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Book Review: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson

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When readers last left tiny Swedish heroine-with-an-attitude Lisbeth Salander in Stieg Larsson's epic Millennium Series, Part II, The Girl Who Played With Fire, it seemed like a long time ago. That's because when Lisbeth, shot in the head by her Soviet spy father, it was a long time ago — last year in the late summer. Meanwhile, English-speaking readers all over the world have been enjoying the last installment of the late Larsson's trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest for months while Americans sit and wait and wait… and wait. Forget asking Viking Books why the British have had their English translation out for six months now. As one wag put it, "it's like the CIA over there."

But the pining is almost over. Stores and online companies are taking pre-orders and the release date for book three is May 25. It's definitely worth it.

Lisbeth, as readers have learned, is not exactly the forgiving type. Her heart isn't used as much more than a pumping mechanism, so when she wasted her affections on crusading journalist Mikael Blomqvist in book two, she reacted as if burned — never mind that he saved her life. So when authorities fly her to the hospital, she still doesn't want anything to do with him, even though he is determined to prove her innocent of murders committed in book two, and to prove that Salander's father, Soviet spy Alexander Zalachenko, not only tried to murder his own daughter but is in charge of a white slavery ring, bringing women in from Eastern European countries for prostitution or worse.

Let's stop here. Hornet's Nest, more so than any of the other entries, is crammed so full of characters, plots, and subplots that one would go crazy trying to piece it together in a mere book review. This time Larsson brings in a byzantine organization of the Swedish Secret Service that has its own secret service. Lost yet? You will be, because this goes on for pages and pages and the names pile up like so much firewood before a bonfire. Where was the editor? I know it's tough to edit a dead guy, but still…

Stieg Larsson However, maybe the author's not so dead. The Canadian newspaper Swedish Press has been reporting that the Millennium series may have been a joint project between Larsson and his common-law wife, Eva Gabrielsson. Some of Larsson's journalist friends praise him as an outstanding researcher, but say he had trouble writing. Gabrielsson's contributions would make sense. She is hotly contesting an inheritance settlement for the profits from the Millennium books, which also points to some deeper involvement in the project. However, she won't speak to the press and only says she is writing a book about the matter.

So, with that in mind, the best way to continue is to take the essential through-line of Hornet's Nest and ignore the convoluted side-trips that are undoubtedly Larsson's pipe dreams. Lisbeth wants revenge, not only for her father's cruelty, but for all the torture and humiliation she suffered as a child. (In earlier books, she is treated as if insane, tied up, drugged and even raped. Yet her only disorder is Asperger's Syndrome, a mild form of autism, which actually helps her in her work as a computer wizard.) Blomqvist, driven to expose Zalachenko and corruption deep in the Swedish government, also has guilt pangs about the way he wooed and then casually forgot Lisbeth's affections. Still, he carries on his dalliances with his long-time love, the married Erika Berger.

Through a rather ingenious method, Blomqvist manages to sneak a computer into Lisbeth's hospital room. Once she has the device, the world is hers. In short order, after a doctor removes the bullet from her head (where it has not grazed anything too important), she's out. Between Blomqvist's investigations and her fearless search for the files of her childhood imprisonment in mental health facilities, the two get ready for Lisbeth's day in court. Yes, day in court, because incredibly, despite the overwhelming evidence in her favor, all of Sweden is scared to death of her thanks to the nasty mainstream press. She's still on trial for murders of men who Zalachenko killed. But her sentence won't be jail, it will be a return to the sanitarium where an evil doctor waits to torture her some more.

While the authorities play Keystone Kops, Blomqvist collects material so leakproof that only a fool could discount it. Careers are ruined, some of the guilty commit suicide. But the most damning testimony of all is a video that Lisbeth shot in book one. Those who read the debut novel will never forget it, because it set the book up as much more than simple crime fiction — it was psychological, sicko-sex crime fiction too. When she plays the video of what was done to her, under the guise of "guardianship," the entire case falls apart.

Side characters are tidied up, including Lisbeth's inhuman brother, the mammoth Niedermann, who can't feel pain. If there's anything to complain about it's that Blomqvist comes off as too perfect, so concerned with civil liberties and injustice that he can't even stop for a dirty joke. Then there's that pacing with the Secret Service. A good one hundred pages could have been lopped off of that tiresome nonsense and replaced with one sentence describing a secret-secret service.

But on the whole, Hornet's Nest makes for a wild ride, and a sad one — for we  don't have Larsson around to take us on another one.

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About Lynn Voedisch

  • http://bob-lostintime.blogspot.com/ Miss Bob Etier

    Lynn,
    Swedish Secret Service? Who would’ve thought?

    I guess if they can still edit Shakespeare (and Michael Crichton) none of the talented departed are safe. Great review!

    –Bob

  • http://www.xanga.com/bastet Lynn Voedisch

    Why, thank you!
    It surprised me too that Sweden had a secret service, but then why not? But really it’s over the top with the secret service within a secret service. And then you are supposed to remember who answers to whom. He’s even got the budget for each organization! What a mind!
    I’m rather pulling for Ms. Gabrielsson to be the ghost writer. It’s all very mysterious. The latest is that she’s admitted she did “more than proofreading.”