The Girl Who Played With Fire is the second book in the Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson and progresses the tale of Lisbeth Salander, a rather unusual heroine. In this novel Lisbeth gradually makes her way back to Sweden and picks up her life there, after a year travelling the world. She just wants a quiet life, and to be left alone - but, unknown to her, an investigation has started into sex trafficking that gradually draws her in. When a triple murder occurs, Salander's prints are all over the weapon used, and she finds herself on the run from the police, and forced to once again get in contact with Mikael Blomkvist.
I enjoyed this book, but not half as much as the first novel in the trilogy (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). Having established the characters of Blomkvist and Salander, I thought that Larsson would hit the ground running with this book, but we had the same very slow start that I experienced with the first novel. I was roughly 200 pages into The Girl Who Played With Fire before it became unputdownable. Now I read to the end of every book I pick up (I'm a sadist like that) but I have friends who give books a few chapters or maybe fifty pages before they discard a book that doesn't interest them - all those people will miss out on the thrilling read that this became.
I also objected thoroughly to the fact that many of the characters are still wondering how Lisbeth Salander manages to find out all the information she does during investigations: have none of them heard of computer hacking?! I don't know when Larsson originally wrote these three books - whether it was before the prevalence of the Internet and the ability of people to hack computers - but so many characters seemed woefully ignorant to the point of stupidity.
Lisbeth is still a startlingly charismatic heroine - almost a sociopath, with her own strong morals and hints of Asperger's Syndrome. I enjoyed every single part of the book that contained her, and loved the fact that we learnt more of her back story (a crucial part of the plot in this book).
Blomkvist was less readable this time out, but then The Girl Who Played With Fire isn't so much 'his' book. Instead we gained a vast cast of police officers and Millennium staff and private investigators. I struggled to keep them all straight in my head, in all honesty, with very few of them becoming more than simply plot devices.
In addition, the subplot concerning Berger and her angst about taking a new job became merely filler - since it wasn't completely resolved in this novel, I am assuming it will become more important in the third book.
Middle novels in trilogies often tend to suffer a little in terms of maintaining reader interest, and The Girl Who Played With Fire is no exception to this. After an extremely slow burning start, the ending turned out to be utterly explosive and kept me reading into the wee small hours. I would urge those who find it difficult to give it a chance, since I thought the last few hundred pages were spiked with adrenaline and well worth the early effort a reader will have to put in. I'm looking forward to seeing how Larsson completes Salander's story.