The Girl Who Played With Fire

Rating:
4.5/5

Name: The Girl Who Played With Fire

Author: Stieg Larsson

Year: 2009

Genre: Crime, Thriller, Murder-Mystery

Following on from last month’s review of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, I am now taking a look at the second novel in The Millenium Trilogy – the Girl Who Played With Fire. 

Note this review does contain spoilers from the first novel.

The novel begins a year after the events of the first novel, with Salander on an island in Grenada, after using a false identity to steal Wennestrom’s millions she is now extremely rich. Whilst there she saves a woman who is about to be murdered by her husband during a hurricane as he wants to take her money as she is an heiress to a massive fortunre.

At the same time, Blomkvist and Millenium are riding high after using Salander’s hacking skills to expose Wennestrom for the gangster he is at the end of the first novel. As a result, Millennium is now one of the most respected publications in Sweden.

We also learn Bjurman has been silently seething since he raped Salander two years before and she took her revenge by tattooing on his abdomen “I AM A SADISTIC PIG, A PERVERT, AND A RAPIST”. During the last 12 months he has built a picture of her to try to extract his revenge, however he was puzzled when a police report from 1991 wasn’t accessible. He managed to obtain the report however and revels that someone from both their pasts is also an enemy of her.

Following the events in the Caribbean, Salander returns to Sweden and buys herself a new apartment. She also reconnects with her old friend and sometimes lover, Miriam Wu and offers her her old apartment on Lundagatan with the arrangement she keeps hold of her mail, so Salander doesn’t have to declare her new apartment and answer questions about how she got the money.

Meanwhile, Blomkvist is approached at Millennium by a journalist named Dag Svennson who has been working on writing an expose on the sex trade, along with his girlfriend Mia Johansson who is a studying criminologist writing her thesis on the same subject. Blomkvist agrees to them writing articles for Millennium and publishing another book on the subject. Blomkvist has also been regularly visiting Salander’s apartment to try to work out why she broke off contact after she saw him with Erica Berger on New Year’s Eve.

One night he finds himself there and spots Salander but before he can speak to her she is attacked. She manages to escape but leaves her bag and keys at the scene which Blomkvist picks up. Salander is infuriated by the attack and tries to find the man who attacked her, tracking him down to Svavelsjö MC – a Hell’s Angel biker gang. She suspects the attack may have been down to Bjurman so goes to his apartment late at night to investigate a possible link. She doesn’t find anything there however apart from a gun which she handles and then puts away.

She is also keeping tabs on Blomkvist having hacked his computer in the first novel and reads through his and Svennsons research on sex trafficking. However she is shocked to the core when she discovers Svennson had found someone named Zala, a mysterious figure who Salander knows. She goes to see Dag and Mia to ask what they know about Zala.

The same night she goes to see them, Dag calls Mikael Blomkvist and says he has a draft for the final chapter of the book which he can come and pick up later that night. However when Blomkvist gets there he encounters startled neighbours who say shots were fired. He goes into their apartment to find them both dead.

The police begin to investigate and discover a gun on the bottom of the staircase. They discover the gun was owned by Nils Bjurman and there is only two sets of prints on it, Bjurman’s and Salander’s.

Salander is now a wanted woman in connection with the two murders. The police go to Bjurman’s apartment to ask why she had the gun but it seems no one is home.

Later that day Inspector Modig goes back to the apartment and on impulse tries the door which is unlocked. Inside she discover’s Bjurman’s body. In the meantime the police find out where Salander worked at Milton Security and from interviewing Dragan Armansky they learn that Salander worked with Blomkvist during the events of the first novel, making a connection there. They also learn Salander has a deceleration of incompetence and Bjurman was her guardian which firmly points the finger at Salander.

Was Salander responsible for the murders and if not, then who was? Also how does this tie into the events of Salander’s past and just who is Zalachenko?

As with the first novel, I have read this book a couple of times and it is always an enjoyable read.

The book is an excellent thriller which has some very intricate plotting as the seemingly unrelated plot strands of Salander’s past, Zalachenko and the sex trade come together in a very unexpected way as the book asks questions on how a seemingly democratic and forward-thinking country such as Sweden can treat vulnerable women and girls, both those in the sex trade by allowing it to happen and also by the shocking mistreatment of Salander.

The opening chapters do begin in quite a strange fashion as it focuses on Salander in the Caribbean and from a plot perspective nothing from these chapters really comes back up again, though it is a way for Larsson to park Salander whilst focusing on Bjurman and Blomkvist and setting the wheels in motion for the rest of the story.

One of the best parts of the book however is the chapters just after Dag and Mia’s murder – Larsson skillfully describes how Salander turned up at the apartment and asks them what they know about Zala but then the story goes back to Mikael and for the entire middle section of the novel we do not hear from Salander’s perspective. The novel instead focuses on the police investigation and is a great way of instilling doubt in the reader.

We have read about her doing violent things in the first novel e.g. tattooing Bjurman and chasing Martin Vanger to his death after smacking him with a golf club. Also at the beginning of this one by allowing the husband to be killed by a tornado whilst rescuing his wife so it is entirely possible she could’ve been involved. It is only after the second part when it has been a week since the murders that the novel goes back and explains Salander’s perspective and whether she was involved in the murders.

I also really like in this section Larsson shows how the media get involved in Salander’s case with sensationalist headlines which make the story seem far worse than it actually is. For example, she is friends with the rock girl group Evil Fingers so is suddenly part of a “Lesbian Satanist Gang”.

I also read this part in a new light recently in the light of what has been happening with Britney Spears and her conservatorship which I have been following with interest. In the novel, the media assassinates Salander’s character her and presents only one side of the story, in much the same way the media did to Britney Spears back in 2007.

The novel is much more complex and has many more characters and plot strands in this novel than The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo so it can a bit harder to keep up with what is going on and a couple of times times I did lose track of which character comes from where – especially in the police force and the characters working for Armansky at Milton Security as they end up helping the police so it can get quite confusing. Overall Larsson moves between the strands really well and makes you want to keep on reading as he always leaves one set of characters at a key point. 

However, there are one or two small sections here and there that sometimes seem to come out of the blue for plot reasons e.g. Salander find out Bjurman has a summer cabin so goes out to find what he had on here, at the same time Niedermann who is one of the main antagonists, out of the blue remembers he has one so sends two Svavelsjö MC bikers to burn it down, essentially forcing a confrontation between them which is a bit labored. There is also a twist with Niedermann and Salander that does seem a bit off, though I assume the repercussions of this will be picked up in the third and final novel of the trilogy.

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