The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest
By Andrew Welch
June 1, 2010
Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson, who had already written the first three novels in his Millennium series before even looking for a publisher, died from a heart attack in 2004 before he could finish what was supposed to have been a ten volume work. Since that time, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire [editor's note: read our review] have become a worldwide phenomenon. The third installment, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, is now available in North America, and it may just be the best of the bunch.
The story begins where the last left off, with Lisbeth Salander near death from a gunshot wound to the head. An emergency surgery saves her life and she’s placed in the ICU ward of the hospital, a mere room away from the man she tried to kill—Alexander Zalachenko, who is both her father and a former Russian spy. Meanwhile, journalist Mikael Blomkvist has begun writing a book about his friend, which he plans to release during her upcoming trial to sway public opinion. His investigation into Salander’s past yields a number of discoveries, the most shocking of which is the existence of The Section, a secret division within Swedish Security Service (or Sapö) that has actively conspired to keep Salander under the government’s thumb nearly all her life.
But he’s not the only person making discoveries. Torsten Edklinth, the director of Sapö’s own Constitutional Protection division has caught wind of the illegal activities occurring within the organization and teams with Blomvkist and members of Sweden’s police force for one common purpose: acquitting Lisbeth Salander of the charges against her and exposing the secrets of those who have long abused their authority.
Though Blomkvist is front-and-center in this installment, it’s Salander who is ultimately changed in the end. In Fire, it appeared the whole world was against her, which only added to her resentment of authority, but now more people are on her side than ever before. As the investigation unfolds, cracks form in the wall that’s long existed between herself and the world. The cold, anti-social rebel introduced in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo begins to change—if only in small degrees—until, near the novel’s conclusion, we’re allowed to see just how vulnerable and starved for love Larsson’s modern day Pipi Longstocking (whom the author compares her to throughout the series) truly is.
Of the three books that comprise Larsson’s Millennium series, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest is by far the most compelling. If Fire was an occasionally slow build to a nail-biting cliffhanger, Hornets’ Nest is an exhilarating freefall that culminates in a courtroom battle far surpassing those in most legal thrillers. Larsson’s writing style may be as clunky as ever, but what he lacks in lyricism he more than makes up for with a complex and engaging plot not bound by genre conventions. There are rumors that a nearly completed fourth novel exists, but if this is the last of Larsson’s work ever published, fans can rest assured he went out on a high note.
Andrew Welch lives and writes in Roanoke, TX, and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.