The Girl Who Played with Fire is the second novel in the best-selling Millennium series by Swedish writer Stieg Larsson. This is the sequel to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and it was immediately as good as the first but this time I knew this from the very first page.
The book features many of the characters who appeared in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, among them the title character, Lisbeth Salander, a brilliant computer hacker and social misfit, and Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative journalist and publisher of Millennium magazine. This book focuses more on Salander, it is in fact her story that drives it, and she is undoubtedly the most interesting part of these books.
Mikael Blomkvist, has decided to run a story that will expose an extensive sex trafficking operation between Eastern Europe and Sweden, implicating well-known and highly placed members of Swedish society, business, and government. But he has no idea just how explosive the story will be until, on the eve of publication, the two investigating reporters are murdered. And even more shocking for Blomkvist: the fingerprints found on the murder weapon belong to Lisbeth Salander—the troubled, wise-beyond-her-years genius hacker who came to his aid in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and who now becomes the focus and fierce heart of The Girl Who Played with Fire. As Blomkvist, alone in his belief in Salander’s innocence, plunges into an investigation of the slayings, Salander herself is drawn into a murderous hunt in which she is the prey, and which compels her to revisit her dark past in an effort to settle with it once and for all.
On the surface, “The Girl Who Played with Fire” is about sex trafficking and prostitution in Sweden and high-ranking men who abuse underage girls. But, just like the first novel, it’s not quite that simple – the story gradually morphs into a tale of sexual prejudice, abuse of power, and governmental conspiracy. And even more, this book is about Lisbeth Salander, her past, her roots and the events in her life that made her who she is – a violent vigilante who hates men who hate women.
In addition, the villains are actually allowed to be called characters in their own right. They have motivations, they have fears, they have scruples, they have feelings, and yet they commit the deeds they are called villains for. Stieg Larsson cedes a lot of text to describe the characters’ social backgrounds, their working environment and private relationships as well as the relations between each character. All of them are flawed, and – likeable or not – characters whose motivations you can at least retrace, even if not always understand or share.
It is a great book, much more so in the second half than in the first. We get to know and understand Salander much better, her personal story is painful and at the same time inspiring, her violent crusade against abusers is convincing. During the last three chapters, this book was a real page-turner, gripping and cliffhanger.
My rating : 4/5