By Stieg Larsson
As Mikael Blomkvist settles back into his routine as an investigative journalist at the magazine Millennium, hacker extraordinaire Lisbeth Salander decides to up and leave the country, traveling around the world for months without telling anyone as much as good-bye. While Blomkvist ponders her mysterious disappearance, he begins to focus on his next project: an expose into Sweden’s sex trafficking business. He mentors a freelancer who is writing a book on the topic, and urges him to close the gaps in his manuscript, particularly around an unknown figure named “Zalachenko.” Meanwhile, Salander returns to the country as quietly as she left, and sets up, if possible, a more discreet life than the one she had when she left. Then everything changes. Blomkvist’s freelancer and his partner are murdered, and Salander is the main suspect. As the investigation drags on with no leads, Salander’s entire background is leaked to the press, including her time spent in an adolescent psychiatric hospital. Blomkvist has (almost) no doubt that she is innocent, but without regular contact with Salander, he struggles to put the pieces together as the story becomes more complex. It now seems Salander is entangled with international drug trade and a murderous motor club, but how?
“The Girl Who Played with Fire” by Stieg Larsson is the second book in the Millennium series, which is centered on the enigmatic, taciturn, and brilliant computer hacker Lisbeth Salander. The storyline picks up shortly after the first book, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” left off. In this second installment, Larsson reveals much more about Salander as a character, both through her inner monologue and in the sensational stories leaked by the press or uncovered by investigative teams. His portrayal of Salander as a survivor of unthinkable childhood trauma feels entirely accurate. Salander, having learned from a young age to do whatever it takes to survive, has developed reliable coping mechanisms that don’t necessarily warm her to other people, and this features heavily in the investigation and media crusade against her. She is both hero and anti-hero, embodying resourcefulness, independence, and success, but not necessarily on terms that are always socially acceptable. She shows unflagging determination to reach her goals according to a clear sense of morality, but sometimes her goals and the methods used to achieve them don’t align with the laws of the land. Salander’s character and the storyline that surrounds her inspire a second look at what it means to be a good person.
The second book in this series is yet another story that is equally horrifying and gripping. Not horrifying as in scary movie horrifying, but horrifying in the unconscionable ways that people can mistreat another human being. The storyline moves forward just a relentlessly as the first book, but I still read it with a sense of “just tell me one more thing” before I can finish my page for the night. It seems un-put-down-able. An excellent follow-up in an excellent series, highly recommended.