“The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” by Stieg Larsson

Title: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
Series: Millennium Trilogy
Author: Stieg Larsson
ISBN: 9780307269997
Pages: 576
Release date: May 25, 2010
Publisher: Knopf
Genre: Fiction, thriller/suspense
Format: Paperback
Source: Sue’s collection
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Summary

After being severely wounded in the last book, The Girl Who Played with Fire, Lisbeth Salander wakes up in the hospital with one hell of a headache—only to find that her assailant/father is recovering only a few doors down. Her other assailant/half-brother, Niedermann, has escaped and is on the lam.

In the meantime, readers have the pleasure of being introduced to a section of Säpo (the Swedish secret police) called, ominously, “the Section.” But they’re so secret, the secret police doesn’t even know they exist, and the head of the Section wants to keep it that way. Some of their activities—particularly their past dealings with Zalachenko and Lisbeth Salander—might be seen as a teensy bit unconstitutional.

In totally unrelated news, Erika Berger finally makes up her mind to leave Millennium for the most conservative, old-white-guy newspaper in the country. Not surprisingly, she encounters resistance from her new staff, including increasingly violent threats of a sexual nature. When her stalker goes so far as to enter her home, though, Erika must decide whether her new job is worth her diminishing sense of safety.

Mikael is certainly no help to Erika. He’s taken up with Monica Figuerola, the muscle-bound detective working Salander’s case. Mikael seems to have a knack for stepping on the toes of the Swedish police; after he begins investigating Säpo with the intention of featuring articles on it in an upcoming edition of the magazine, he draws the attention of the Section, which goes to great lengths to try to keep the intrepid journalist quiet.

Salander, concerned about the three murder charges that have been filed against her, again puts her hacking skills to use to uncover the decades-long conspiracy against her. For legal representation, she hires Annika Giannini, Blomkvist’s sister, whose previous experience with abused women may be more of an advantage than anyone may think.

And to wrap things up neatly, Salander manages to confront Niedermann and expose the sex trafficking ring with which he was involved—all quite coincidentally.

Analysis

The Girl Who Played with Fire left off so suddenly, without much resolution, that I had been eager to begin the final book of the trilogy. Within a few months, a friend lent me a copy she snagged in Taiwan. But I found that too much time had elapsed since I finished the second book; jumping back into the trilogy proved difficult, and I thought I would adjust with time.

Instead, my confusion only grew.

In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the dichotomy between the two plotlines—the Wennerstrom affair and the Vanger family mystery—was too complete, too harshly unrelated. Larsson strikes that careful balance of intertwining plots in The Girl Who Played with Fire, but he loses it once again with The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.

The book is a warren of twists and turns, but instead of catching my breath in my throat as he did with the two previous books, Larsson bores me in the final installment. There are so many characters even he can’t seem to keep track of them; at one point, the names of a detective and a victim from the previous book are swapped. (Of course, that very well could have been a problem unique to my non-U.S. edition. Nevertheless, Larsson introduces too many damn characters.)

This story meanders into the two utterly unnecessary side stories—the actions of the Section and the threats against Erika Berger. Salander, the strength of the book, fades into the background as Larsson constructs labyrinthine evidence of the abuses against her. But Larsson goes too far; he provides too much information. Salander becomes nothing more than a victim, a helpless child abused by her father and the system.

When I began reading this book, I was worried that Salander would have lost brain function due to her extensive injuries. Though, unbelievably, she ends up as good as ever, she might as well have been incapacitated given her marginality in the story. Sure, she hacks into her enemies’ computers from the hospital to compile evidence against them—an admirable feat, if it had come from anyone else—but she is no longer at the center stage.

Perhaps I’m just prejudiced in her favor, but here it seemed that others needed to fight her battles: her hacker friends do most of the hacking; Mikael puts the heat on both the Section and the police; and, in a way, members of the Section are so villainous, their actions so heinous, they ruin themselves. At no point was I worried that they would not be found out for their crimes. It’s a staged fight; there’s no way they can get away with such widespread abuses of power.

There are a few loose ends I wish had been tied up—Blomkvist’s on-again off-again relationship with Berger is a prime example—but for the most part, the trilogy feels complete. I was glad to finish this book, but not just because it brought a sense of closure to the story.

It’s hard to conjecture what the books would have been like had Larsson lived to see their publication, but if the quality had continued to decrease as it has, I’m not sure I would have been able to stick it through the next seven books he had planned. Though Lisbeth’s story drew me in, the increasing complexity of other plotlines ultimately turned me off.

3 replies »

  1. I just finished listening to the audiobook which was a good format because I could zone out with my own thoughts during some of the less… action-packed parts (the history of the Section for example) . Larsson definitely left no stone unturned if related to Salander, though some other story lines just peter out. I’m glad I got through it for the closure.

    Like

  2. Oh, listening to it on audiobook is a good idea! (Although, I often find that books with a lot of characters are hard to keep track of when you’re listening to a book.)

    I wonder how the books would have been if he’d had a chance to edit them more.

    Like

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