The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson. Second book in the Millennium Trilogy. Thriller with Scandinavian flavor. Spoilers for this and the first book in the trilogy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.In Larsson’s second novel we find the further adventures of Lisbeth Salander: tiny, anti-social, goth girl, hacker extraordinaire and Mikael Blomkvist: intrepid investigative reporter, extraordinary man-slut and blatant author insertion fantasy.
In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Salander and Blomkvist teamed up to crack the unsolved murder of Harriet Vanger, niece of a wealthy industrialist. Salander is legally incompetent and has a state appointed guardian. Her guardian, Nils Bjurman, assault and rapes Salander, thinking her defenseless. Salander retaliates in kind and blackmails Bjurman into abiding by her conditions for her guardianship. By the time Dragon Tattoo ends Blomkvist is beaten up and has spent a couple of months in prison. Salander has saved his life and has stolen several million dollars of mafia money from a corrupt businessman.
As Fire begins, Salander and Blomkvist are estranged. He is working on a massive expose of sex trafficking in Sweden, she is soaking up rays in the Carribean. The two people with whom he is working on the trafficking reportage are found murdered and Salander’s fingerprints are on the gun used to execute them. As Salander works to avoid being apprehended for crimes she has not committed Blomkvist is working to find out who really killed his friends.
Salander is definitely, not more mellow, but more empowered. She is obviously more comfortable if not necessarily more capable in dealing with people. Having her legal guardian by the balls gives her a freedom to act as she would like without fear of committal. Her freedom to act is further enhanced by being independently wealthy. She has a lot of money and doesn’t quite know what to do with it. A several month long world tour is a good start but when she buys a massive condo she doesn’t have any idea of what she will do with all the space. She has spent her entire life just surviving. She is unsure of what to do when she is comfortable whether financially, socially or in a relationship. When she is thrust back into peril she is once again sure of her course and action and cleaves through circumstances and people with equal facility.
Blomkvist is settling back into his life as a reporter after regaining his credibility. He is not cowed at all by his prison term for libel. When the opportunity to expose the hypocrisy of dozens of government officials is presented, he jumps at it. He is returning to all of his old ways, including being a piece on the side for half of Stockholm. Seriously, who does this guy not fuck? Blomkvist is portrayed as almost a sex therapist; a man so unthreatening that multiple rape and molestation victims feel ok sleeping with him. A human happy face dildo. His sex life is ludicrous. It’s a glaring carbuncle in an otherwise gripping thriller.
Larsson works very hard to keep Salander at the center of the narrative. The plot revolves around her involvement with the murder victims and the murderers. The interconnectedness of the players in the conspiracy to murder the two investigators and pin it on Salander is forced at times. The resolution would have been just as believable and less contrived if Salander had just taken it upon herself to find justice for two crusaders for womens’ rights rather than having a personal stake in striking back at their murderers.
The end is a bit ludicrous but fits the precedent set by the rest of the book. The story of Salander and Blomkvist is obviously not resolved. Fire comes across as the first half of a story to be finished in the next book, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest. This is a good book but do yourself a favor and read Dragon Tattoo first.