The plot of these two installments revolves around the human and sex trafficking industry in Sweden, a certain unpleasant Russian GRU defector, called Alexander Zalachenko, and the murder of three individuals with connections to the Lisbeth Salander character.
Salander’s name and photo appear in newspapers all over Sweden – and not for her greater glory. Evidence places her at the scenes of three killings, and the gun used in two of them bears her fingerprints. The accompanying news stories portray her as an eccentric loner if not a dangerous S&M Satanistic lesbian nutter. She is forced to disguise and change apartments; her old colleague and lover, Mikael Blomkvist, seems to be the only person convinced of her innocence. However, given his tendency to fool around with other women, furious Lisbeth refuses to have anything to do with him. Strangely enough Blomkvist can’t understand why Salander avoids him and of course, very chivalrlously, decides to defend her from the whole world.
While looking into the crimes for which she is wanted, Salander again demonstrates her computer-hacking skills but it doesn’t mean the baddies won’t get to her. In the last part she lands in the hospital with one big hole in her hip and head. Blomkvist continues to sleuth on her behalf in order to expose those who have made her life hellish and attempted to frame her for all manner of crimes. Of course, in his spare time he also still manages to attract every woman within a 500-yard-radius like honey attracts bees. Finally a process takes place and Lisbeth is independent and free. Will she know what to do with her freedom and riches though?
What I liked:
There were no ugly sex scenes and definitely less violence than in the first part. Well done.
What I didn’t like:
Here I can spread my red-black wings. Ok, a quick check of other equipment. Horns? Ready. Claws? Sharp and long. Tail? Firmly attached and switching from side to side. Do you scent brimstone? Good. Let me begin.
First the characters. I admit it – in my humble opinion it was a mess. I did not really like them or empathize with any of them. Blomkvist, an intrepid journalist who takes down the entire Swedish government bagging one hot smart woman after another hot smart woman and never ever buying a single packet of condoms, let alone thinking about the psychological consequences of his behaviour ? Ugh. The guy gets around, and then some but why? I’ve always found Mikael a pretty vanilla character. His partners don’t solve the mystery of his popularity either. Is he especially well endowed or skilled? Protective, understanding and tender? Physically strong? Muscled? Intelligent? No, no and no. He is a guy without any distinguishable traits of character, which only emphasizes his unhealthy attitude towards carnal pleasures, yet the author wants us to believe that he is simply irresistible because…let’s assume he is so, full stop. Tsk, tsk.
Ok, wait, who is next? Niedermann, the ‘murderous terminator from hell’ who doesn’t feel pain? Sigh. Done to death already, herr Larsson. Erika Berger, a sexy journalist who helps to take down the entire Swedish government while bagging smart men, sometimes two at a time or more (you know she really should wear that t-shirt with a caption “so many boys, so little time”)? How much eye-rolling you can accept in a series?
Now a word or two about Lisbeth Salander, for many readers, as far as I know, the highlight of these books.
By making Salander a mathematical genius whose equivalent of a crossword with her morning coffee is tackling the famous Fermat’s Last Theorem, Larsson went truly over the top. Even geniuses need some serious tutoring to develop their abilities and they can’t find them in the popular science books with answers in the back. What’s more, Lisbeth routinely hacks into major corporations for which she has worked with the aid of ancient passwords. Excuse me? I can’t believe Swedish businessmen, security and IT specialists are just a bunch of ninnies. This tactic is the cardinal sin of all three books – the author is constantly underestimating his readers. Mathematicians and computer scientists are recommended to steer clear of the whole trilogy, psychologists too. If she was able to mature a bit and shape up I’d like to see a Lisbeth Salander-like heroine of a graphic novel where she fights vampires; I’d even like a sexy Lisbeth Salander action figure, complete with zombie makeup, leather pants, a bloody whip and a fancy laptop bag. Of course in real life, such a person would never exist but at least I would understand why.
A second source of my disappointment stems from the fact that these two books are filled with simply too many secondary characters that either had little importance to the story or were cartoon-like. Larsson keeps them all black and white. Funnily enough those who are bad, are always men – evil, corrupt, perverse or plain incompetent. It seems that Sweden is full of deviant male types. Those who are good are mainly women and somehow they didn’t persuade me either. Women can be as mean as any man (well, look at my review if you need a proof) and in this series, with the exception of Harriet’s mother in the first part, The Dragon Tattoo, it seems that every other female character is just simply wonderful. None of them are ever greedy, mendacious or spiteful, just misunderstood or a bit lewd at worst. Isn’t it sexism?
One more issue which I must tackle here in order to be perfectly honest. I wouldn’t like to sound overly prudish but generally speaking sex is treated as a purely physiological function here. It’s not even because the scenes are very detailed, far from it. It’s because they are as shallow as a puddle. I deeply disagree with such an approach. Let me illustrate what I mean with two examples. Exhibit one: a married woman (Erika Berger) has an affair with our irresistible Mikael, breaks up his marriage and then continues the affair with her husband’s knowledge and blessing, virtually destroying any chances of her lover for any healthy relationship. No pangs of conscience from any of the sides involved. The same woman has previously had group sex, filmed it and kept the video near her bed. What for? To turn on her hubby? To make the blackmail work for any possible creep or stalker easier? Exhibit two: our dear Lisbeth Salander is not only sexually omnivorous and proud of it but also treats sex like nothing more than a visit to the toilet – if you must go there, you should do it when the opportunity knocks, preferably without paying much. Disgusting and as far from reality as you can get.
Now the plot. To me, the plot did not at all move along at the same pace as the first book. Mind you I didn’t like the first book. In addition, I managed to find a number of somewhat annoying grammatical errors, sentence fragments, etc. Mind you, I am not a native English speaker. There are entire sections of the books that meander on and on with no apparent purpose with regard to moving the story forward. Frankly, the whole “Erika at the big newspaper” subplot was unnecessary – one of these sections which would have benefited greatly from some serious editorial paring.
I did not enjoy these books. They made me bored for starters, leaving bad taste in my mouth. Add to it the fact that there was little or no humor in them and here we have a total book failure – I should have given up, but being stubborn, I wanted to finish them against my better judgment. I found the ending really dismal, empty and unpleasant. It served me right. Curiosity can kill not only a cat but also your reading experience.