The Girl Who Played With Fire Summary

Steig Larsson

The Girl Who Played With Fire

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The Girl Who Played With Fire Summary

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The Girl Who Played With Fire is the second book in Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s three-part Millennium series. Like the first book in the series, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, this novel takes place in Stockholm and focuses on the series’s central characters –  Mikhail Blomkvist, an investigative journalist, and Lisbeth Salander, a brilliant computer hacker with a dark past. First published in Swedish in 2006, the book was released in English in 2009 and became a number one bestseller in the United Kingdom. In the same year, the book was adapted into a motion picture of the same name directed by Daniel Alfredson.

The novel contains four sections and a prologue. In the prologue, a girl is restrained and held hostage in a dark room by an unidentified man. As she sits in the room, she thinks back to a prior incident in which she tossed a milk carton full of gasoline onto a man in a car and then threw a lit match onto him. In the first section, entitled “Irregular Equations,” Lisbeth Salander is staying at a hotel in St. George’s, the capital city of the Caribbean island of Grenada, after spending some time traveling in Europe following the events of The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo. She notices that Dr. Forbes, the man in the hotel room next to hers, is physically abusive to his wife. After using her network of hackers to investigate Dr. Forbes’s past, Lisbeth discovers that he has no assets in his name but stands to gain forty million dollars from his wife’s inheritance.

Lisbeth has taken an interest in mathematics and is tutoring sixteen-year-old George Bland, with whom she eventually develops a romantic relationship. When a hurricane strikes the island, the residents of the hotel move into the cellar to shelter from the storm. When Lisbeth goes to collect George from his shack, she sees Dr. Forbes struggling with his wife on the beach and realizes that he is trying to kill her. She breaks off a chair leg and hits Dr. Forbes over the head, knocking him unconscious. She and George help Mrs. Forbes into the hotel cellar. They find out later that Dr. Forbes was swept out to sea in the storm and died.

The second section of the book, “From Russia with Love,” begins with Lisbeth’s return to Stockholm. She buys a new apartment with the money she stole from a corrupt businessman and sells half of it to Miriam Wu, a former sex partner, for only one kronor in exchange for Miriam promising to forward all her mail. Nils Bjurman, Lisbeth’s former legal guardian, who sexually exploited and raped her, is focused on killing her so that he can destroy the video recording of the rape that Lisbeth is using to blackmail him. After looking through Lisbeth’s medical records, Bjurman finds an incident labeled “All the Evil” and identifies a person from her past who could help him track her down.

Lisbeth returns to Milton Security, the cyber security firm where she works. Her boss, Dragan Armansky, scolds her for leaving her job without notice and tells her that Holger Palmgren, who was her legal guardian before Bjurman, is still alive. Lisbeth, who believed Palmgren had died of a stroke, is overjoyed at the news and goes to visit him at the rehabilitation center where he lives. Meanwhile, a mysterious blond giant gives Lisbeth’s address to a man named Carl Magnus Lundin and asks him to kidnap her. Lisbeth sees the blond man meeting with Bjurman several months later and suspects that he may be up to no good.

Mikhail Blomkvist, an investigative reporter and publisher of the Millennium magazine in Stockholm, is covering a story on corrupt public officials who are involved in an underground sex trafficking ring. He has not heard from Lisbeth in a long time. Dag Svensson, a young journalist who wrote his graduate thesis on sex trafficking, offers to help write the article. Lisbeth learns about the upcoming publication after hacking into Blomkvist’s computer and takes special interest in the name “Zala,” one of the people investigated in the article. However, she still does not contact Blomkvist.

In the third section of the novel, “Absurd Equations,” Lisbeth pays a visit to Dag and his girlfriend, Mia, to ask them what they know about Alexander Zalachenko, the man otherwise known as “Zala.” A short while later, the couple is found shot to death in their apartment. Lisbeth appears to be the prime suspect since her fingerprints are found on the murder weapon.The police make a call to Bjurman, since the gun found at the scene is registered to him. They find him dead, presumably murdered with the same gun used to kill Dag and Mia. Lisbeth is suspected of Bjurman’s murder as well.

Blomkvist and Erika Berger, the editor-in-chief of Millennium magazine, decide to comb through their research on the sex trafficking article for potential evidence linking the article to the murders. Blomkvist suspects that Lisbeth may be hacking into his computer files, and leaves her a message on his computer offering to help. She replies that he should look for information on Zala. Blomkvist takes her advice and questions Gunnar Bjorck, a corrupt police officer involved in the sex ring, on what he knows about the man named Zala. Bjorck offers to tell Blomkvist everything he knows in exchange for his name being excluded from the article.

In the fourth section of the novel, “Terminator Mode,” the blond giant kidnaps Lisbeth’s roommate, Miriam, and brings her to a warehouse. However, she is rescued by Paolo Roberto, a former boxing champion and Lisbeth’s sparring partner whom Blomkvist had enlisted to help with the investigation. Roberto knocks the giant out with a plank of wood. The man later burns the warehouse to the ground to destroy evidence. After visiting Bjurman’s summer cabin, Lisbeth realizes that he and Zala are somehow connected. Blomkvist finds out from Bjorck that Zala is a Russian defector living under protection of the Swedish secret police, and that he is a sex trafficker. He also discovers the identity and address of the giant blond man, who is called Ronald Niedermann.

Zalachenko and Niedermann capture Lisbeth and hold her hostage at their farm. We learn that Zalachenko is Lisbeth’s father, and Niedermann is her half-brother. When she was thirteen, Lisbeth tried to set her father on fire with a milk carton full of gasoline to stop him from beating her mother. He survived, but had to have his leg amputated. Lisbeth was committed to a mental institution as a result of the incident, which is only referred to as “All the Evil” in her records. Zalachenko shoots Lisbeth several times, and he and Niedermann bury her in a makeshift grave. However, she digs her way out of the grave and kills Zala by striking him in the head with an axe. Blomkvist sees Niedermann on the road as he arrives at the farm and ties him to a signpost. He calls an ambulance for Lisbeth after learning of her injuries.

The main themes of the novel are identity, connections and isolation, justice, retribution, and gender-based violence. Lisbeth Salander’s life is shaped by her abusive treatment at the hands of various men. As a result of her past trauma, she has a difficult time trusting and forming lasting bonds with others, living a life of isolation in many respects. Blomkvist’s investigation of another incidence of gender violence, the sex trafficking ring, helps Lisbeth uncover and come to terms with her own past trauma.