Vail books: Burn, baby, burn |

Vail books: Burn, baby, burn

Stephen Bedford
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado –Artists of various crafts, genres, and merit typically start mainstream, build an audience, and then edge towards the subversive. Swedish author Stieg Larsson apparently is moving the other way.

Larsson’s debut novel, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” is now a certifiable global smash after dominating bestseller lists in Europe for more than a year, then doing the same stateside. “Tattoo” was lauded just as much for its taut, layered mystery as it was for its squeamish, perverse premise and climax.

Not so with its sequel, “The Girl Who Played with Fire,” which is an accessible mystery minus the bizarre sex crimes? Well, most of the sex crimes. The premise this time is indeed the sex trade. However, the Swede plays it mostly safe.

Our plucky heroine, Lisbeth Salander, takes center stage after being fingered for the double homicide of a journalist and his wife who were about to blow the lid off Sweden’s salacious sex trafficking. All evidence puts Salander at the scene, and her documented past of violence further bolsters suspicion.

Salander does have one ally in maverick journalist Mikael Blomkvist, whose magazine was set to publish the salacious, damning expose. Blomkvist hopes to exonerate Salander, who may or may not still be heartbroken over their short-lived, yet impassioned fling.

Larsson crafts more of a straightforward ‘whodunit?’ and not the tangled family story of “Tattoo.” The streamlined story is still cluttered with too many irrelevant details (a page describing a kitchen? A math subplot?) yet the pace rarely slackens.

We finally learn what has made Salander the perceived psycho she gladly plays to the hilt, which plays out to a cliffhanger of an ending, one that might make you traipse to Europe to pick up the third volume.

Larsson also gives Salander, the more interesting, exciting character of the two, room to roam. She’s more composed than the introverted weirdo we met in “Tattoo,” a signal that Larsson intends to fully develop and transform this character throughout his series.

Of course, it warrants mention that all success – critical and commercial – of Larsson’s likable mysteries is posthumous. Larsson died in 2004 of a heart attack, shortly after delivering three manuscripts. There’s rumored to be a fourth novel in various stages of completion as well as an outline for a 10-book series.

Mystery fans can only hope the rumors are true because Larsson’s publishers have a franchise on his hands. Even if it might make you blush and squirm a bit.

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