Steig Larsson


The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

Millennium Trilogy 3


As capable as ever, Larsson wraps up the series.


Really it’s an extended dénouement, but it has enough going on to be also seen as its own story. Now I think about it, he really has done an impressive job of having a story arc for the series, while also having three separate ones (1 – serial killer; 2 – Salander’s father; 3 – Government conspiracy), with them intertwining, ramifications of 1, for example, coming out in 2 or 3.


The series is a daydream, but a meticulously organised one. There is a bit of repetition in Millennium’s big scoop – the perennial journalist’s (Larsson’s day job) daydream of exposing powerful businessmen or politicians to massive acclaim; the media being the tool to bring justice (again). There is the more standard James Bond daydream where attractive women want to sleep with the hero, with the variation that he’s scrupulously honest about his varying levels of fidelity and commitment. But the central daydream is a feminist/non-conformist revenge one: the pleasure which drives the series more than anything else is Salander’s vindication – as woman, and as confronter of middle-class notions of morality and respectability. The only other book I can think of that dwells so utterly in the minutia of vengeance is The Count of Monte Cristo, but it’s far more of a slow burn. That being said, Larsson hardly hurries, and I am pleasantly surprised that a series as – exhaustive – as this was also so popular. Sure that’s a condescending comment, but from my experience things that are *so* popular are rarely as good as this, and can be quite insulting. Larsson doesn’t insult you, yet he keeps enough thriller conventions  (Spoilers from now on: OK, that bit where our taken-totally-by-surprise unarmed pen pushing journalist foils two armed experienced prepared killers is a bit insulting, as is making the cop a megababe) to carry you along.


Larsson strikes me as having shared much of the obsessive compulsive with his heroine, and he can’t bear a loose end. But l liked the way ‘Played with Fire’ merged into ‘Hornets’ Nest’, where finalising Salander’s father opened up the conspiracy plot as this book’s major theme. And, really, Larsson couldn’t allow those shadowy figures who bore so much of the responsibility for Salander’s appalling injustices to get away with it. Of course the evil psychiatrist had to be dealt along the way too, and in some satisfyingly public and humiliating way: revenge, as with Dumas, is not about a simple bullet. So Larsson lets his imagination run wild on how delicious it would be to bring down an untouchable black-ops group. Interesting that he doesn’t go with the Bourne approach of just having one guy who is just so insanely kick-arse that he can’t lose, but relies on things like the integrity of people peppered here and there in government and law enforcement. And a major theme is that it can’t just be about getting Salander off or out – her innocence has to be recognised. There’s a public consciousness element – we can’t be a country that treats people this way.


By this third book there was less of the pleasure of novelty, and Larsson is, both to his credit and debit, enormously consistent. This instalment didn’t have as much impact for me, and I might be tempted to just give a B for this story alone, but I have to raise it to a B+ as it completes that rare gem, a coherent trilogy. I don’t know that I’ve read one that is as good at mixing an over-story with three individual ones.


January 2014