The Girl Who Played with Fire, by Stieg Larsson; Vintage Books, 2010
The second installment of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, The Girl Who Played with Fire, begins one year after the events of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Mikael Blomqvist has weathered the tidal wave of attention that followed his exposé of Hans-Erik Wennerström, and Lisbeth Salander, who has been on an extended world tour, finds herself in the middle of a hurricane on the island of Grenada. Their paths converge shortly after Lisbeth returns to Stockholm, when she is implicated in the triple murder of Dag Svensson, who had been working for Millennium on an exposé about sex-trafficking; his girlfriend Mia Johansson, and Salander’s court-appointed guardian, Nils Bjurman.
The investigation into the three murders takes place on several fronts. While the police are proceding on the assumption of Salander’s guilt, and Blomqvist is trying to establish her innocence, Lisbeth herself is content to follow the investigation from a distance, until she discovers a link between the murders and a pivotal event in her past, forever identified in her mind as “All The Evil”. This link involves Säpo – the Swedish Security Police – and as Lisbeth probes deeper into the connection, we are introduced to a motley crew of characters, including men who prey on underage women, a blond giant with congenital analgesia, and finally, to the mysterious Zala himself.
Just as in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Larsson’s attention in this novel is focused unblinkingly on men who hate women. In a telling passage, he writes,
Teleborian was the most loathsome and disgusting sadist Salander had ever met in her life, bar none. He outclassed Bjurman by a mile. Bjurman had been unspeakably brutal, but she could handle him. Teleborian, on the other hand, was shielded behind a curtain of documents, assessments, academic honours and psychiatric mumbo jumbo. Not a single one of his actions could ever be reported or criticized. He had a state-endorsed mandate to tie down disobedient little girls with leather straps.
Unlike its predecessor novel, The Girl Who Played with Fire would have benefited from a little judicious editing. Larsson dwells at unnecessary length on Fermat’s Last Theorem, and as I wended my way through the novel, it occurred to me more than once that if no one ever hacked into another computer, lit another cigarette, or bought one more Billy’s Pan Pizza, it would be just fine with me. This small quibble notwithstanding, The Girl Who Played with Fire is in every way a worthy sequel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Throughout the story, Larsson evidences an unflagging attention to detail and unerring instinct for plot development. Lisbeth Salander, while remaining – in the words of her friend Mimmi – “the most secretive and unapproachable person I know,” is arguably one of the most engaging heroines in recent memory.
If you haven’t already read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, you should definitely read it first. If, on the other hand, you’ve already read that book, then you hardly need my recommendation to go out and get this one. Chances are, you already have it.