It was quite a pleasure to get re-acquainted with my beloved Lisbeth Salander in The Girl Who Played With Fire, which far exceeds The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in pulse-pounding suspense, page-turning intrigue and absorbing character study. Ever the social activist, author Stieg Larsson also provides a good share of social commentary on the sex trafficking trade, which is an integral part of the novel’s plot.
The staff of Mikael Blomkvist’s political magazine, Millennium, plans an exposé on the underground trade of sex trafficking, which will reveal a number of inside jobs involving corrupt authority figures, such as policemen and detectives. When the two primary journalists working on the project are found shot to death in their home, Lisbeth’s fingerprints are found on the murder weapon, and she becomes the prime suspect. Throughout the journey to prove her innocence, both Lisbeth and Blomkvist track down and interrogate a number of men that the story had sought to expose, and Lisbeth’s search for truth and exoneration leads her to a larger conspiracy in which she confronts the demons of her past.
The Girl Who Played With Fire provides more insight on the enigma that is Lisbeth’s character than the previous book did, with details of her harrowing upbringing adding dimension to her antisocial personality and trust issues with authority, as well as her motives for taking the law into her own hands. In this volume she reprises her role as a vigilante, tracking down men guilty of sex crimes and subjecting them to physical and psychological torture until they admit to their wrongdoings and provide her with answers. It is later revealed that this drive to avenge abused women stems from Lisbeth’s devotion to her mother, who she witnessed being abused at a young age. Indeed, though Lisbeth’s endeavors are illegal, and some might say immoral, she remains a sympathetic and relatable character, and the most captivating heroine I have come across in recent memory.
However, as within the first installment, Larsson fails to provide depth and dimension to Blomkvist’s character, whose actions are meant to move the story along rather than to develop his personality. This means of plot advancement is nonetheless successful, as the suspense builds up with every bold leap he takes in his self-appointed mission to clear Lisbeth’s name. One notable improvement is his development is that, this time around, his overriding drive to uncover the culprit has tangible motives, as he is in Lisbeth’s debt for saving his life in the previous novel; plus he is determined to avenge his murdered friends.
The novel also introduces an interesting cast of cops and detectives who face the challenge of tracking down the elusive Lisbeth. Among these is the veteran policeman Officer Bublanski, who is initially convinced of Lisbeth’s guilt but then realizes that the case is larger and more complex than previously thought, as he is torn between what he’s told and what to believe.
Although The Girl Who Played With Fire is categorized as a murder mystery, the struggles of these characters are internal and at once profoundly human, and it is Lisbeth’s personal journey that is even more riveting than her external mission to right the wrongs committed against her. Once again, Lisbeth shines as the integral driving force that provides a deeper human element to the twists and turns of Larsson’s narration.
Whether you’re a thrill-seeker looking for a fun read or a reader that analyzes characters and deeper themes, I can’t recommend The Girl Who Played With Fire highly enough. You’ll find that it delivers above and beyond your expectations.