyist Swedish Communist Workers League (now the Socialist Party). Larsson's first book in the Millennium series, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, was published in 2005. So far the trilogy has sold 8.5 million copies worldwide and the 2009 film premiere is anticipated eagerly.

Salander's character is intriguing. She's a woman who hurts those who hurt her or the people she loves, and does so violently. She's fiercely independent and clever - it's a joy to read about her fighting off gangsters or hacking into police computers to stay one step ahead of the game. It's therefore surprising that Larsson makes Salander have breast augmentation and describes at length how happy she is with her new body shape, how much more feminine she feels and looks.

It's a shame that a female version of a hunted Jason Bourne can't be feminine and perfectly capable of solving a cover-up simultaneously without a breast size to match.

Except for that blip, the novel reveals how Swedish society, which is marketed as a protector of the downtrodden, cares nothing for the most vulnerable.

Although this second book in the trilogy can be read on its own, you'd get even more pleasure from starting with the first one.