A Review – The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

Stieg Larsson’s life was made of the same dramatic stuff that fills his fiction. Because the Swedish journalist and editor opposed antidemocratic, rightwing extremist and neo-Nazi ideologies, he routinely received death threats. He could not marry his partner because marriage to her would have made his address public and increased his vulnerability. And during his spare time he wrote a trilogy of novels, but died of a heart attack before they could be published to become international bestsellers.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is the last novel in the series, following The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire. In each book “the girl” is Lisbeth Salander, a brilliant young woman with a photographic memory, computer hacking expertise, and an undiagnosed case of Asperger’s syndrome. The fact that she has been a victim of social service wrongdoings brought her to the attention of watchdog reporter Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative journalist who frustrates police through his success in their field.

The parallels between Larsson and his journalist hero are obvious. And the character Salander was based, according to the author, on a 15-year-old girl who was gang raped, an emotionally scarring crime that the author witnessed as a young man.

While both of Larsson’s protagonists earn readers’ empathy because of their emotional vulnerability, they are also win admiration because of their moral standards. And the author’s plots become morality tales in which he can lash out at social evils and bring bad guys to justice, sometimes poetically.

Larsson’s trilogy is written in the sprawling manner of 19th century British fiction, loose narrative threads that are ultimately woven into a satisfying tapestry of plot. He offers a vast cast of colorful characters that Dickens might envy, but brings a 21st century sensibility to them. His women, for example, are strong and assertive both physically and emotionally. And they often approach sexual relations with the attitude of men.

While Larsson has social axes to grind, he sharpens his plot to a riveting edge that compels the reader to keep turning pages without pausing to ponder injustice.

Although the trilogy represents one on-going story with a number of supporting characters and the presence of Millennium magazine as constants, each book stands independently, as the author provides back story in the successive volumes.

While The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest brings the tale to a resolution, the ending is not a tightly knotted bow; Larsson had completed an outline for a number of sequels and had begun work on book number four.

The English translation is nicely done and all three novels have been made into films.

This reader enjoys stories that depict another culture and in this instance is amused by frequent coffee drinking (any time of day or night) and the fact that good guys are allowed to smoke. Both Swedish surnames and place names are sometimes difficult to keep straight because of unfamiliarity and similar spellings, but do not keep the reader from hoping that somehow Larsson’s partner will be able to bring out at least one more “Girl Who.”

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson (trans. Reg Keeland, 563 pages) Alfred A. Knopf, 2010.