The Girl Who Played with Fire (Millennium Trilogy Series #2) share button
Stieg Larsson
Format Paperback
Dimensions 5.28 (w) x 7.82 (h) x 1.14 (d)
Pages 630
Publisher Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication Date March 2010
ISBN 9780307454553
Book ISBN 10 030745455X
About Book

"Mikael Blomkvist, crusading journalist and publisher of the magazine Millennium, has decided to run a story that will expose an extensive sex trafficking operation between Eastern Europe and Sweden, implicating well-known and highly placed members of Swedish society, business, and government. But he has no idea just how explosive the story will be until, on the eve of publication, the two investigating reporters are murdered. And even more shocking for Blomkvist: the fingerprints found on the murder weapon belong to Lisbeth Salander - the troubled, wise-beyond-her-years genius hacker who came to his aid in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and who now becomes the focus and fierce heart of The Girl Who Played with Fire." As Blomkvist, alone in his belief in Salander's innocence, plunges into an investigation of the slayings, Salander herself is drawn into a murderous hunt in which she is the prey, and which compels her to revisit her dark past in an effort to settle with it once and for all.


Dennis Drabelle

The Girl Who Played with Fire confirms the impression left by Dragon Tattoo. Here is a writer with two skills useful in entertaining readers royally: creating characters who are complex, believable and appealing even when they act against their own best interest; and parceling out information in a consistently enthralling way. The sharp-eyed may catch Larsson leaning on coincidence a bit too often in the new book, but overall his storytelling is so assured that he can get away with these peccadilloes.
—The Washington Post

Marilyn Stasio

For all the complications of the melodramatic story, which advances at a brisk, violently cinematic clip in Reg Keeland's translation, it's clear where Larsson's strongest interests lie—in his heroine and the ill-concealed attitudes she brings out in men.
—The New York Times Book Review

Michiko Kakutani

…boasts an intricate, puzzlelike story line that attests to Mr. Larsson's improved plotting abilities, a story line that simultaneously moves backward into Salander's traumatic past, even as it accelerates toward its startling and violent conclusion…Mr. Larsson's two central characters, Salander and Blomkvist, transcend their genre and insinuate themselves in the reader's mind through their oddball individuality, their professional competence and, surprisingly, their emotional vulnerability.
—The New York Times

Publishers Weekly

Fans of intelligent page-turners will be more than satisfied by Larsson's second thriller, even though it falls short of the high standard set by its predecessor, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which introduced crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist and punk hacker savant Lisbeth Salander. A few weeks before Dag Svensson, a freelance journalist, plans to publish a story that exposes important people involved in Sweden's sex trafficking business based on research conducted by his girlfriend, Mia Johansson, a criminologist and gender studies scholar, the couple are shot to death in their Stockholm apartment. Salander, who has a history of violent tendencies, becomes the prime suspect after the police find her fingerprints on the murder weapon. While Blomkvist strives to clear Salander of the crime, some far-fetched twists help ensure her survival. Powerful prose and intriguing lead characters will carry most readers along. (Aug.)

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Library Journal

Lisbeth Salander, the antisocial but brilliant computer hacker who helped journalist Mikael Blomkvist uncover a serial killer on a remote Swedish island in Larsson's acclaimed The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, takes center stage in this second volume of his "Millenium" trilogy. Opening 18 months after the events of the first book, the novel finds our heroine lounging by the pool at a Caribbean hotel, reading a math textbook, and watching a woman who may be a victim of domestic abuse, while in Sweden, Blomkvist, bewildered by Salander's abrupt disappearance from his life, is set to publish a magazine exposé on the sex trade. Impatient readers may chafe at this seemingly irrelevant prolog, but like the mathematical puzzles Salander enjoys solving, there is a logic to the clues that Larsson carefully drops—integral to understanding his protagonist as we gradually learn her back story. The main plot takes off with the murders of Salander's legal guardian and the two writers of the article, and her fingerprints are found on the gun used in the killings. VERDICT Although the pace slows when the police investigation takes precedence and Salander briefly disappears from the action, we are well-rewarded in the exciting final section when she finally confronts her dark past. This is complex and compelling storytelling at its best, propelled by one of the most fascinating characters in recent crime fiction. Eager fans will placing library holds for the final volume, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest, scheduled for a 2010 U. S. publication. [See Prepub Alert, LJ4/1/09; see also the Q&A with Knopf editor in chief Sonny Mehta and executive director ofpublicity Paul Bogaards on p. 60.—Ed.]—Wilda Williams, Library Journal

—Wilda Williams

Kirkus Reviews

Tangled but worthy follow-up to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2008), also starring journo extraordinaire Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander, the Lara Crofts of the land of the midnight sun. That's not quite right: Lisbeth is really a Baltic MacGyver with a highly developed sense of outrage, a sociopathic bent and brand-new breast implants, to say nothing of a well-stuffed bankbook. The late Larsson's sequel does not absolutely require knowledge of its predecessor, but it helps, given the convoluted back story and the allusive, sometimes loopy structure of the present book. In all events, Lisbeth bears her trademark dragon tattoo still, but her wasp is gone, for a curious reason: "The wasp was too conspicuous and it made her too easy remember and identify. Salander did not want to be remembered or identified." She cuts a fine figure all the same on the beach at Grenada, where she falls into a sticky skein of intrigue involving the usual suspects: self-righteous crusaders, bored Club Med types and some very nasty characters on both sides of what used to be called the Iron Curtain. So sticky is the plot, in fact, that Lisbeth finds herself accused of committing murder. It's a predicament that the utterly self-reliant but unworldly hacker (when we catch up with her, she's reading a mathematics treatise picked up during one of her frequent visits to university bookshops) needs Blomkvist's help to get out of. Some of the traditional elements of the espionage thriller turn up in Larsson's pages, while others are turned on their head-sometimes literally, at least where the romantic bits come in. Still, while endlessly complex, the plot has the requisite chases, cliffhangers and bloodshed.Not to mention Fermat's theorem. Fans of postmodern mystery will revel in Larsson's latest. Those who prefer the old Jason Bourne (or Mr. Ripley, for that matter) to the Matt Damon variant may not be quite as wowed. First printing of 300,000

The Barnes & Noble Review

Joy is not the first emotion one would expect to feel while reading a long Swedish crime novel that deals with misogyny, sex trafficking, police corruption, and a handful of explicitly gruesome murders. Yet The Girl Who Played with Fire, the second novel in Stieg Larsson's internationally bestselling Millennium series, turns a reader inside out with a joy that can't be squashed, not even by the grim knowledge that the 50-year-old author died suddenly in 2004 after finishing three books and will publish no more.

While it's not critical to have read the opening volume, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, before picking up this one, it's a good idea. That's where readers will get a solid introduction to Larsson's magnetic protagonists: the crusading investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist ofMillennium magazine, and the anarchic punk computer hacker Lisbeth Salander. While the first novel was mostly Blomkvist's story, the second belongs to Salander, answering some questions about her quicksilver personality while raising many more.

A notable difference between the two books is that the first, while teeming with characters in a complicated plot amid an exotic (to Americans, anyway) Nordic milieu, respectfully adhered to a fairly traditional structure. As Blomkvist himself noted in Dragon Tattoo, the puzzle was "a sort of locked-room mystery in island format," of the kind popularized by classic crime writers like Dorothy Sayers. In contrast, the second novel blows many such conventions all to heck, and part of the joy here is the shared exhilaration in -- and indeed complicity with -- the author's playful insubordination.

Larsson's biggest new tweak is his focus on Lisbeth Salander as heroine. While there are plenty of female crime novelists who've created male detective heroes -- Christie and Poirot; Sayers and Wimsey; James and Dalgliesh; Rendell and Wexford -- it's the rare male mystery writer who presents a female sleuth as his central character.

And what a character Salander is. She looks like a skinny, sulky, 14-year-old club kid, aggressively festooned with tattoos and piercings; she's in fact 26, with a photographic memory, a passion for esoteric math, and membership in a shadowy international band of computer hackers. Unbothered by any notions of social courtesy, she's nevertheless possessed of a steely sense of justice that "did not always coincide with that of the justice system." She's also had some training with a world-class boxer, attempting to compensate for her tiny frame with swift reflexes and a never-say-die fighting style.

But just when we might start thinking Lisbeth is some kind of Lara Croft crime-fighting hologram, Larsson steers us toward her vulnerabilities. Piecemeal, he drops clues that invite readers to form a patchy construct of her troubled life. As the author hinted throughout Dragon Tattoo, Lisbeth suffered through a traumatic childhood and spent several of her early teen years in a psychiatric clinic for children in Uppsala. Since then, she's been forced to defend herself against more than one vicious misogynist, including her legal guardian, Nils Erik Bjurman, a sexual predator whose attack on Lisbeth and her subsequent revenge were meticulously chronicled in Dragon Tattoo.

During a life consumed with self-protection, Lisbeth has yearned for trusting contact while at the same time doubting its legitimacy. As the new book opens, she has abandoned two sexual relationships that might have offered her true intimacy: most recently with journalist Mikael Blomkvist and before that with Miriam Wu, a lesbian sociology student and co-owner of an S&M boutique, whom Lisbeth had left for Blomkvist without a word of apology.

Now, it seems, Lisbeth's worst suspicions about human nature are once again confirmed. A freelance journalist and his criminologist girlfriend have been shot dead in their apartment in Stockholm's Enskede district. The couple was about to publish some incendiary findings about the trafficking of underage eastern European prostitutes in Sweden that would implicate a number of prominent lawyers, policemen, and journalists. The articles were scheduled to appear in Blomkvist's Millennium magazine. And the murder weapon, found on the apartment building's cellar stairs, carries the fingerprints of Lisbeth Salander.

As if this weren't damning enough, the body of a third murder victim is soon discovered: it's Lisbeth's detested legal guardian, Nils Bjurman. At this point, both the police and the frenzied media are certain they have an easy investigation on their hands, with Salander as the prime suspect. Fueled by misinformation, "the police appeared to be hunting for a psychotic lesbian who had joined a cult of sadomasochistic Satanists that propagandized for S&M sex and hated society in general and men in particular."

We're pretty sure that Lisbeth is none of those things. Nor is she a prostitute, or retarded, as some are eager to claim. But what do we really know about Lisbeth and her past? Larsson encourages readers to defend her, along with Blomkvist and her former boss at a private security company called Milton, who reminds an investigating policeman, "Files are one thing. People are something else." But how do we know she isn't guilty? As Salander herself notes while hiding from the police and conducting her own secret inquiry, "Nobody was innocent. There were only varying degrees of responsibility."

At varying points in the story, Lisbeth is not only the chief suspect but also a principal sleuth, a key victim, and a potential motive for the murders. In the meantime, along with Lisbeth and the police, others are conducting their own parallel investigations, including the Millennium staff, members of Milton Security, and the media. "Whatever the Enskede murders had been about," observes the veteran police inspector on the case, "it was much more complicated than they had supposed."

So where is the joy in this big, dark, messy, imperfect book? It's in the author's invitation to make the reader as complicit here as anybody else, and in his cheeky defiance of crime-novel conventions. It's in the mix of stylistic elements: the real and the hyper-real, the surfaces and the depths, the ever-fixed and the ever-changing. And it's in Larsson's captured thrill of merely being alive in this big, dark, messy, imperfect world, even when things are looking truly hopeless.

At one point while on the run, Lisbeth makes off with a thug's motorcycle and finds herself on the open highway, grinning with irrational exhilaration. We watch her go: a tiny, besieged young woman, trying to maneuver a powerful Harley toward an unclear future, having the time of her life. And somehow, whoever we are or might imagine ourselves to be, we know exactly how she feels. --Donna Rifkind

Donna Rifkind's reviews appear frequently in The Washington Post Book World and the Los Angeles Times. She has also been a contributor to The New York Times Book Review, The Wall Street Journal, The Times Literary Supplement, The American Scholar, and other publications. In 2006, she was a finalist for the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing from the National Book Critics Circle.