Continuing where The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo left off, The Girl Who Played With Fire has Lisbeth Salander enjoying a lengthy vacation globetrotting. She has the money and, well, anything to escape the reality of her life in Sweden.
And back in Sweden, Mikael Blomkvist is working on another huge expose, about the violations to the sex law by high-placing officials: sex trafficking, hiring of underage prostitutes, etc…
But when Dag Svensson, the journalist writing this expose, is murdered along with his girlfriend, Mia Johansson, in their apartment and a third victim, Nils Burjman (Salander’s guardian), is found naked, killed execution style, Salander becomes the main suspect in all three murders: a psychotic, mentally disturbed girl with her fingerprints on the murder weapon… a fast case, right?
But the case turns out to be anything but fast when Salander cannot be located and when the story takes too many twists and starts to signal a huge government cover-up that’s been taking place for decades.
The Girl Who Played With Fire is as equally captivating as The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. As all books in The Millennium Trilogy, it opens up with a prologue. In this book, however, the prologue is chilling. It depicts a man raping a girl. And as he violates her, the girl starts fantasizing about killing him, lighting fire to him using gasoline. The prologue concludes: “She smiled a hard smile and steeled herself. It was her thirteenth birthday.”
The Girl Who Played With Fire follows the same narrative style as its predecessor: introspective ideas from its characters interspersed among the text to advance the plot. The build-up, however, is far better and more adrenaline-rush inducing. The book feels slower at times, especially when the police are searching for Salander and she’s nowhere to be found both by the police and by you, as the reader. But when she shows up again, the book accelerates at a very rapid pace.
This is a book about the personal life of Lisbeth Salander and “the great evil” that caused her to be admitted to a mental hospital when she was twelve, as much as it is about sex trafficking. The two are so interlinked that it eventually turns out to be quite logical. You might guess how it will all turn out (I did) but even with guessing it, you will still feel a sense of rush as you read the text.
Less detective this time, Salander is forced to limit herself with everything she does. It’s up to Mikael Blomkvist to prove her innocence and present an adamant police squad with an alternate hypothesis.
While The Girl Who Played With Fire is about sex trafficking mainly, it lacks the sexual tension that was in the first book, mainly because Salander and Blomkvist have very little shared scenes. It does, however, have an intricate puzzle, similar to the first book, that is also helped by uncovering Salander’s cunning mathematical skills.
The Girl Who Played With Fire, however, relies a lot on coincidence. In his last conversation with Blomkvist, Dag had told him he uncovered a lead in his research revolving around a mysterious man by the name is Zala, whom he wanted to track down.
Salander, being the hacker that she is, goes into Blomkvist’s email and uncovers the correspondence. Zala. She pays a visit for the couple moments before they are killed. And it so happens that she touched Burjman’s gun, which also happens to be the murder weapon, a few days prior. And it so happens that all of this happened when she returned to Stockholm and decided to check Blomkvist’s email.
But the way the books is written and the near cinematic transitions between scenes builds an undying suspense with a terrifying ending. Yes, this book’s ending will leave you at the edge of whatever furniture you’re sitting on while reading. The ending gives the book its title. It tells you why the girl played with fire and what this fire brought to her life. And at the end of the day, cracking through her strong woman facade, is a sense of vulnerability in Salander that you barely glimpse as the book ends.
Trust me, though, you do not want to mess with the girl who played with fire.