The Girl Who Played with Fire (Millennium Trilogy Series #2)

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Overview

"Mikael Blomkvist, crusading journalist and publisher of the magazine Millennium, has decided to run a story that will expose an extensive sex trafficking operation between Eastern Europe and Sweden, implicating well-known and highly placed members of Swedish society, business, and government. But he has no idea just how explosive the story will be until, on the eve of publication, the two investigating reporters are murdered. And even more shocking for Blomkvist: the fingerprints found on the murder weapon belong to Lisbeth Salander - the

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The Girl Who Played with Fire (Millennium Trilogy Series #2)

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Overview

"Mikael Blomkvist, crusading journalist and publisher of the magazine Millennium, has decided to run a story that will expose an extensive sex trafficking operation between Eastern Europe and Sweden, implicating well-known and highly placed members of Swedish society, business, and government. But he has no idea just how explosive the story will be until, on the eve of publication, the two investigating reporters are murdered. And even more shocking for Blomkvist: the fingerprints found on the murder weapon belong to Lisbeth Salander - the troubled, wise-beyond-her-years genius hacker who came to his aid in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and who now becomes the focus and fierce heart of The Girl Who Played with Fire." As Blomkvist, alone in his belief in Salander's innocence, plunges into an investigation of the slayings, Salander herself is drawn into a murderous hunt in which she is the prey, and which compels her to revisit her dark past in an effort to settle with it once and for all.

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  • The Girl Who Played with Fire
    The Girl Who Played with Fire  

Editorial Reviews

Dennis Drabelle
The Girl Who Played with Fire confirms the impression left by Dragon Tattoo. Here is a writer with two skills useful in entertaining readers royally: creating characters who are complex, believable and appealing even when they act against their own best interest; and parceling out information in a consistently enthralling way. The sharp-eyed may catch Larsson leaning on coincidence a bit too often in the new book, but overall his storytelling is so assured that he can get away with these peccadilloes.
—The Washington Post
Marilyn Stasio
For all the complications of the melodramatic story, which advances at a brisk, violently cinematic clip in Reg Keeland's translation, it's clear where Larsson's strongest interests lie—in his heroine and the ill-concealed attitudes she brings out in men.
—The New York Times Book Review
Michiko Kakutani
…boasts an intricate, puzzlelike story line that attests to Mr. Larsson's improved plotting abilities, a story line that simultaneously moves backward into Salander's traumatic past, even as it accelerates toward its startling and violent conclusion…Mr. Larsson's two central characters, Salander and Blomkvist, transcend their genre and insinuate themselves in the reader's mind through their oddball individuality, their professional competence and, surprisingly, their emotional vulnerability.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Fans of intelligent page-turners will be more than satisfied by Larsson's second thriller, even though it falls short of the high standard set by its predecessor, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which introduced crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist and punk hacker savant Lisbeth Salander. A few weeks before Dag Svensson, a freelance journalist, plans to publish a story that exposes important people involved in Sweden's sex trafficking business based on research conducted by his girlfriend, Mia Johansson, a criminologist and gender studies scholar, the couple are shot to death in their Stockholm apartment. Salander, who has a history of violent tendencies, becomes the prime suspect after the police find her fingerprints on the murder weapon. While Blomkvist strives to clear Salander of the crime, some far-fetched twists help ensure her survival. Powerful prose and intriguing lead characters will carry most readers along. (Aug.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Lisbeth Salander, the antisocial but brilliant computer hacker who helped journalist Mikael Blomkvist uncover a serial killer on a remote Swedish island in Larsson's acclaimed The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, takes center stage in this second volume of his "Millenium" trilogy. Opening 18 months after the events of the first book, the novel finds our heroine lounging by the pool at a Caribbean hotel, reading a math textbook, and watching a woman who may be a victim of domestic abuse, while in Sweden, Blomkvist, bewildered by Salander's abrupt disappearance from his life, is set to publish a magazine exposé on the sex trade. Impatient readers may chafe at this seemingly irrelevant prolog, but like the mathematical puzzles Salander enjoys solving, there is a logic to the clues that Larsson carefully drops—integral to understanding his protagonist as we gradually learn her back story. The main plot takes off with the murders of Salander's legal guardian and the two writers of the article, and her fingerprints are found on the gun used in the killings. VERDICT Although the pace slows when the police investigation takes precedence and Salander briefly disappears from the action, we are well-rewarded in the exciting final section when she finally confronts her dark past. This is complex and compelling storytelling at its best, propelled by one of the most fascinating characters in recent crime fiction. Eager fans will placing library holds for the final volume, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest, scheduled for a 2010 U. S. publication. [See Prepub Alert, LJ4/1/09; see also the Q&A with Knopf editor in chief Sonny Mehta and executive director ofpublicity Paul Bogaards on p. 60.—Ed.]—Wilda Williams, Library Journal


—Wilda Williams
Kirkus Reviews
Tangled but worthy follow-up to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2008), also starring journo extraordinaire Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander, the Lara Crofts of the land of the midnight sun. That's not quite right: Lisbeth is really a Baltic MacGyver with a highly developed sense of outrage, a sociopathic bent and brand-new breast implants, to say nothing of a well-stuffed bankbook. The late Larsson's sequel does not absolutely require knowledge of its predecessor, but it helps, given the convoluted back story and the allusive, sometimes loopy structure of the present book. In all events, Lisbeth bears her trademark dragon tattoo still, but her wasp is gone, for a curious reason: "The wasp was too conspicuous and it made her too easy remember and identify. Salander did not want to be remembered or identified." She cuts a fine figure all the same on the beach at Grenada, where she falls into a sticky skein of intrigue involving the usual suspects: self-righteous crusaders, bored Club Med types and some very nasty characters on both sides of what used to be called the Iron Curtain. So sticky is the plot, in fact, that Lisbeth finds herself accused of committing murder. It's a predicament that the utterly self-reliant but unworldly hacker (when we catch up with her, she's reading a mathematics treatise picked up during one of her frequent visits to university bookshops) needs Blomkvist's help to get out of. Some of the traditional elements of the espionage thriller turn up in Larsson's pages, while others are turned on their head-sometimes literally, at least where the romantic bits come in. Still, while endlessly complex, the plot has the requisite chases, cliffhangers and bloodshed.Not to mention Fermat's theorem. Fans of postmodern mystery will revel in Larsson's latest. Those who prefer the old Jason Bourne (or Mr. Ripley, for that matter) to the Matt Damon variant may not be quite as wowed. First printing of 300,000
From the Publisher
“[A] gripping, stay-up-all-night read.”—Entertainment Weekly
 
“Boasts an intricate, puzzle-like story line . . . even as it accelerates toward its startling and violent conclusion.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“Gripping stuff. . . . A nail-biting tale of murder and cover-ups.”—People
 
“You might as well give up on the idea of sleep till you’ve finished the book.”—Dallas Morning News
 
“Buzzes with ideas [and] fizzes with fury.”—Los Angeles Times
 
“[A] dynamite thriller.”—Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

“Lisbeth Salander [is] one of the most startling, engaging heroines in recent memory.”—USA Today
 
“Brilliant. . . .Grabbed me and kept me reading with eyes wide open.”—Alan Cheuse, San Francisco Chronicle
 
“I couldn’t put down The Girl Who Played with Fire and eagerly await book three. . . . You must find out what happens next.”—Erica Marcus, Newsday
 
“Lisbeth Salander could be the female Jason Bourne . . . It’s an intelligent, fascinating story that draws readers in, and keeps them turning the page.” —Associated Press
 
“A combustible new thriller . . . Extremely well-written—Larsson’s minimalist prose is frosted with Scandinavian cool. . . . Burns with blue-flame intensity. . . . Larsson keeps a tight rein on the bullet-train plot.”—San Antonio Express-News
 
“A dynamite thriller.” —Variety
 
“Fantastic . . . Like all the great stories of just avengers that populate literature, this trilogy is secretly comforting, making us think that maybe all is not lost in this imperfect and deceitful world of ours. . . . Welcome to the immortality of fiction, Lisbeth Salander!”—Mario Vargas Llosa, El País
 
“Enthralling. . . . Confirms the impression left by Dragon Tattoo.” —Washington Post
 
“Will likely confirm Larsson’s position as the most successful crime novelist in the world.” —Slate

The Barnes & Noble Review
Joy is not the first emotion one would expect to feel while reading a long Swedish crime novel that deals with misogyny, sex trafficking, police corruption, and a handful of explicitly gruesome murders. Yet The Girl Who Played with Fire, the second novel in Stieg Larsson's internationally bestselling Millennium series, turns a reader inside out with a joy that can't be squashed, not even by the grim knowledge that the 50-year-old author died suddenly in 2004 after finishing three books and will publish no more.

While it's not critical to have read the opening volume, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, before picking up this one, it's a good idea. That's where readers will get a solid introduction to Larsson's magnetic protagonists: the crusading investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist ofMillennium magazine, and the anarchic punk computer hacker Lisbeth Salander. While the first novel was mostly Blomkvist's story, the second belongs to Salander, answering some questions about her quicksilver personality while raising many more.

A notable difference between the two books is that the first, while teeming with characters in a complicated plot amid an exotic (to Americans, anyway) Nordic milieu, respectfully adhered to a fairly traditional structure. As Blomkvist himself noted in Dragon Tattoo, the puzzle was "a sort of locked-room mystery in island format," of the kind popularized by classic crime writers like Dorothy Sayers. In contrast, the second novel blows many such conventions all to heck, and part of the joy here is the shared exhilaration in -- and indeed complicity with -- the author's playful insubordination.

Larsson's biggest new tweak is his focus on Lisbeth Salander as heroine. While there are plenty of female crime novelists who've created male detective heroes -- Christie and Poirot; Sayers and Wimsey; James and Dalgliesh; Rendell and Wexford -- it's the rare male mystery writer who presents a female sleuth as his central character.

And what a character Salander is. She looks like a skinny, sulky, 14-year-old club kid, aggressively festooned with tattoos and piercings; she's in fact 26, with a photographic memory, a passion for esoteric math, and membership in a shadowy international band of computer hackers. Unbothered by any notions of social courtesy, she's nevertheless possessed of a steely sense of justice that "did not always coincide with that of the justice system." She's also had some training with a world-class boxer, attempting to compensate for her tiny frame with swift reflexes and a never-say-die fighting style.

But just when we might start thinking Lisbeth is some kind of Lara Croft crime-fighting hologram, Larsson steers us toward her vulnerabilities. Piecemeal, he drops clues that invite readers to form a patchy construct of her troubled life. As the author hinted throughout Dragon Tattoo, Lisbeth suffered through a traumatic childhood and spent several of her early teen years in a psychiatric clinic for children in Uppsala. Since then, she's been forced to defend herself against more than one vicious misogynist, including her legal guardian, Nils Erik Bjurman, a sexual predator whose attack on Lisbeth and her subsequent revenge were meticulously chronicled in Dragon Tattoo.

During a life consumed with self-protection, Lisbeth has yearned for trusting contact while at the same time doubting its legitimacy. As the new book opens, she has abandoned two sexual relationships that might have offered her true intimacy: most recently with journalist Mikael Blomkvist and before that with Miriam Wu, a lesbian sociology student and co-owner of an S&M boutique, whom Lisbeth had left for Blomkvist without a word of apology.

Now, it seems, Lisbeth's worst suspicions about human nature are once again confirmed. A freelance journalist and his criminologist girlfriend have been shot dead in their apartment in Stockholm's Enskede district. The couple was about to publish some incendiary findings about the trafficking of underage eastern European prostitutes in Sweden that would implicate a number of prominent lawyers, policemen, and journalists. The articles were scheduled to appear in Blomkvist's Millennium magazine. And the murder weapon, found on the apartment building's cellar stairs, carries the fingerprints of Lisbeth Salander.

As if this weren't damning enough, the body of a third murder victim is soon discovered: it's Lisbeth's detested legal guardian, Nils Bjurman. At this point, both the police and the frenzied media are certain they have an easy investigation on their hands, with Salander as the prime suspect. Fueled by misinformation, "the police appeared to be hunting for a psychotic lesbian who had joined a cult of sadomasochistic Satanists that propagandized for S&M sex and hated society in general and men in particular."

We're pretty sure that Lisbeth is none of those things. Nor is she a prostitute, or retarded, as some are eager to claim. But what do we really know about Lisbeth and her past? Larsson encourages readers to defend her, along with Blomkvist and her former boss at a private security company called Milton, who reminds an investigating policeman, "Files are one thing. People are something else." But how do we know she isn't guilty? As Salander herself notes while hiding from the police and conducting her own secret inquiry, "Nobody was innocent. There were only varying degrees of responsibility."

At varying points in the story, Lisbeth is not only the chief suspect but also a principal sleuth, a key victim, and a potential motive for the murders. In the meantime, along with Lisbeth and the police, others are conducting their own parallel investigations, including the Millennium staff, members of Milton Security, and the media. "Whatever the Enskede murders had been about," observes the veteran police inspector on the case, "it was much more complicated than they had supposed."

So where is the joy in this big, dark, messy, imperfect book? It's in the author's invitation to make the reader as complicit here as anybody else, and in his cheeky defiance of crime-novel conventions. It's in the mix of stylistic elements: the real and the hyper-real, the surfaces and the depths, the ever-fixed and the ever-changing. And it's in Larsson's captured thrill of merely being alive in this big, dark, messy, imperfect world, even when things are looking truly hopeless.

At one point while on the run, Lisbeth makes off with a thug's motorcycle and finds herself on the open highway, grinning with irrational exhilaration. We watch her go: a tiny, besieged young woman, trying to maneuver a powerful Harley toward an unclear future, having the time of her life. And somehow, whoever we are or might imagine ourselves to be, we know exactly how she feels. --Donna Rifkind

Donna Rifkind's reviews appear frequently in The Washington Post Book World and the Los Angeles Times. She has also been a contributor to The New York Times Book Review, The Wall Street Journal, The Times Literary Supplement, The American Scholar, and other publications. In 2006, she was a finalist for the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing from the National Book Critics Circle.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307269980
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/28/2009
  • Series: Millennium Trilogy Series , #2
  • Pages: 512
  • Sales rank: 132,393
  • Product dimensions: 6.68 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 1.41 (d)

Meet the Author

Stieg Larsson

Stieg Larsson, who lived in Sweden, was the editor in chief of the magazine Expo and a leading expert on antidemocratic right-wing extremist and Nazi organizations. He died in 2004, shortly after delivering the manuscripts for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.

Biography

Born in Västerbotten in northern Sweden in 1954, Stieg Larsson had a professional career that bears a striking resemblance to that of the protagonist of his Millennium thrillers, Mikael Blomkvist. Beginning as a graphic designer for the news agency Tidningarnas Telegrambyrå (TT), Larsson went on to become the chief editor of Expo, the magazine published by the Expo Foundation, an organization he helped establish in 1995 to combat racism and the Swedish right-wing extremist movement.

Inspired by an old joke shared with a colleague at TT, Larsson admitted he started writing the Millennium novels -- The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and Castles in the Sky (working English title) -- just for fun. Describing them as "pension insurance," Larsson said he enjoyed the process of fiction writing so much that he didn't make contact with a publisher until he had completed the first two and had a third under way. Though Larsson died of a heart attack in 2004 and never saw any of his books in print, all three were subsequently published in Scandinavia and continental Europe to great acclaim. He left behind the unfinished manuscript for a fourth book in the series.

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    1. Date of Birth:
      August 15, 1954
    2. Place of Birth:
      Västerbotten, Sweden
    1. Date of Death:
      November 9, 2004
    2. Place of Death:
      Stockholm, Sweden

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1
Thursday, December 16 — Friday, December 17
Lisbeth Salander pulled her sunglasses down to the tip of her nose and squinted from beneath the brim of her sun hat. She saw the woman from room 32 come out of the hotel side entrance and walk to one of the green-and-white-striped chaises-longues beside the pool. Her gaze was fixed on the ground and her progress seemed unsteady.

Salander had only seen her at a distance. She reckoned the woman was around thirty-five, but she looked as though she could be anything from twenty-five to fifty. She had shoulder-length brown hair, an oval face, and a body that was straight out of a mail-order catalogue for lingerie. She had a black bikini, sandals, and purple-tinted sunglasses. She spoke with a southern American accent. She dropped a yellow sun hat next to the chaise-longue and signalled to the bartender at Ella Carmichael’s bar.

Salander put her book down on her lap and sipped her iced coffee before reaching for a pack of cigarettes. Without turning her head she shifted her gaze to the horizon. She could just see the Caribbean through a group of palm trees and the rhododendrons in front of the hotel. A yacht was on its way north towards St Lucia or Dominica. Further out, she could see the outline of a grey freighter heading south in the direction of Guyana. A breeze made the morning heat bearable, but she felt a drop of sweat trickling into her eyebrow. Salander did not care for sunbathing. She had spent her days as far as possible in shade, and even now was under the awning on the terrace. And yet she was as brown as a nut. She had on khaki shorts and a black top.

She listened to the strange music from steel drums flowing out of the speakers at the bar. She could not tell the difference between Sven-Ingvars and Nick Cave, but steel drums fascinated her. It seemed hardly feasible that anyone could tune an oil barrel, and even less credible that the barrel could make music like nothing else in the world. She thought those sounds were like magic.

She suddenly felt irritated and looked again at the woman, who had just been handed a glass of some orange-coloured drink.

It was not Lisbeth Salander’s problem, but she could not comprehend why the woman stayed. For four nights, ever since the couple had arrived, Salander had listened to the muted terror being played out in the room next door to hers. She had heard crying and low, excitable voices, and sometimes the unmistakable sound of slaps. The man responsible for the blows — Salander assumed he was her husband — had straight dark hair parted down the middle in an old-fashioned style, and he seemed to be in Grenada on business. What kind of business, Salander had no idea, but every morning the man had appeared with his briefcase, in a jacket and tie, and had coffee in the hotel bar before he went outside to look for a taxi.

He would come back to the hotel in the late afternoon, when he took a swim and sat with his wife by the pool. They had dinner together in what on the surface seemed to be a quiet and loving way. The woman may have had a few too many drinks, but her intoxication was not noisome.

Each night the commotion in the next-door room had started just as Salander was going to bed with a book about the mysteries of mathematics. It did not sound like a full-on assault. As far as Salander could tell through the wall, it was one repetitive, tedious argument. The night before, Salander had not been able to contain her curiosity. She had gone on to the balcony to listen through the couple’s open balcony door. For more than an hour the man had paced back and forth in the room, going on about what a shit he was, that he did not deserve her. Again and again he said that she must think him a fraud. No, she would answer, she did not, and tried to calm him. He became more intense, and seemed to give her a shake. So at last she gave him the answer he wanted . . . You’re right, you are a fraud. And this he at once took as a pretext to berate her. He called her a whore, which was an accusation that Salander would have taken measures to combat if it had been directed at her. It had not been, but nevertheless she thought for a long time about whether she ought to take some sort of action.

Salander had listened in astonishment to this rancorous bickering, which all of a sudden ended with something that sounded like a slap in the face. She had been on the point of going into the hotel corridor to kick in her neighbours’ door when silence descended over the room.

Now, as she scrutinized the woman by the pool, she could see a faint bruise on her shoulder and a scrape on her hip, but no other injury.

Some months earlier Salander had read an article in a Popular Science that someone had left behind at Leonardo da Vinci Airport in Rome, and she developed a vague fascination with the obscure topic of spherical astronomy. On impulse she had made her way to the university bookshop in Rome to buy some of the key works on the subject. To be able to get a grasp of spherical astronomy, however, she had had to immerse herself in the deeper mysteries of mathematics. In the course of her travels in recent months she had been to other university bookshops to seek out more books.
Her studies had been unsystematic and without any real objective, at least until she wandered into the university bookshop in Miami and came out with Dimensions in Mathematics, by Dr L. C. Parnault (Harvard University Press, 1999). That was just before she went down to the Florida Keys and began island-hopping through the Caribbean.

She had been to Guadeloupe (two nights in a hideous dump), Dominica (fun and relaxed, five nights), Barbados (one night at an American hotel where she felt terribly unwelcome), and St Lucia (nine nights). She would have considered staying longer had she not made an enemy of a slow-witted young hoodlum who haunted the bar of her backstreet hotel. Finally she lost patience and whacked him on the head with a brick, checked out of the hotel, and took a ferry to St George’s, the capital of Grenada. This was a country she had never heard of before she bought her ticket for the boat.

She had come ashore on Grenada in a tropical rainstorm at 10.00 one November morning. From The Caribbean Traveller she learned that Grenada was known as Spice Island and was one of the world’s leading producers of nutmeg. The island had a population of 120,000, but another 200,000 Grenadians lived in the United States, Canada, or Britain, which gave some indication of the employment market in their homeland. The terrain was mountainous around a dormant volcano, Grand Etang.
Grenada was one of many small, former-British colonies. In 1795, Julian Fedon, a black planter of mixed French ancestry, led an uprising inspired by the French Revolution. Troops were sent to shoot, hang or maim a considerable number of the rebels. What had shaken the colonial regime was that even poor whites, so-called petits blancs, had joined Fedon’s rebellion without the least regard for racial boundaries. The uprising was crushed, but Fedon was never captured; he vanished into the mountainous Grand Etang and became a Robin Hood-like legend.

Some two hundred years later, in 1979, a lawyer called Maurice Bishop started a new revolution which the guidebook said was inspired by the Communist dictatorships in Cuba and Nicaragua. But Salander was given a different picture of things when she met Philip Campbell — teacher, librarian, and Baptist preacher. She had taken a room in his guesthouse for the first few days. The gist of it was that Bishop was a popular folk leader who had deposed an insane dictator, a U.F.O. nutcase who had devoted part of the meagre national budget to chasing flying saucers. Bishop had lobbied for economic democracy and introduced the country’s first legislation for sexual equality. And then in 1983 he was assassinated.

There followed a massacre of more than a hundred people, including the Foreign Minister, the Minister for Women’s Affairs, and some senior trade union leaders. Then the United States invaded the country and set up a democracy. As far as Grenada was concerned, this meant that unemployment rose from around 6 per cent to almost 50 per cent, and that the cocaine trade once more became the largest single source of income. Campbell shook his head in dismay at the description in Salander’s guidebook and gave her some tips on the kinds of people and the neighbourhoods she should avoid after dark.

In Salander’s case, such advice normally fell on deaf ears. However, she had avoided making the acquaintance of the criminal element on Grenada by falling in love with Grand Anse Beach, just south of St George’s, a sparsely populated beach that went on for miles. There she could walk for hours without having to talk to or even encounter another living soul. She moved to the Keys, one of the few American hotels on Grand Anse, and stayed for seven weeks, doing little more than walking on the beach and eating the local fruit, called chin-ups, which reminded her of sour Swedish gooseberries — she found them delightful.

It was the off season, and barely a third of the rooms at the Keys Hotel were occupied. The only problem was that both her peace and quiet and her preoccupation with mathematical studies had been disturbed by the subdued terror in the room next door.

Mikael Blomkvist rang the doorbell of Salander’s apartment on Lundagatan. He did not expect her to open the door, but he had fallen into the habit of calling at her apartment every week or so to see whether anything had changed. He lifted the flap on the letterbox and could see the same heap of junk mail. It was late, and too dark to make out how much the pile might have grown since his last visit.

He stood on the landing for a moment before turning on his heel in frustration. He returned unhurriedly to his own apartment on Bellmansgatan, put on some coffee and looked through the evening papers before the late T.V. news Rapport came on. He was irritated and depressed not to know where Salander was. He felt stirrings of unease and wondered for the thousandth time what had happened.

He had invited Salander to his cabin in Sandhamn for the Christmas holidays. They had gone for long walks and calmly discussed the repercussions of the dramatic events in which they had both been involved over the past year, when Blomkvist went through what he came to think of as an early mid-life crisis. He had been convicted of libel and spent two months in prison, his professional career as a journalist had been in the gutter, and he had resigned from his position as publisher of the magazine Millennium more or less in disgrace. But at that point everything had turned around. A commission to write a biography of the industrialist Henrik Vanger — which he had regarded as an absurdly well-paid form of therapy — had turned into a terrifying hunt for a serial killer.
During this manhunt he had met Salander. Blomkvist unconsciously stroked the faint scar that the noose had left beneath his left ear. Salander had not only helped him to track down the killer — she had saved his life.
Time and again she had amazed him with her odd talents — she had a photographic memory and phenomenal computer skills. Blomkvist considered himself virtually computer illiterate, but Salander handled computers as if she had made a pact with the Devil. He had come to realize that she was a world-class hacker, and within an exclusive international community devoted to computer crime at the highest level — and not only to combating it — she was a legend. She was known online only as Wasp.

It was her ability to pass freely into other people’s computers that had given him the material which transformed his professional humiliation into what was to be “the Wennerström affair” — a scoop that a year later was still the subject of international police investigations into unsolved financial crimes. And Blomkvist was still being invited to appear on T.V. talk shows.

At the time, a year ago, he had thought of the scoop with colossal satisfaction — as vengeance and as rehabilitation. But the satisfaction had soon ebbed. Within a few weeks he was sick and tired of answering the same questions from journalists and the financial police. I am sorry, but I am not able to reveal my sources. When a reporter from the English-language Azerbaijan Times had come all the way to Stockholm to ask him the same questions, it was the last straw. Blomkvist cut the interviews to a minimum, and in recent months he relented only when the woman from She on T.V.4 talked him into it, and that had happened only because the investigation had apparently moved into a new phase.

Blomkvist’s cooperation with the woman from T.V.4 had another dimension. She had been the first journalist to pounce on the story, and without her programme on the evening that Millennium released the scoop, it might not have made the impact it did. Only later did Blomkvist find out that she had had to fight tooth and nail to convince her editor to run it. There had been massive resistance to giving any prominence to “that clown” at Millennium, and right up to the moment she went on air, it was far from certain that the battery of company lawyers would give the story the all-clear. Several of her more senior colleagues had given it the thumbs down and told her that if she was wrong, her career was over. She stood her ground, and it became the story of the year.
She had covered the story herself that first week — after all, she was the only reporter who had thoroughly researched the subject — but some time before Christmas Blomkvist noticed that all the new angles in the story had been handed over to male colleagues. Around New Year Blomkvist heard through the grapevine that she had been elbowed out, with the excuse that such an important story should be handled by experienced financial reporters, and not some little girl from Gotland or Bergslagen or wherever the hell she was from. The next time T.V.4 called, Blomkvist explained frankly that he would talk to them only if “she” asked the questions. Days of sullen silence went by before the boys at T.V.4 capitulated.

Blomkvist’s waning interest in the Wennerström affair coincided with Salander’s disappearance from his life. He still could not understand what had happened.

They had parted two days after Christmas and he had not seen her for the rest of the week. On the day before New Year’s Eve he telephoned her, but there was no answer.

On New Year’s Eve he went twice to her apartment and rang the bell. The first time there had been lights on, but she had not answered the door. The second time there were no lights. On New Year’s Day he called her again, and still there was no answer, but he did get a message from the telephone company saying that the subscriber could not be reached.

He had seen her twice in the next few days. When he could not get hold of her on the telephone, he went to her apartment in early January and sat down to wait on the steps beside her front door. He had brought a book with him, and he waited stubbornly for four hours before she appeared through the main entrance, just before 11.00 at night. She was carrying a brown box and stopped short when she saw him.

“Hello, Lisbeth,” he said, closing his book.

She looked at him without expression, no sign of warmth or even friendship in her gaze. Then she walked past him and stuck her key in the door.

“Aren’t you going to offer me a cup of coffee?” he said.

She turned and said in a low voice: “Get out of here. I don’t want to see you ever again.”

Then she shut the door in his face, and he heard her lock it from the inside. He was bewildered.

Three days later, he had taken the tunnelbana from Slussen to T-Centralen, and when the train stopped in Gamla Stan he looked out of the window and she was standing on the platform not two metres away. He caught sight of her at the exact moment the doors closed. For five seconds she stared right through him, as though he were nothing but air, before she turned and walked out of his field of vision as the train began to move.

The implication was unmistakable. She wanted nothing to do with him. She had cut him out of her life as surgically and decisively as she deleted files from her computer, and without explanation. She had changed her mobile phone number and did not answer her email.

Blomkvist sighed, switched off the T.V., and went to the window to gaze out at City Hall.

Perhaps he was making a mistake in going to her apartment from time to time. Blomkvist’s attitude had always been that if a woman clearly indicated that she did not want anything more to do with him, then he would go on his way. Not respecting such a message would, in his eyes, show a lack of respect for her.

Blomkvist and Salander had slept together. It had been at her initiative, and it had gone on for half a year. If it were her decision to end the affair — as surprisingly as she had started it — then that was O.K. with Blomkvist. It was her decision to make. He had no difficulty with the role of ex-boyfriend — if that is what he was — but Salander’s total repudiation of him was astonishing.

He was not in love with her — they were about as unlike as two people could possibly be — but he was very fond of her and really missed her, as exasperating as she sometimes was. He had thought their liking was mutual. In short, he felt like an idiot.

He stood at the window a long time.

Finally he decided. If Salander thought so little of him that she could not even bring herself to greet him when they saw each other in the tunnelbana, then their friendship was apparently over and the damage irreparable. He would make no attempt to contact her again.

Salander looked at her watch and realized that although she was sitting, perfectly still, in the shade, she was drenched with sweat. It was 10.30. She memorized a mathematical formula three lines long and closed her book, Dimensions in Mathematics. Then she picked up her key and the pack of cigarettes on the table.
Her room was on the third floor, which was also the top floor of the hotel. She stripped off her clothes and got into the shower.

A green lizard twenty centimetres long was staring at her from the wall just below the ceiling. Salander stared back but made no move to shoo it away. There were lizards everywhere on the island. They came through the blinds at the open window, under the door, or through the vent in the bathroom. She liked having company that left her alone. The water was almost ice-cold, and she stayed under the shower for five minutes to cool off.
When she came back into the room she stood naked in front of the mirror on the wardrobe door and examined her body with amazement. She still weighed only forty kilos and stood one metre twenty-four centimetres tall. Well, there was not much she could do about that. She had doll-like, almost delicate limbs, small hands, and hardly any hips.

But now she had breasts.

All her life she had been flat-chested, as if she had never reached puberty. She thought it had looked ridiculous, and she was always uncomfortable showing herself naked.

Now, all of a sudden, she had breasts. They were by no means gigantic — that was not what she had wanted, and they would have looked ridiculous on her otherwise skinny body — but they were two solid, round breasts of medium size. The enlargement had been well done, and the proportions were reasonable. But the difference was dramatic, both for her looks and for her self-confidence.

She had spent five weeks in a clinic outside Genoa getting the implants that formed the structure of her new breasts. The clinic and the doctors there had absolutely the best reputation in all of Europe. Her own doctor, a charmingly hard-boiled woman named Alessandra Perrini, had told her that her breasts were abnormally underdeveloped, and that the enlargement could therefore be performed for medical reasons.

Recovery from the operation had not been painless, but her breasts looked and felt completely natural, and by now the scars were almost invisible. She had not regretted her decision for a second. She was pleased. Even six months later she could not walk past a mirror with her top off without stopping and feeling glad that she had improved her quality of life.

During her time at the clinic in Genoa she had also had one of her nine tattoos removed — a 25-centimetre-long wasp — from the right side of her neck. She liked her tattoos, especially the dragon on her left shoulder blade. But the wasp was too conspicuous and it made her too easy to remember and identify. Salander did not want to be remembered or identified. The tattoo had been removed by laser treatment, and when she ran her index finger over her neck she could feel the slight scarring. Closer inspection would reveal that her suntanned skin was a shade lighter where the tattoo had been, but at a glance nothing was noticeable. Her stay in Genoa had cost her 190,000 kronor.1

Which she could afford.

She stopped dreaming in front of the mirror and put on her knickers and bra. Two days after she had left the clinic in Genoa she had for the first time in her twenty-five years gone to a lingerie boutique and bought the garments she had never needed before. Since then she had turned twenty-six, and now she wore a bra with a certain amount of satisfaction.

She put on jeans and a black T-shirt with the slogan: “Consider this a fair warning.” She found her sandals and sun hat and slung a black bag over her shoulder.

Crossing the lobby, she heard a murmur from a small group of hotel guests at the front desk. She slowed down and pricked up her ears.

“Just how dangerous is she?” said a black woman with a loud voice and a European accent. Salander recognized her as one of a charter group from London who had been there for ten days.

Freddy McBain, the greying reception manager who always greeted Salander with a friendly smile, looked worried. He was telling them that instructions would be issued to all guests and that there was no reason to worry as long as they followed all the instructions to the letter. He was met by a hail of questions.
Salander frowned and went out to the bar, where she found Ella Carmichael behind the counter.
“What’s all that about?” she said, motioning with her thumb towards the front desk.

“Matilda is threatening to visit us.”

“Matilda?”

“Matilda is a hurricane that formed off Brazil a few weeks ago and tore straight through Paramaribo yesterday, that’s the capital of Surinam. No-one’s quite sure what direction it’s going to take — probably further north towards the States. But if it goes on following the coast to the west, then Trinidad and Grenada will be smack in its path. So it might get a bit windy.”

“I thought the hurricane season was over.”

“It is. It’s usually September and October. But these days you never can tell, because there’s so much trouble with the climate and the greenhouse effect and all that.”

“O.K. But when’s Matilda supposed to arrive?”

“Soon.”

“Is there something I should do?”

“Lisbeth, hurricanes are not for playing around with. We had one in the seventies that caused a lot of destruction here on Grenada. I was eleven years old and lived in a town up in the Grand Etang on the way to Grenville, and I will never forget that night.”

“Hmm.”

“But you don’t need to worry. Stay close to the hotel on Saturday. Pack a bag with things you wouldn’t want to lose — like that computer you’re always playing with — and be prepared to take it along if we get instructions to go down to the storm cellar. That’s all.”

“Right.”

“Would you like something to drink?”

“No thanks.”

Salander left without saying goodbye. Ella Carmichael smiled, resigned. It had taken her a couple of weeks to get used to this odd girl’s peculiar ways and to realize that she was not being snooty — she was just very different. But she paid for her drinks without any fuss, stayed relatively sober, kept to herself, and never caused any trouble.

The traffic on Grenada consisted mainly of imaginatively decorated minibuses that operated with no particular timetable or other formalities. The shuttle ran during the daylight hours. After dark it was pretty much impossible to get around without your own car.

Salander had to wait only a few minutes on the road to St George’s before one of the buses pulled up. The driver was a Rasta, and the bus’s sound system was playing “No Woman, No Cry” full blast. She closed her ears, paid her dollar, and squeezed in next to a substantial woman with grey hair and two boys in school uniform.

St George’s was located on a U-shaped bay that formed the Carenage, the inner harbour. Around the harbour rose steep hills dotted with houses and old colonial buildings, with Fort Rupert perched all the way out on the tip of a precipitous cliff.

St George’s was a compact and tight-knit town with narrow streets and many alleyways. The houses climbed up every hillside, and there was hardly a flat surface larger than the combined cricket field and racetrack on the northern edge of the town.

She got off at the harbour and walked to MacIntyre’s Electronics at the top of a short, steep slope. Almost all the products sold on Grenada were imported from the United States or Britain, so they cost twice as much as they did elsewhere, but at least the shop had air conditioning.

The extra batteries she had ordered for her Apple PowerBook (G4 titanium with a 43 cm screen) had finally arrived. In Miami she had bought a Palm PDA with a folding keyboard that she could use for email and easily take with her in her shoulder bag instead of dragging around her PowerBook, but it was a miserable substitute for the 43 cm screen. The original batteries had deteriorated and would run for only half an hour before they had to be recharged, which was a curse when she wanted to sit out on the terrace by the pool, and the electrical supply on Grenada left a lot to be desired. During the weeks she had been there, she had experienced two long black-outs. She paid with a credit card in the name of Wasp Enterprises, stuffed the batteries in her shoulder bag and headed back out into the midday heat.

She paid a visit to Barclays Bank and withdrew $300, then went down to the market and bought a bunch of carrots, half a dozen mangos, and a 1.5-litre bottle of mineral water. Her bag was much heavier now, and by the time she got back to the harbour she was hungry and thirsty. She considered the Nutmeg first, but the entrance to the restaurant was jammed with people already waiting. She went on to the quieter Turtleback at the other end of the harbour. There she sat on the veranda and ordered a plate of calamari and chips with a bottle of Carib, the local beer. She picked up a discarded copy of the Grenadian Voice and looked through it for two minutes. The only thing of interest was a dramatic article warning about the possible arrival of Matilda. The text was illustrated with a photograph showing a demolished house, a reminder of the devastation wrought by the last big hurricane to hit the island.

She folded the paper, took a swig from the bottle of Carib, and then she saw the man from room 32 come out on to the veranda from the bar. He had his brown briefcase in one hand and a big glass of Coca-Cola in the other. His eyes swept over her without recognition before he sat on a bench at the other end of the veranda and fixed his gaze on the water beyond.

He seemed utterly preoccupied and sat there motionless for seven minutes, Salander observed, before he raised his glass and took three deep swallows. Then he put down the glass and resumed his staring out to sea. After a while she opened her bag and took out Dimensions in Mathematics.

All her life Salander had loved puzzles and riddles. When she was nine her mother gave her a Rubik’s cube. It had put her abilities to the test for barely forty frustrating minutes before she understood how it worked. After that she never had any difficulty solving the puzzle. She had never missed the daily newspapers’ intelligence tests; five strangely shaped figures and the puzzle was how the sixth one should look. To her, the answer was always obvious.

In primary school she had learned to add and subtract. Multiplication, division and geometry were a natural extension. She could add up the bill in a restaurant, create an invoice, and calculate the path of an artillery shell fired at a certain speed and angle. That was easy. But before she read the article in Popular Science she had never been intrigued by mathematics or even thought about the fact that the multiplication table was maths. It was something she memorized one afternoon at school, and she never understood why the teacher kept banging on about it for the whole year.

Then, quite suddenly, she sensed the inexorable logic that must reside behind the reasoning and formulae, and that led her to the mathematics section of the university bookshop. But it was not until she started on Dimensions in Mathematics that a whole new world opened to her. Mathematics was actually a logical puzzle with endless variations — riddles that could be solved. The trick was not in solving arithmetical problems. Five times five would always be twenty-five. The trick was to understand combinations of the various rules that made it possible to solve any mathematical problem whatsoever.

Dimensions in Mathematics was not strictly a textbook, rather it was a 1200-page brick about the history of mathematics from the ancient Greeks to modern-day attempts to understand spherical astronomy. It was considered the Bible, in a class with what the Arithmetica of Diophantus had meant (and still did mean) to serious mathematicians. When she opened Dimensions in Mathematics for the first time on the terrace of the hotel on Grand Anse Beach, she was enticed into an enchanted world of figures. This was a book written by an author who was both pedagogical and able to entertain the reader with anecdotes and astonishing problems. She could follow mathematics from Archimedes to today’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. She had taken in the methods they used to solve problems.

Pythagoras’ equation (x2 + y2 = z2), formulated five centuries before Christ, was an epiphany. At that moment Salander understood the significance of what she had memorized in secondary school from some of the rather few classes she had attended. In a right-angled triangle, the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides. She was fascinated by Euclid’s discovery in about 300 B.C. that a perfect number is always a multiple of two numbers, in which one number is a power of 2 and the second consists of the difference between the next power of 2 and 1. This was a refinement of Pythagoras’ equation, and she could see the endless combinations.

    = 21 x (22 - 1)
  8 = 22 x (23 - 1)
 96 = 24 x (25 - 1)
8128 = 26 x (27 - 1)

She could go on indefinitely without finding any number that would break the rule. This was a logic that appealed to Salander’s sense of the absolute. She advanced through Archimedes, Newton, Martin Gardner, and a dozen other classical mathematicians with unmixed pleasure.

Then she came to the chapter on Pierre de Fermat, whose mathematical enigma, “Fermat’s Last Theorem”, had dumbfounded her for seven weeks. And that was a trifling length of time, considering that Fermat had driven mathematicians crazy for almost four hundred years before an Englishman named Andrew Wiles succeeded in unravelling the puzzle, as recently as 1993.

Fermat’s theorem was a beguiling, simple task.

Pierre de Fermat was born in 1601 in Beaumont-de-Lomagne in southwestern France. He was not even a mathematician; he was a civil servant who devoted himself to mathematics as a hobby. He was regarded as one of the most gifted self-taught mathematicians who ever lived. Like Salander, he enjoyed solving puzzles and riddles. He found it particularly amusing to tease other mathematicians by devising problems without supplying the solutions. The philosopher Descartes referred to Fermat by many derogatory epithets, and his English colleague John Wallis called him “that damned Frenchman”.

In 1621 a Latin translation was published of Diophantus’ Arithmetica which contained a complete compilation of the number theories that Pythagoras, Euclid, and other ancient mathematicians had formulated. It was when Fermat was studying Pythagoras’ equation that in a burst of pure genius he created his immortal problem. He formulated a variant of Pythagoras’ equation. Instead of (x2 + y2 = z2), Fermat converted the square to a cube, (x3 + y3 = z3).

The problem was that the new equation did not seem to have any solution with whole numbers. What Fermat had thus done, by an academic tweak, was to transform a formula which had an infinite number of perfect solutions into a blind alley that had no solution at all. His theorem was just that — Fermat claimed that nowhere in the infinite universe of numbers was there any whole number in which a cube could be expressed as the sum of two cubes, and that this was general for all numbers having a power of more than 2, that is, precisely Pythagoras’ equation.

Other mathematicians swiftly agreed that this was correct. Through trial and error they were able to confirm that they could not find a number that disproved Fermat’s theorem. The problem was simply that even if they counted until the end of time, they would never be able to test all existing numbers — they are infinite, after all — and consequently the mathematicians could not be 100 per cent certain that the next number would not disprove Fermat’s theorem. Within mathematics, assertions must always be proven mathematically and expressed in a valid and scientifically correct formula. The mathematician must be able to stand on a podium and say the words, “This is so because . . .”

Fermat, as was his wont, sorely tested his colleagues. In the margin of his copy of Arithmetica the genius penned the problem and concluded with the lines: Cuius rei demonstrationem mirabilem sane detexi hanc marginis exiguitas non caperet. These lines became immortalized in the history of mathematics: I have a truly marvellous demonstration of this proposition which this margin is too narrow to contain.

If his intention had been to madden his peers, then he succeeded. Since 1637 almost every self-respecting mathematician has spent time, sometimes a great deal of time, trying to find Fermat’s proof. Generations of thinkers had failed until finally Andrew Wiles came up with the proof everyone had been waiting for. By then he had pondered the riddle for twenty-five years, the last ten of which he worked almost full-time on the problem.
Salander was at a loss.

She was actually not interested in the answer. It was the process of solution that was the point. When someone put a riddle in front of her, she solved it. Before she understood the principles of reasoning, the number mysteries took a long time to solve, but she always arrived at the correct answer before she looked it up.
So she took out a piece of paper and began scribbling figures when she read Fermat’s theorem. But she failed to find a proof for it.

She disdained to look at the answer key, so she bypassed the section that gave Wiles’ solution. Instead she finished her reading of Dimensions and confirmed that none of the other problems formulated in the book presented any overwhelming difficulties for her. Then she returned to Fermat’s riddle day after day with gathering irritation, wondering what was Fermat’s “marvellous proof”. She went from one dead end to another.
She looked up when the man from room 32 stood and walked towards the exit. He had been sitting there for two hours and ten minutes.

*
Ella Carmichael set down the glass on the bar. She had long since realized that crappy pink drinks with stupid umbrellas were not Salander’s style. She ordered always the same drink, rum and Coke. Except for one evening when she had been in an odd mood and got so drunk that Ella had to call the porter to carry her to her room, her normal consumption consisted of caffè latte and a few drinks. Or Carib beer. As always, she sat at the far right end of the bar and opened a book which looked to have complicated lines of numbers in it, which in Ella’s eyes was a funny choice of reading for a girl of her age.

She also noticed that Salander did not appear to have the least interest in being picked up. The few lonely men who had made advances had been rebuffed kindly but firmly, and in one case not very kindly. Chris MacAllen, the man dispatched so brusquely, was a local wastrel who could have used a good thrashing. So Ella was not too bothered when he somehow stumbled and fell into the pool after bothering Miss Salander for an entire evening. To MacAllen’s credit, he did not hold a grudge. He came back the following night, all sobered up, and offered to buy Salander a beer, which, after a brief hesitation, she accepted. From then on they greeted each other politely when they saw each other in the bar.

“Everything O.K.?”

Salander nodded and took the glass. “Any news about Matilda?”

“Still headed our way. It could be a real bad weekend.”

“When will we know?”

“Actually not before she’s passed by. She could head straight for Grenada and then decide to swing north at the last moment.”

Then they heard a laugh that was a little too loud and turned to see the lady from room 32, apparently amused by something her husband had said.

“Who are they?”

“Dr Forbes? They’re Americans from Austin, Texas.” Ella Carmichael said the word “Americans” with a certain distaste.

“I could tell they’re Americans, but what are they doing here? Is he a G.P.?”

“No, not that kind of doctor. He’s here for the Santa Maria Foundation.”

“What’s that?”

“They support education for talented children. He’s a fine man. He’s discussing a proposal for a new high school in St George’s with the Ministry of Education.”

“He’s a fine man who beats his wife,” Salander said.

Ella gave Salander a sharp look and went to the other end of the bar to serve some local customers.
Salander stayed for ten minutes with her nose in Dimensions. She had known that she had a photographic memory since before she reached puberty, and because of it she was very different from her classmates. She had never revealed this to anyone — except to Blomkvist in a moment of weakness. She already knew the text of Dimensions in Mathematics by heart and was dragging the book around mainly because it represented a physical link to Fermat, as if the book had become some kind of talisman.

But this evening she could not concentrate on Fermat or his theorem. Instead she saw in her mind Dr Forbes sitting motionless, gazing at the same distant point in the sea at the Carenage.

She could not have explained why she knew that something was not right.

Finally she closed the book, went back to her room and booted up her PowerBook. Surfing the Internet did not call for any thinking. The hotel did not have broadband, but she had a built-in modem that she could hook up to her Panasonic mobile phone and with that set-up she could send and receive email. She typed a message to

:

No broadband here. Need info on a Dr Forbes with the Santa Maria Foundation, and his wife, living in Austin, Texas. $500 to whoever does the research. Wasp.

——————

She attached her public P.G.P. key, encrypted the message with Plague’s P.G.P. key, and sent it. Then she looked at the clock and saw that it was just past 7.30 p.m.

She turned off her computer, locked her door, and walked four hundred metres along the beach, past the road to St George’s, and knocked on the door of a shack behind the Coconut. George Bland was sixteen and a student. He intended to become a lawyer or a doctor or possibly an astronaut, and he was just as skinny as Salander and only a little taller.

Salander had met him on the beach the day after she moved to Grand Anse. She had sat down in the shade under some palms to watch the children playing football by the water. She was engrossed in Dimensions when the boy came and sat in the sand a few metres away from her, apparently without noticing she was there. She observed him in silence. A thin black boy in sandals, black jeans, and a white shirt.

He too had opened a book and immersed himself in it. Like her, he was reading a mathematics book — Basics 4. He began to scribble in an exercise book. Five minutes later, when Salander cleared her throat, he jumped up with a start. He apologized for bothering her and was on the brink of being gone when she asked him if what he was working on were complicated formulae.

Algebra. After a minute she had shown him an error in his calculation. After half an hour they had finished his homework. After an hour they had gone through the whole of the next chapter in his textbook and she had explained the trick behind the arithmetical operations as though she were his tutor. He had looked at her awestruck. After two hours he told her that his mother lived in Toronto, that his father lived in Grenville on the other side of the island, and that he himself lived in a shack a little way along the beach. He was the youngest in the family, with three older sisters.

Salander found his company surprisingly relaxing. The situation was unusual. She hardly ever began conversations with strangers just to talk. It was not a matter of shyness. For her, a conversation had a straightforward function. How do I get to the pharmacy?, or How much does the hotel room cost? Conversation also had a professional function. When she worked as a researcher for Dragan Armansky at Milton Security she had never minded having a long conversation if it was to ferret out facts.
On the other hand, she disliked personal discussions, which always led to snooping around in areas she considered private. How old are you? Guess. Do you like Britney Spears? Who? What do you think of Carl Larsson’s paintings? I’ve never given them a thought. Are you a lesbian? Piss off.

This boy was gawky and self-conscious, but he was polite and tried to have an intelligent conversation without competing with her or poking his nose into her life. Like her, he seemed lonely. He appeared to accept without puzzlement that a goddess of mathematics had descended on to Grand Anse Beach, and with pleasure that she would keep him company. They got up as the sun sank to the horizon. They walked together towards her hotel, and he pointed out the shack that was his student quarters. Shyly he asked if he might invite her to tea.
The shack contained a table that was cobbled together, two chairs, a bed, and a wooden cabinet for clothes. The only lighting was a desk lamp with a cable that ran to the Coconut. He had a camp stove. He offered her a meal of rice and vegetables, which he served on plastic plates. Boldly he even offered her a smoke of the local forbidden substance, which she also accepted.

Salander could not help noticing that he was affected by her presence and did not know how he should treat her. She, on a whim, decided to let him seduce her. It had developed into a painfully roundabout procedure in which he certainly understood her signals but had no idea how to react to them. Finally she lost patience and pushed him roughly on to the bed and took off her shirt and jeans.

It was the first time she had shown herself naked to anyone since the operation in Italy. She had left the clinic with a feeling of panic. It took her a long while to realize that no-one was staring at her. Normally she did not give a damn what other people thought of her, and she did not worry about why she felt nervous now.
Young Bland had been a perfect initiation for her new self. When at last (after some encouragement) he managed to unfasten her bra, he immediately switched off the lamp before undressing himself. Salander could tell that he was shy and turned the lamp back on. She watched his reactions closely as clumsily he began to touch her. Only much later did she relax, certain that he thought her breasts were natural. On the other hand, it was unlikely he had much to compare them to.

She had not planned to get herself a teenage lover on Grenada. It had been an impulse, and when she left him late that night she had not thought of ever going back. But the next day she ran into him on the beach and realized that the clumsy boy was pleasant company. For the seven weeks she lived on Grenada, George Bland became a regular part of her life. They did not spend time together during the day, but they spent the hours before sundown on the beach and the evenings alone in his shack.

She was aware that when they walked together they looked like two teenagers. Sweet sixteen.

He evidently thought that life had become much more interesting. He had met a woman who was teaching him about mathematics and eroticism.

He opened the door and smiled delightedly at her.

“Would you like company?” she said.

Salander left the shack just after two in the morning. She had a warm feeling in her body and strolled along the beach instead of taking the road to the Keys Hotel. She walked alone in the dark, knowing that Bland would be a hundred metres behind.

He always did that. She had never slept all night at his place, and he often protested that she, a woman all alone, should not be walking back to her hotel at night. He insisted it was his duty to accompany her back to the hotel. Especially when it was very late, as it often was. Salander would listen to his objections and then cut the discussion off with a firm no. I’ll walk where I want, when I want. And no, I don’t want an escort. The first time she caught him following her she was really annoyed. But now she thought his wanting to protect her was rather sweet, so she pretended that she did not know he was there behind her or that he would turn back when he saw her go in the door of the hotel.

She wondered what he would do if she were attacked.

She would make use of the hammer she had bought at MacIntyre’s hardware store and kept in the outside pocket of her shoulder bag. There were not so many physical threats that could not be countered with a decent hammer, Salander thought.

There was a full moon and the stars were sparkling. Salander looked up and identified Regulus in Leo near the horizon. She was almost at the hotel terrace when she stopped short. She had caught sight of someone near the waterline below the hotel. It was the first time she had seen a living soul on the beach after dark. He was almost a hundred metres off, but Salander knew at once who it was there in the moonlight.

It was the fine Dr Forbes from room 32.

She took three quick steps into the shadow of a tree. When she turned her head, Bland was invisible too. The figure at the water’s edge was walking slowly back and forth. He was smoking a cigarette. Every so often he would stop and bend down as if to examine the sand. This pantomime continued for twenty minutes before he turned and with rapid steps walked to the hotel’s beach entrance and vanished.

Salander waited for a few minutes before she went down to where Dr Forbes had been. She made a slow semicircle, inspecting the sand. All she could make out were pebbles and some shells. After a few minutes she broke off her search and went back to the hotel.

On her balcony, she leaned over the railing, and peered in her neighbours’ door. All was quiet. The evening’s argument was obviously over. After a while she took from her shoulder bag some papers to roll a joint from the supply that Bland had given her. She sat down on a balcony chair and gazed out at the dark water of the Caribbean as she smoked and thought.

She felt like a radar installation on high alert.

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Reading Group Guide

1. Have you read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? How did your knowledge-or lack of knowledge-about that novel affect your reading of this one?

2. Discuss the prologue. What did you think was going on? At what point did you fully understand it?

3. On page 22, Larsson writes, “Within mathematics, assertions must always be proven mathematically and expressed in a valid and scientifically correct formula.” What does this have to do with the plot of the novel? Why is Salander so intrigued by mathematics?

4. Outwardly, Salander is supremely self-assured. Why does she have breast augmentation surgery?

5. Ultimately, does Salander's agreement with Nils Erik Bjurman pay off? In what ways?

6. Revenge is a major theme of the novel. Who seeks it, and what are the results?

7. Discuss gender politics as they affect the plot: the treatment of Salander, Erika Berger, Miriam Wu, and Sonja Modig and the trafficking of Eastern European women. What do you think Larsson was trying to say about the role of women in society?

8. On page 105, Berger thinks about Blomkvist: “He was a man with such shifting traits that he sometimes appeared to have multiple personalities.” Given that the reader is allowed inside Blomkvist's head, does this seem like an accurate description to you? How is Berger right in her assessment, and how is she wrong?

9. Twice in the novel, Salander and Blomkvist refer to his assertion that “friendship is built on two things-respect and trust.” Who is a true friend to Salander? Is she a true friend to anyone? What about Blomkvist? Is he a good friend to Salander, to Berger, and to others?

10. Discuss the arrangement agreed to by Berger, Blomkvist, and Gregor Beckman. How does this benefit each of them? Does it hurt them?

11. When Dag Svensson and Mia Johansson were murdered, what was your first response? Who did you think was the killer? Who did you think was Bjurman's killer?

12. Why does Blomkvist give Salander the benefit of the doubt, when so many others don't?

13. When newspaper articles begin to appear featuring interviews with long-ago acquaintances of Salander, did it change your perception of her character? Discuss the nature of truth in these instances: Is it possible both sides were remembering accurately?

14. Discuss Dr. Peter Teleborian. What role does he play, and why?

15. Why does Berger put off telling Blomkvist about her new job? What will the ramifications of the new job be?

16. On page 323, Salander thinks, “There are no innocents. There are, however, different degrees of responsibility.” What is the significance of this statement? How does Salander use this notion to guide her actions?

17. On page 463, Blomkvist calls Salander “the woman who hated men who hate women.” Is this an accurate assessment? How did she end up this way? How does it affect her behavior?

18. In what ways is Salander like her father and half brother? In what ways is she different?

19. Toward the end of the novel, does Blomkvist do the right thing by having Berger deliver only part of the story to Jan Bublanski and Modig? What do you think he should have done

20. Holger Palmgren tells Dragan Armansky on page 490, “What happens tonight will happen, no matter what you or I think. It has been written in the stars since [Salander] was born.” Why does he feel this way? Is he right? How does his inaction affect the outcome of the story?

21. Discuss the ending. Were you satisfied? What more, if anything, would you like to have had happen?

22. If Stieg Larsson were still alive, what one question would you most like to ask him?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 10474 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 9, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Even Better than the First!

    I was quite fortunate to have been provided with an advance reader's copy of "The Girl Who Played with Fire." I had read, and loved, the first volume of this trilogy, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." I am happy to report that I loved this second part of the story even more than the first.<BR/><BR/>The book, like the first installement, is quite formidable in size, as it encompasses more than 500 pages. Nonetheless, I tore through it in three nights. I just could not put this book down; I had to reach the conclusion, searching for answers to so many puzzles posed during the narrative. I found that the author again managed to write a most exciting, intriguing action story, while skillfully interweaving strong social commentary, particularly as against prostitution, the sex trade, and the horrid treatment of impoverished women with an utter lack of hope in their lives.<BR/><BR/>The story reunites the reader with Lisbeth Salander, the fire-playing, tattoo-wearing young woman, who has to be one of the most unique fictional characters ever created. Mikael Blomkvist, an honest, dedicated journalist also again commands our attention as the other leading protagonist in the novel. The book ends with quite a stunning turn of events (no spoiler here), which left me literally saying, "WOW!"<BR/><BR/>I most heartily recommend this book. Again, the tragedy of the premature death of the author is truly felt.

    115 out of 122 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 7, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    The second Blomkvist and Salander Swedish thriller is a super whodunit

    Swedish Millennium magazine publisher and reporter Mikael Blomkvist is considering an expos&#233; of the extensive sex trafficking trade in Eastern Europe. He knows the article will cause a stink in Sweden when the elite are exposed as participants. However, just before the release of the damaging report, the lead journalists are murdered and the evidence including fingerprints on the weapon point to Lisbeth Salander.

    With an outraged cry from the media and the government, some of whom headline the dead reporters' sex trafficking article, to hunt down this vicious killer, Salander knows she must put aside her beach reading of Fermat to uncover the real culprit. Blomkvist knows the tattooed Salander is innocent and using his investigative skills as a crusader he also begins making inquiries.

    The second Blomkvist and Salander Swedish thriller is a super whodunit that brilliantly combines action-packed sequences with cerebral treatises. The story line is fast-paced from the opening salvo and never slows down even when the heroine discusses mathematical theories as Blomkvist and Salander independently and united investigate the homicides with neither expecting the trail to take them to her past though their previous combined inquiry (see THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO) should have warned them.

    Harriet Klausner

    27 out of 32 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 25, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    HIghly recommended

    At times I had trouble connecting with the characters. The writing is terrific in this one as compared to the first, though, I thought. This is a fun read for anyone who is bored with the genre mystery.

    20 out of 23 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2010

    I'm not all that impressed

    I have reached chapter 7, and so far, can't seem to find anything in this story that holds my interest to the point I have a hard time putting the Nook down.

    I'm hoping that I will find it becomes more interesting and exciting as I read further. At this point, I'm glad I did not pay very much for it.

    7/14
    That bit was written because, at that point, I was disappointed in the book's story line. NEVER judge a book before you get past chapter 7 must now be my new mantra. I not only because fascinated with the story as it unfolded (still have a heck of a time with the foreign words) but sat up until 3am this morning to finish it.

    I have just now downloaded the final book of the trilogy, and will hate to see the end come, as there will be no more.

    16 out of 21 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 21, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    What a series!

    This book picks up where The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo leaves off. Believe it or not, it is better than the first book, and the ending leaves you wanting more. The third installment picks up where this book leaves off. These books are so riveting with the twists and turns and mysteries that crop up concerning the main characters, Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist. It is very unfortunate that this author is no longer with us to produce more masterpieces such as this series. I fear that the third installment will be even better than this one, but will be left with an ending that reveals a plot that should occur in a future novel. One can only hope that Mr. Larssen's fourth manuscript gets published and translated to English so his fans can enjoy his last novel.

    16 out of 17 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 27, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Slower and more of the same

    Unfortunately, the plot in this book does little to rouse interest in the character of Salander who was far more appealing in the first book. Sometimes the less a reader knows the more appealing a character becomes. More themes of violence and the book is very slow. The two main characters from the first book are barely together and the wonderful investigative journalism slant from the previous book is missing. A love interest of Salander isn't given much attention and the love scenes as in the previous book are bland. Character development is missing.

    12 out of 19 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 31, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Lisbeth Salander is the glue

    It's too bad Stieg Larsson passed away before he was able to write more than just the Millenium Trilogy. Each of the books is excellently composed, with an interesting and original plot and intriguing characters. Specifically, Lisbeth Salander. Salander is the most unexpected of heroines, but the one you always want to win it all. Each character draws you deeper into the book, but it's Salander that keeps you up late at night reading this book. An excellent read.

    10 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 31, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Lisbeth learns that if you play with fire,you are going to get burned.

    The novel takes off right where the first one left off. Lisbeth is accused of the murder of a couple hired by Millenium to write a novel on sex trafficking. It seems that the whole world but one person,Michael Blomkvist, is sure that she is the murderer. Michael sets out on his own private investigation to prove salander's innocence. In order to do that he must delve into Lisbeth's troubled past to solve the mystery.This book did not match up to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo in my opinion. It had a much slower plot development than the first. The first 200 pages of the novel give details on what lisbeth has been up to since the end of the first novel and develops her character with more detail,which is a plus. I thought that learning about lisbeth's past was a fascinating part of the story. you learn how she became the woman she is now. I would recommend this book to fans of the first one. It is important to read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo first,though.

    9 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 22, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    HIGH DRAMA!

    Larsson's second book, The Girl Who Played with Fire, adds many more layers to Lisbeth's character by revealing her background which defines her strengths and seemingly strange behavior. Larsson has created truly unique characters in Lisbeth Salander and Mikaiel Blomvist who will stay in your memory for years to come. In taking the time to understand Lisbeth it is possible to gain greater understanding of ourselves. This is a quick read because of the intrigue and suspense, despite the book's length.
    The writing is superb, the story is exciting and fast moving; there's a lot of high drama and the characters are sensational. What more can a reader ask for?

    9 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 2, 2009

    A must read

    I also was lucky enough to get an advanced copy and if you read Larsson's first installment (THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO)then you must read this second part. As hard as it may seem, it just might be even better, especially if you were a fan of Lizbeth Salander. This instalment focuses more on her with Blomvist as support.

    Read this book, you will not be let down, in fact you won't be able to put it down, guaranteed!

    9 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 19, 2010

    Larsson Will Become Legendary

    What a brilliantly written book! The suspense was intense and the characters colorful, surprising and beautifully written to inspire trust, mistrust, dislike, and sympathy. Looking forward to reading the other two books in the trilogy. Too bad Mr. Larsson is deceased, but these three will probably become classics. A wonderful reading and discussion experience.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 8, 2011

    Not my cup of tea...

    I handled the language and sex scenes in the first book, but this one was a bit much for me. Not into the lesbian stuff and stopped about 100 pages in and decided I'd just stop reading and archive the book. It is excellent and I iknow there are thousands out there who have read the whole book, but just way toooo graphic for me. If those scenes were left out I could have made it through. But that's just me.

    7 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 28, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Disappointing

    I liked Dragon and found this a pale follow-up. I almost gave up on it a couple of times but once I start to read something, I like to stick with it. It got better half-way through but it wasn't as interesting or exciting as Dragon. I found a lot of the conversational dialog stilted and unrealistic.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 11, 2009

    Journalist as PI

    I enjoyed this book and the first book by the same author with the same lead characters. Larsson creates a world in Sweden that contains a publishing entity, upper eschelon of society, and a related seamy underworld. The lead female character, Salander, figures prominently in both books, and becomes central in this one. It is interesting to gradually discover her history and see her overcome it to become a fuller character. The reader is at first baffled, then sort of indifferent to her, then comes to hope she can overcome what has happened to her. I look forward to the last book of this trilogy

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 11, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    The Girl Who Played With Fire

    The second novel by Stieg Larsson is a terrific sequel to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. He weaves the main character into a new drama and mystery that totally envelopes the reader. I could hardly put the book down. It's very sad that he has passed; as he only wrote three novels. I am waiting with great anticipation for his third and last book, and wondering if he will continue his saga of Salander's life.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 30, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Lisbeth Rocks!

    The second book in the Millenium series follows Lisbeth Salander one year after the first book ends. The characters are brilliant. Lisbeth's past and present collide in a story filled with plot twists and turns that will keep readers on edge until the end. Once again, Mikael Blomkvist and Millenium are out to uncover the truth. The author exposes the underbelly of Swedish society to show that Sweden isn't just the land of Smurfs, Gummi Bears and Abba. As someone who works in social service, I can see many youth who have been through things like Lisbeth and hope that they too can find the reslilience to fight back as she does. Mikael Blomkvist has the integrity and fortitude to speak the truth. He is the friend who will be in your corner and stands up for what he believes in no matter what the cost.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 18, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Unbelievably better than the first!

    The second book in the astounding Millennium series is unbelievably better than the first! Lisabeth Salander, the unusual heroine/tattooed bisexual professional computer hacker, brings it to us harder, faster, and more enigmatic than ever before! When she secretly hacks into Mikael Blomkvist's - journalist and publisher - computer, she angrily discovers the details of a sex trafficking investigation underway. If you've read the first book in the trilogy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, you understand clearly that Lisabeth has a unique, and at times even terrifying, way of handling these types of situations in which a man has sexually offended or exploited a female. When Lisabeth takes matters into her own hands, the plot heats up to explosive proportions, and she justifiably becomes, the girl who played with fire!

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2010

    Superb storytelling

    Read Dragon Tattoo first. Played with Fire continues the captivating character development and its story is just as absorbing as the first. Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist are well drawn, complex personalities. Supporting characters are well filled in too. The subject matter is disturbing, but hey, they are both crime dramas. The villains' vile behavior is described, but not amplified on, so all but the most squeamish can be assured that Larsson will not unduly shock. These books are page turners that are difficult to put down. I can't wait for The Girl Who Stirred the Hornet's Nest.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 26, 2010

    I'm addicted to Larsson.

    I bought The Girl Who Played With Fire the morning after I finished reading the first book in the Larsson trilogy, The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo--like an addict getting my next fix. (I was tickled that two other shoppers at B&N were searching for this book at the same time I was--for the same reason and with the same urgency.) The Girl Who Played With Fire is even better than the first book. Larsson was a master at plot and character development. I found it took me a couple chapters to really get hooked on the first book because he creates a lot of characters to keep straight, but once in, there was no rest until I finished. I can't wait until the third book is released this Spring, although, knowing he died after writing the trilogy makes me sad to know that the end of that book will really be the end--until the movie, of course.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 25, 2010

    Thrilling book/series to read.

    I haven't been so intrigued by a series in awhile. Found this author by accident after looking at the positive reviews that these books received. Captivating plot and characters. Unable to put down for long. Keeps you guessing page after page and then you never expect what occurs. When I finished this book I was very disappointed as it will be hard to find other books that live up to this author's ability to tell a story and hold you captive. I can't wait until the next book in this series. I only hope his 4th manuscript will hold enough information to finish this series. Rooting for the girl who played with fire to win out in the end! Must read.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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