THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST by Stieg Larsson
“Her name is Lisbeth Salander. Sweden has got to know her through police reports and press releases and the headlines in the evening papers. She is twenty-seven years old and one metre fifty centimeters tall. She has been called a psychopath, a murderer, and a lesbian Satanist. There has been almost no limit to the fantasies that have been circulated about her. In this issue, Millennium will tell the story of how government officials conspired against Salander in order to protect a pathological murderer…”
Review by Kirstin Merrihew (MAY 24, 2010)
The Girl Who Played with Fire ended with Mikael Blomkvist dialing for emergency help after he found a man with an axe in his head and fugitive-from-the-law Lisbeth Salander in extremely critical condition with a bullet lodged in hers. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest begins where Fire left off, and soon both Lisbeth and the man, Alexander Zalachenko, aka Karl Axel Bodin, are being airlifted to Sahlgrenska hospital. After undergoing operations, both patients are placed in the same critical care wing. Although the medical staff keeps them isolated, since they are mortal enemies, keeping them from attacking each other could be an impossibility if they wake up and manage to pull themselves out of bed. Meanwhile, Sweden’s law enforcers try to determine what charges should to be filed against each of them, but especially against multiple murder suspect Salander.
Meanwhile, Blomkvist, who used duct tape and clean sheets to keep Lisbeth’s blood inside her before the paramedics took over, isn’t allowed to see her. He has his own problems with the police. They want to know about the gun in his possession and about exactly what happened at Bodin’s Gosseberga farm. Mikael doesn’t have all the answers and even those he does have, he isn’t ready to fully disclose. In addition, he’s infuriated at the keystone cops who refused to heed his warning about the immense danger — even when trussed up — presented by the third person he — and Salander before him — encountered that night: the giant, Ronald Niedermann. And Blomkvist wants to get back to the offices of Millennium magazine so he can get on with his investigation into who masterminded more than two decades of cover-up that allowed Zalachenko to commit untold crimes and Lisbeth to be placed into a psychiatric facility and then declared mentally incompetent as an adult. The quote that introduced this review is lifted from his Word document; he is organizing the facts he has accumulated thus far. He’s kept so busy that he doesn’t even ask about how Lisbeth is doing for a while, and when he does think to ask, he feels his oversight wasn’t insensitivity, but a subconscious confidence in her will to survive: “It dawned on him that he had not been worried about her. He had assumed that she would survive. Any other outcome was unthinkable.”
And so, the reader immediately gets into the thick of things in the final volume of the late Stieg Larsson’s trilogy about the asocial girl with an eidetic mind (at least until her head wound), deep secrets that include her extraordinary computer hacker abilities and her burning, vigilante sense of justice. As in the previous books, quite a few epithets, some casual sex, lots of investigative journalism, and jags of violence and vengeance mark this novel. Alongside, it continues the unusual and winning liaison between Lisbeth Salander and “Kalle Bastard” Blomkvist. Endearingly and memorably, when one is in trouble, the other pulls out all the stops.
Broadly speaking, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo dealt with corporate greed and the violent secrets in the family of one of Sweden’s magnates. Then, Larsson turned to exposing the underbelly of the sex trade in Fire. Now, the subject is violation of Sweden’s constitution by a shadowy group. What can the media — to which Mikael Blomkvist belongs — do to uncover and expose the corruption and the illegal activities that have gone unchecked for so long? Can Blomkvist legally and ethically cooperate with the horde of legitimate authorities also suddenly launching criminal probes? Assuming his instincts are right and Salander does recover, can he find a way to communicate and work in tandem with her even if she is under arrest? And what can he do to help his sister defend Lisbeth in court if it comes to that?
In addition to the main story, this volume spools out a subplot about Erika Berger’s resignation from Millennium in order to become editor-in-chief at a major daily Swedish newspaper (in Fire, she had already begun thinking of making this transition). In her new job, she has to confront ethical questions about a story her old publication is investigating that might implicate someone with powerful ties to her new organization. And to top it off, she finds herself and others at the newspaper the targets of increasingly edgy and possibly dangerous harassment.
Although Blomkvist and Salander are by no means ignored in Hornet’s Nest, much of the novel is another procedural that courts tedium. The novel, slightly longer than the previous one, just suffers from too many cops from various agencies, too many prosecutors and other officials whose meticulously chronicled activities gum up the story. Arguably, the inevitable trial compensates for all that tedious groundwork, but Larsson also made what some readers will undoubtedly consider a mistake when he fairly thoroughly explained the plot’s major conspiracy early in the book from the viewpoint of one set of people and then used a large chunk of the remainder of the novel to show step-by-step how other characters unraveled that surreptitious set-up. The tale does perk up when certain characters connect and spark. But on the downside again, Blomkvist and Salander (necessarily) have very little face time together.
The idealistic activist Larsson used his characters as a platform to preach against the imperfections of Sweden’s systems of government, legal system, police, etc. I’m reminded of a somewhat similar subordination of character to message in the recently published “novel” entitled, Red to Black, by a journalist in Russia who employs the pseudonym Alex Dryden. However, Dryden fills his book with a great deal of allegedly true information about Putin and other power players in Russia and their purportedly conspiratorial activities. Dryden sometimes gets so carried away with background facts and figures that he neglects his featured couple. Larsson’s story is fiction, not lightly veneered nonfiction, although it does reference real people and actual historical occurrences from time to time. However, Larsson’s own experiences as a reporter and activist clearly served as a basis for Blomkvist’s activities as an investigative journalist and for fleshing out the rest of the detailed inquiries into who is doing what. Accordingly, Larsson’s novel has more of a nonfiction feel than it truly contains. That needn’t be a negative, except that Larsson ventured too far away from Blomkvist and Salander too often and allowed his penchant for adjunct characters and describing procedure to mar tight, more suspenseful plot structure.
In my review of Fire, I wondered whether the Salander/Blomkvist trilogy would conclude satisfactorily. I think it does. Many ongoing questions are resolved by the last page of Hornet’s Nest. There is closure of sorts — although, among a few ongoing issues: the whereabouts of Camilla, Lisbeth’s mysterious twin sister. Nevertheless, after I’d finished the last sentence, I couldn’t help wondering what Larsson might have presented to us had he lived and been able to write the ten books he apparently envisioned. An arc that only really began in this trilogy could have deepened and strengthened the bond between the taciturn woman who looks like a child and thought she was in love with Blomkvist and the journalist who, as his sister says, “…is completely irresponsible when it comes to relationships. He screws his way through life and doesn’t seem to grasp how much it can hurt those women who think of him as more than a casual affair.” I would have liked to have witnessed that Salander/Blomkvist evolution. But the series does rest here at a natural stopping place, and that creates decided contentment.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 889 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Knopf (May 25, 2010)|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||YES! Start Reading Now!|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Stieg Larsson|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||Read our review of:|
- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2005; September 2008 in US)
- The Girl Who Played with Fire (2006; July 2009 in US)
- The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (2007; May 2010 in US)
Movies from books:
- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2008)