Review: The Girl who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

by Rebeca on March 21, 2009

The Girl who Played with Fire
Stieg Larsson (translated from the Swedish by Reg Keeland)
Alfred A. Knopf
514 pages
Coming in July 2009
In Larsson’s absorbing new thriller, The Girl who Played with Fire, the second book of the Millennium trilogy, the misogyny theme is revisited. The story takes place about a year after Blomquist and Salander have solved the Vanger disappearance. Blomquist has gained back his reputation after his expose of a corrupt financier and Salander, thanks to her hacking skills, is a wealthy woman.
Back as publisher at Millennium, Blomquist is working with two journalists on an explosive investigative feature on sex trafficking in Sweden. On the night before the article is published, the journalists are found brutally murdered. Salander is implicated in the crime, by one piece of evidence–her fingerprints are found on the weapon. However, Blomquist is not convinced the she’s guilty and he launches his own investigation to prove her innocence and find the killer. While the police are chasing leads and learning more and about the genious hacker,Lisbeth is conducting her own research after hacking into the journalists’ computers to prove her innocence and for some payback
Like the first title of the series, The Girl who Played with Fire refers to Lisbeth and an incident in her past, which takes center stage. Readers eventually learn the sordid details of her childhood and the injustice of  a corrupt Swedish child welfare system. And it’s this back story that makes Lisbeth so incredibly real and likeable. She is a survivor who against all odds is making her way in a very violent and hateful world. In spite of her methods of vengeance and justice, you can’t help but applaud her successes and cry at her failures.
Larsson beautifully captures Lisbeth’s relationship and affection for her former guardian, Holger Palmgren, who had suffered a debilitating stroke and whom she believed had died. Once she learns he’s alive and making a slow recovery, she makes a special visit to the hospital. In a touching scene, Lisbeth helps the first man who had believed in her and shown her kindness, feed himself:
“As he lowered his fork to collect another mouthful, a hand appeared from behind him and gently took it from him. He watched as the fork shoveled up some of the macaroni and cheese and raised it. He thought he knew the thin, doll-like hand and turned his head to meet Salander’s eyes. Her gaze was expectant. She seemed anxious.

For a long moment Palmgren stared at her face. His heart was suddenly pounding in a most unreasonable way. Then he opened his mouth and accepted the food.

She fed him one bite at a time. Normally Palmgren hated being spoon-fed, but he understood Salander’s need, it was not because he was helpless piece of baggage. She was feeding him as a gesture of humility–in her case an extraordinarily rare occurrence. She put the right portion on the fork and waited until he was finished chewing. When he pointed at the glass of milk with the straw she held it up so he could drink.

When he had swallowed the last mouthful she put down the fork and gave him a questioning look. He shook his head. They had not said a word to each other during the entire meal.”
It’s these scenes with Lisbeth that make the secondary characters shine. However on their own, Blomquist included, they are not as fully-developed. It’s as if Larsson didn’t want to waste his beautifully drawn-out scenes with them unless Lisbeth took the lead.  
Like its predecessor, The Girl who Played with Fire ends in an abrupt note and leaves the reader thinking that a page must be missing from the translation. This cliff-hanger proves to be deliciously maddening. For now, Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomquist fans will have to anxiously wait for The Girl who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest scheduled for publication in 2010.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

"Reg" March 22, 2009 at 7:36 am

I think Quercus have moved it up to September ’09!

J. Kaye March 23, 2009 at 2:44 pm

You have a blog award waiting for you at

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