The Girl Who Played with Fire, By Stieg Larsson trs Reg Keeland

The second in Stieg Larsson's posthumous Millennium trilogy, The Girl Who Played with Fire is a thriller with liberal tendencies, in which all the baddies are a) male and b) sexist, and all the goodies are socially conscious crusaders.

Generally suspicious of publishing phenomena, I approached this novel with caution – but within a few pages it won me over. The prose is colourless, the storytelling overly direct – but it just gets more and more exciting as you go along.

Millennium magazine is about to publish an exposé of the sex-trafficking industry in Sweden, when the two people behind the report are found murdered in their apartment in Stockholm, and Lisbeth Salander, expert researcher and hacker, is placed firmly in the frame for the crime.

Salander is an extraordinary heroine – a bit reminiscent of the titular character in Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow, though less dislikable. She is sociopathic, violent, weighing only 40 kilos but as hard as nails (she carries a hammer in her handbag), bisexual and so clever that she solves Fermat's last theorem all by herself (possibly stretching credulity there).

Even when Tasering enemies in the testicles, Salander remains surprisingly sympathetic. Larsson is especially good at fight scenes – one, between a two-metre-tall strongman who's impervious to pain and a professional heavyweight boxer aided by a lesbian kick-boxer, is especially memorable.

Halfway through reading this, I mislaid it for half a day and was chewing my fingernails until I found it again. Six hundred and forty nine pages – and they carry you along like a river in spate. And the good news is, there are still the two other books of the trilogy (precursor The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo and sequel The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest) to read.

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