Stieg Larsson's Lisbeth Salander returns without her wasp tattoo but with an unforgiving grudge against misogynist men.
Even on an around-the-world trip to get over journalist Mikael Blomkvist, she can't ignore the spouse-abusing man in the adjacent hotel room. And when she returns to Stockholm, she steals into Nils Bjurman's life to make sure her sadistic former guardian is still following her orders. What she doesn't realize is that, enraged by her prodding, Bjurman has contacted the one other person who wants to destroy her.
Nor can she put Blomkvist completely behind her. While snooping into his correspondence at the Millennium office, Lisbeth finds out that the magazine is about to publish an exposé on sex trafficking. She contacts the writers, a freelancer and his criminologist wife, and when they wind up dead, Lisbeth becomes the prime suspect. Blomkvist, of course, may be the only one who can clear her -- if she'll let him. And if the bad guys don't get her first.
In "The Girl Who Played With Fire," Larsson at last gives readers a full accounting of how Lisbeth has been shaped by her tragic past, when "All the Evil" happened. He skillfully shows her emotional growth as she faces the responsibilities required of friendship. She actually cries when a good deed has horrific unintended consequences for a sometime lover. But she refuses to cut any slack for idiots or bullies. When she's harassed by two Hell's Angels types, she manages to incapacitate one before the other is even off his bike. After Tasering his crotch, she delivers the ultimate insult: She rides off on one of their motorcycles.
Larsson has also narrowed the scope of this novel. There are no Madoff-like global economic scandals competing with Lisbeth's very personal predicament. Even the sex trafficking angle fades as Blomkvist pits his investigative skills against those of a police force that initially sees only Lisbeth's record of instability and her prints on the murder weapon. With just a few exceptions, as when the action backtracks to show Lisbeth's version of events or there's yet another slip-up at the police station, Larsson steadily builds the tension until it's nearly impossible to put this book down. When you do, don't worry. He's left plenty of intriguing situations to be developed in the next installment, "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest."
Kathe Connair is a features copy editor.