Last year, I reviewed Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the first installment of the thriller trilogy set in Sweden. The Girl Who Played with Fire returns the ex-lovers and unlikely partners, newspaperman Mikael Blomkvist and anti-social punk rocker Lisbeth Salander, to deal with Salander’s dark familial past. In this installment, we find Salander with significant financial means after transferring billions of Swedish kronor from dead villain Wennerstrom’s account to her own personal shell account.
After a torrid but brief love affair in the first book, Salander, still in love with Blomkvist, distances herself from him out of fear of getting hurt. The story takes off when a freelance writer, doing an exposé on human sex trafficking in Sweden, is found murdered along with his wife in their Stockholm apartment. When the police discover Salander’s fingerprints on the murder weapon, she becomes the main suspect and the object of a nationwide police manhunt headed by an overzealous prosecutor. The media establishment trashes Salander’s name and all but convicts her in the newspapers.
Knowing Salander, Blomkvist does not believe the accusations, and he embarks on his own investigation. He begins to uncover a conspiracy of cover-up related to Salander’s past and involving a Swedish spy agency and certain high-ranking officials in government. In the meantime, Salander launches her own dogged investigation not so much to clear her name but to exact revenge on those who are trying to hurt her. Woe betide the guilty party, for Salander is the type who takes no prisoners.
The dual but separate investigations serve as a vehicle for piecing the puzzle together in the reader’s mind. Like the peeling of an onion, the plot is revealed in intricate layers so absorbing one has no choice but to turn the page.
In a way, this is a better book than its predecessor. It is faster-paced, more suspenseful, has more depth, and contains more action scenes. Larrson takes us to Salander’s dark past that explains her introverted anti-social personality. We also discover how Lisbeth Salander got her talent in street fighting, which is then put to use during one of the most gripping scenes in the novel when Salander faces off with a couple of murderous bikers and a sociopathic giant of a killer.
I give The Girl Who Played with Fire five luminous stars. This is a highly-entertaining book with a lot of depth to the narrative.