Onyx reviews: The
Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson
Though the titles of Stieg Larsson's three novels (the previous two are The
Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who
Played With Fire) all refer to Lisbeth Salander, and the plots of the last two books
emanate from her troubled and troubling backstory, the
diminutive anti-hero is curiously passive and submissive throughout most of the
series. She rarely takes center stage and steadfastly refuses to cooperate with anyone: police, doctors,
lawyers, friends and enemies alike. She is most at home at a keyboard, hacking into
supposedly secure computers. Salander can do more with a Palm Pilot than most
people could manage with a supercomputer.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest starts a few hours after the end
of The Girl Who Played With Fire. Salander has been transported to hospital
with life-threatening injuries, including a bullet in her head. Her father, the former
Russian spy Alexander Zalachenko, who has been living in Sweden under an assumed
name for decades,
is also in serious condition from the axe wounds to the head he
received at Salander's hands. Father and daughter end up in adjacent rooms after
surgery. Though they're both immobile, each is aware of the presence of the other.
most dangerous member of this dysfunctional family, Ronald Niedermann, Salander's brother, the giant
who can't feel pain, escaped from the inept local police.
After weeks as the
prime suspect for the
murderers of two journalists and her legal guardian, Salander is no longer
under suspicion, thanks in large part to Mikael Blomkvist's
independent investigation. However, she is still under arrest and could be charged with attempted murder and assault
causing grievous bodily harm against her father and two thugs.
investigators in the police department finally see things Mikael's way. Their change in focus threatens to expose a
organization within Swedish intelligence, a division formed
to handle Zalachenko after his defection.
This group, officially sanctioned by the prime minister at the time, is so secret that no one in the government knows they
exist any more. They covered up Zalachenko's messes in the subsequent
years, but more or less disbanded when the fall of the communist empire made the
defector less valuable. Mikael's story could cause a constitutional crisis if it
isn't handled properly, so a select group of high-ranking,
trustworthy politicians are advised of and consulted about the situation. The
politicians know that the worst thing they could do is to interfere with the
Salander is one of those messes left over from the cabal's cover-ups, the daughter of
Zalachenko's ill-advised, brutal,
on again/off again liaison. The secret faction had Salander illegally committed to a
psychiatric facility after her previous attempt on Zalachenko's life when she was
thirteen. Zalachenko subsequently injured her mother so seriously that the woman
the rest of her life in hospital.
Salander is confined to her
hospital room without visitors. Even the police—who wish to interrogate
her about the events at the farm where she was attacked, buried and dug herself
to freedom so she could confront her assailants—can't see her. Mikael is in
a position to negotiate with the police and other investigators because he is in
possession of material they can't legally obtain any other way.
He is protective
of Salander and her secrets. He wants to help her, but
only if she agrees to reveal certain details about her past. He comes up with an
ingenious—albeit illegal—way of skirting the fact that he isn't
allowed to see her to engage her in her own defense. He also enlists the
support of his sister as Salander's attorney, even though she has little
experience as a criminal lawyer.
is suffering its own crisis—Erika Berger has agreed to become editor-in-chief of Stockholm's leading conservative daily newspaper. Her departure leaves the
magazine short staffed, and her new position brings with it newsroom power
struggles and resentments. Her confrontational and aggressive style makes enemies and she
also acquires a stalker. To make matters worse, one of her former colleagues turns up
information that puts her dangerously close to a conflict of interest and
threatens to topple the already teetering newspaper.
As usual, Mikael abandons Millennium to its
remaining staff as he throws himself into the investigation. He is determined
that Salander's rights will never again be trampled as badly as they were in the
past. However, he's not all business. From the moment a
muscular, statuesque female security agent appears on the scene, it should be
obvious to anyone who has read the previous books that she and Mikael will end up
in bed. For a pudgy, middle-aged, taciturn journalist, Blomkvist proves
irresistible to women.
The final section of the book, which takes place in the Swedish courts, is
especially interesting because it provides
an insider's look at the Swedish inquisitorial legal system, which is markedly different from
the adversarial system depicted on Perry Mason or Law & Order.
During the closed trial, the judge has the freedom to ask questions of anyone
present in the courtroom, regardless of who is currently on the stand. It seems more
like a freewheeling debate than a trial.
The final book is the fastest paced
and most intricately plotted of the three, and the most successful overall. Larsson's writing is not
stylistically elegant (though when dealing with translations one can never be
sure what was lost) and his forté is not characterization, either. After
hundreds, if not thousands, of pages, little has been revealed of Mikael's true
character, the origins of his zealousness or his indignation at certain social
injustices. Less is known about the other characters, with the exception of
Lisbeth Salander, who is one of the more unique creations in recent
Though the novels were written over five years ago, the technology
used by the hackers isn't noticeably dated, which is a commendable
accomplishment. The books could have used a strong editorial hand to trim some
of his excesses, though, both in the way his personal opinions are written into
the text like journalistic exposés and his tendency to ramble on at
length on extraneous matters. Probably a quarter of this book could have been
cut without it suffering.
Larsson had plans for as many as seven more
installments in this series, novels that will never be
written because of his untimely death before even the first one could see
publication. For the most part, the tale
ends on a satisfactory note, though there are elements of Salander's past that
Larsson was clearly reserving for further exploration.
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