June 23

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson (Trans. from Swedish by Reg Keeland, Penguin 2010)

This is the third and last of Stieg Larsson’s highly successful Millennium series, featuring anti-social super-hacker Lisbeth Salander and hyper-moralizing rogue journalist Mikael Blomkvist. With Hornet’s Nest, we hit the ground running immediately following Lisbeth’s assault on Russian defector Zalanchenko at the end of The Girl Who Played With Fire. With a bullet in her brain—no small peanuts—Lisbeth is transferred to hospital and operated on. Wanted for the murders of two journalists whose report on underage prostitution lies at the heart of the previous book, Salander now waits as others argue over her fate and Blomkvist plots to free her.

With this volume, Larsson moves heavily into conspiracy theory territory, briefly recruiting even the Swedish PM as a character while focusing on a secretive government cabal believed to have covered Zalachenko’s existence. The book vacillates wildly between action and rhetoric, between swiftness and inertia, but without Salander’s outrageous unpredictability at its centre much of it feels oddly flat.

A total of ten books were planned for the series, including fragments of a fourth left incomplete at the time of Larsson’s death, so perhaps others will appear in future. (If Mahler’s tenth symphony could be successfully reconstructed after his death, then why not Larsson’s books?) At times, the current volume threatens to implode from the weight of its sub-plots and secondary characters, as well as a lot of overwrought expounding on issues of sex and sexuality. Though the odds are always heavily weighted on the side of the good guys, nevertheless you still feel inclined to cheer as the would-be tension builds to a rather predictable victory for Our Side. In spite of everything, the series ends with a considerable bang rather than a whimper, and the conclusion makes it well worth the ride. Thank you, Stieg Larsson.


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