Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Played With Fire is the second novel in his bestselling Millennium trilogy. It follows Lisbeth Salander as she tries to put to rest her harrowing experiences from the trilogy’s first novel, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
Part 1: Irregular Equations
Lisbeth Salander, the protagonist of the series, basks in the sun of Grenada after spending a year traveling the world. Because of her uncanny research and hacking skills, Salander is independently wealthy and does not need to work, but she has grown restless after being away from her native Sweden for so long. Mathematics have always peaked Salander’s interest, so she has spent much of her time on the island studying Dimensions in Mathematics while she keeps an eye on her hotel neighbors, namely a married couple that has violent arguments each night. Because Salander is a crusader against men who mistreat women, she cannot ignore the bruises on Mrs. Forbes’s face or her passivity.
When a “convenient” hurricane barrels down on Grenada one night, it allows Salander the opportunity to save Mrs. Forbes as her husband attacks her on the beach. Just as Dr. Forbes is about to strangle the life out of his wife, Salander hits him over the head and drags Mrs. Forbes to safety. She discovers the next morning that local authorities have found the doctor’s body swept up on the beach and have attributed his death to the hurricane. Soon afterward, Salander decides it is time to return to Sweden.
In the year Salander has spent traveling in Asia, Europe, and the Caribbean, her court-appointed guardian in Sweden, Nils Bjurman, has been plotting his revenge against his wayward ward. In The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, after Bjurman was assigned to handle the affairs of the supposedly mentally unstable Salander, he abused his power and raped her. Although the diminutive Salander looks like a defenseless teenager, Bjurman chose the wrong person to abuse because Salander not only recorded the rape and uses the recording to control him; she also broke into his apartment one night, handcuffed him, and crudely tattooed “I am a sadistic pig, a pervert, and a rapist” just below his navel. Bjurman is trapped by Salander, who seems to be ubiquitous and tracks his every move. But he is determined to use his connections in the government to access and expose files about Salander to get revenge.
Part 2: From Russia With Love
Salander returns to Sweden without anyone’s knowledge. Her computer hacking skills provide her with vast freedom and multiple identities, so she enters the country and proceeds to buy an apartment in an elite part of Stockholm. Then she goes on an IKEA shopping spree.
As she re-establishes her life in Sweden, Salander begins to visit the people she had left behind without a word over a year ago. Her first call is to Miriam Wu (Mimmi), who is Salander’s friend and occasional lover. After Mimmi gets over being miffed at Salander for her year-long absence, she agrees to move into Salander’s old apartment even though Lisbeth will not tell Mimmi where she is currently living or what kind of work she does.
Next, Salander pays a visit to her former employer, Armansky, at Milton Security. The firm specializes in investigations, research, and physical security for individuals and organizations. Like Mimmi, Armansky is not exactly thrilled to see Salander but does inform her that her former guardian, Holger Palmgren (who is like a father to her), is recovering from a massive stroke he suffered almost two years ago. Salander is shocked that Palmgren is still alive because she found him right after he suffered the stroke and was told by doctors that he had virtually no chance of surviving.
Guilt sets in as she drives out to visit Palmgren, but she feels encouraged when she sees him. She persuades his doctor to provide him with a personal therapist so that his speech and physical therapy can progress more rapidly. Of all of Lisbeth’s acquaintances, Palmgren knows the most about her and is the only person who elicits trust from her.
In the trilogy’s first novel, Salander met free-living journalist Mikael Blomkvist, became involved in a deadly quest for the truth, saved his life, and lost her heart to him. For the past two years, Blomkvist has tried to reconnect with Salander, but she has snubbed his attempts to communicate with her. He has continued working at the renegade publishing company/magazine Millennium and is about to become involved in another high-risk exposé involving the sex trade in Sweden.
A freelance journalist, Dag Svensson, and his criminologist girlfriend, Mia Johansson, have come to Millennium with an article and book on the illegal sexual activities of Swedish government officials and police officers. They appreciate Blomkvist and the magazine’s reputation for taking on troubling topics. Blomkvist agrees to work with Svensson on rechecking all his sources and preparing the article and book for publication. While all parties involved understand the inherent risk associated with the exposé, none of them knows the research will be deadly.
As Blomkvist begins working with Svensson and Johansson on their investigation, Lisbeth follows their activities without their knowledge. Over a year ago, when Lisbeth was working with Blomkvist, she hacked into his computers so she could access them undetected at any time. As she learns more about what Blomkvist is working on, she realizes that she is connected to his research through the name Zala—a mysterious puppet master behind much of the sex trade activities Svensson and Johansson are investigating.
Part 3: Absurd Equations
Blomkvist has possession of Lisbeth’s handbag because he tried to save her from an attack he witnessed outside her old apartment. He does not know that Bjurman, Lisbeth’s guardian, ordered the attack. Blomkvist uses the handbag to try once again to contact Lisbeth. He sends her a letter but receives no response. He finds nothing of significance in the purse, but it will later help him locate Lisbeth.
After the attempt on her life, Lisbeth decides to involve herself more in Svensson and Johansson’s research. She stops by their apartment late one night over a holiday weekend, and they allow her to come in even though they have never met her and know nothing about her. Lisbeth asks them what they have found out about Zala and what they plan to do with the information.
Later that evening, Blomkvist receives a call from Svensson asking if he can stop by to pick up some of his writing for editorial purposes. Blomkvist agrees to do so, but when he arrives at Svensson’s apartment, he stumbles upon a gruesome murder scene—Svensson and Johansson have both been...