The Girl Who Played With Fire Introduction
In a Nutshell
The Girl Who Played With Fire, the second installment in Stieg Larsson's wildly popular Millennium trilogy, was first published in Sweden in 2006. As you've probably heard by now Larsson died in 2004. This was after delivering the completed trilogy to his publisher, Norstedts, but before his fiction was printed and his name up in lights.
The trilogy has sold millions of copies in over forty countries (source), and has ruled bestseller lists for many a month. To accompany the three novels, there are three stellar Swedish films, available on DVD with subtitles. Columbia Pictures has the North American movie rights, so look out for the Hollywood versions (source). Larsson won posthumous awards from Sweden, South Africa, and the UK, to name a few, and we predict more awards in the future.
EW's Rob Brunner calls Fire "better than a ruptured appendix" (source), and The Onion's Ellen Wernecke proclaims it a "deliciously convoluted payload of sex and scandal" (source). Sounds good to us. Fire is part guilty pleasure, part crime-drama, part serious social critique. It's kind of like what might happen if Quentin Tarantino directed Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment.
Like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire is a high-tech, action-packed thriller starring vigilante-hacktivist-PI Lisbeth Salander and journalist-lady lover Mikael Blomkvist, the Robin to her Batman. Fire begins in late 2004, about a year after the ending of Tattoo, a year after Salander gives Blomkvist the heave-ho in a fit of jealousy and insecurity. Now Salander is the prime suspect in the murders of three people, two of them journalists working with Blomkvist on an exposé of the sex trade in Sweden.
Amidst a media frenzy, Salander becomes known as Sweden's most infamous, most hunted, and most titillating villain, and Blomkvist and Salander's fates are once again entangled. Yet, they remain apart, conducting parallel investigations, and learning the truth of the murders and of Salander's fiery past. Luckily, Fire is only half of the story. To get the other half, you know what you have to do: read the final novel in the trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.
Why Should I Care?
If the ruthless journalist Rita Skeeter from the Harry Potter series was ever to face off with Superman's alter-ego, the mild mannered journalist Clark Kent, we'd get something like the scenario in The Girl Who Played With Fire. Representing Clark Kent, we have Mikael Blomkvist (and Millennium, the magazine/publishing company he works for). He's one of the most ethical journalists in the fictional universe. He might not have superpowers, but he does have plenty of coffee and an even more serious addiction to the truth.
Representing the bad-witch Skeeter, we have pretty much the rest of the Swedish media, which is publishing scandalous lies about our favorite vigilante/sleuth Lisbeth Salander. The Swedish media can't change into a beetle the way Skeeter can, but they are definitely experts in slander, sensationalism, and lies. In contrast, Salander's friend Blomkvist won't put anything in print until every last fact is backed up by credible sources. While the rest of the media is busy printing lies, he's sniffing out the story-behind-the-story.
Just as importantly, Blomkvist is constantly weighing the public's need to know against an individual's right to privacy. This is something the rest of the media (as depicted by Larsson) seems to care little about, as we can see when they jump on Salander like she's Brittney Spears or Lindsey Lohan. Here's a further point of contrast: much of the media, as depicted in Blomkvist-Salander saga, is devoted to covering up the crimes of powerful people, while Blomkvist is devoted to exposing such victimizers (including crooked journalists), the more powerful the better.
If you are a journalist or journalist-in-the-making, the issue of journalistic ethics will give you plenty of food for thought and a variety of perspectives to ponder. If you aren't a journalist, you're still probably a consumer of news and the media. Although Fire focuses on media ethics, it also asks us to consider the ethics of those who consume the media, namely, all of us readers. It shows us how easily the truth can be manipulated, or even completely covered over by lies. It asks us to become more responsible consumers of news and to be extremely critical in our analysis of what we read and see.