The Girl Who Played With Fire is the second novel in Stieg Larsson’s bestselling trilogy, the Millennium series. This novel was published posthumously in Swedish in 2006 and in English three years later. Like the first book in the series, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the novel’s popularity started in Europe before extending to the United States. Larsson was a journalist who spent his life speaking for equality and against right-wing extremism, and he became one of the world’s experts on the subject.
Like the first book in the series, this novel deals with dark elements of society, in particular the sex trade industry. The “Girl” in all three titles is Lisbeth Salander. She loves journalist Mikael Blomkvist but spends most of this novel running away from him. When she becomes the primary suspect in a triple homicide, Blomkvist is certain she is innocent and works tirelessly to clear her name. In doing so, he discovers the past she has tried so hard to hide, including abuse, institutionalization, and trauma from a system that should have protected her.
Blomkvist and Salander reunite at the end of the novel and will work together again in the third book in the series, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Larsson builds suspense through the use of flashbacks and partial revelations, which are typical of a mystery/detective novel.
Salander and Blomkvist are memorable characters, and through them Larsson reveals the intricacies of a computer genius (Salander) and a driven investigative journalist (Blomkvist). Readers also discover the intensity of publishing a serial magazine and the inner workings of a police investigation through realistic characters such as Editor Erika Berger and Officer Jan Bublanski.
Larsson includes several stereotyped characters. These include the incredibly huge Ronald Niedermann, who is incapable of feeling pain, and his boss, Alexander Zalachenko, a Russian double agent and the apparent head of the Swedish sex trade industry. With few exceptions, the protagonists in this novel are purely evil while the primary characters are more complex in their morality.
The Girl Who Played With Fire won the Swedish Crime Writers’ Academy Award for Best Swedish Crime Novel, and the trilogy has sold more than sixty million copies in five years and in more than fifty countries. Although Larsson wrote many other novels, this series serves as his legacy. And although the books in the series were written as detective stories, Larsson is unflinching in his denunciation of corruption in societal structures. The Girl Who Played With Fire is primarily an exposé of the corruption in social and criminal institutions, particularly as it affects the most helpless members of society, as demonstrated by Salander’s horrific experiences. All three novels in the Millennium series have been adapted into films.