The second book in Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy The Girl Who Played With Fire begins, after a brief prologue, with Lisbeth Salander chilling out in Grenada on the proceeds of the Wennerstorm affair; a fortune gained by her computer hacking skills. Lisbeth there sleeps with a local youth ten years her junior, and during a hurricane saves the life of a battered wife, while working to solve Fermat's theorem before returning to Sweden. Just a quiet holiday for our feisty heroine.
Back in Stockholm her evil legal guardian Advocat Nils Erik Bjurman is plotting to escape from the spider's web Lisbeth had enmeshed him in during the first book in the trilogy, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
Meanwhile Mikael Blomkvist and Erica Berger are planning to publish a themed issue of Millennium magazine devoted to sex trafficking and prostitution. The investigative work for this had been done by Dag Svensson, a freelance journalist, and his girl friend Mia Johansson, a criminologist and gender studies scholar. But before the magazine and the accompanying book can be published Johansson and Svensson are murdered and there is forensic evidence that the murderer is Lisbeth Salander. When Bjurman is also found murdered with the same gun the nationwide hunt for Lisbeth begins in earnest.
I was one of those who was very disappointed at the overhyped The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and discussed this at some length here and here.
My opinion regarding The Girl Who Played With Fire, which I finished reading yesterday, is that it was a worthy winner of the Best Swedish Crime Fiction novel of 2006 and is almost a certainty for my best five reads of 2009.
If reading 'Tattoo' was like struggling through deep snow reading the last 400 pages of 'Played With Fire' is like skating on ice. The start of the book is pedestrian, although not as turgid as 'Tattoo', but then the triple murder occurs and the book completes a metamorphosis into a police procedural crime thriller full of action and excitement as three separate groups hunt for Lisbeth Salander.
While 'biker gang' villains, Blomqvist and his journalists, and the police all hunt for Salander, she searches for the reasons that will explain her long term situation that developed after what she calls "All That Evil".
Larsson cannot resist his habit of giving us a plethora of extreme detail about everything such the size of the hard drives of a laptop and the the ages of all the police team. But in this book they add to the atmosphere and the internal clashes in the police team lead by Inspector Jan 'Bubbles' Bublanski are integral to the story. Bublanski aged 52 and Jewish, along with 39 year old Sonja Modig are the good cops while Hans Faste aged 47 is an egocentric loudmouthed homophobic bigot, who I suspect we might see more of in the third book of the trilogy. There Stieg Larsson's penchant for precise detail and repetition is infectious.
I thought this was a excellent book because in the middle of all the action and excitement Stieg Larsson has managed to indict incompetent and venal government agencies as well as the sensationalist media. These are both capable of destroying peoples lives and what I really enjoyed was that as the whole story came together the reader is made to understood the valid reasons for Lisbeth Salander's antagonistic difficult nature.
The diminutive Lisbeth Salander dominates this book even more than she did in 'Tattoo' with her determination not to take crap from anyone, but we also see her basic humanity as she shows concern for her intermittent lover Miriam Wu and her old infirm guardian Palmgren. She has been described as a 'male fantasy figure' and I agree with this, but not in a sexual way.
I certainly fantasize about having Lisbeth Salander, with her mace canister, her taser gun, her computer skills and above all her determination on my side in any argument.
I am already suffering from withdrawal symptoms roll on Larsson number three and even more Lisbeth Salander.
You can read another review here and one with some spoilers here.