Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

Photo: Cover of the Swedish first edition, on its Wikipedia page

A pretty good read, not as good as the first two; it pales in comparison, especially, to the second one because of ...Played with Fire's intensity at the end.  There's not much intensity in the last one here.  This stands to reason--Salander is inherently the only super-intense character, and she's stuck in a hospital room, a jail and a courtroom for most of this book.  When she's out, she gets involved in some intense action almost immediately.

Larsson again gets away with a lackluster first half--or the whole middle--of the book, and this time it really grated at me.  There are some frankly unnecessary scenes, and there's a subplot with someone stalking Erika Berger that is excessive and unnecessary.  (A guy she ignored in high school is harassing her at her new job.)  The only interesting part of this is that Lisbeth helps her find who it is.  (Remember that Lisbeth saw Blomqvist and Berger together at the end of the first one.)  But this part rings a bit untrue: Lisbeth, I think, would help Berger find the harasser because a) Lisbeth hates men who hate women, and b) she's excessively bored, and hacking into people's computers to expose them is interesting to her.  But what's false is that Berger wouldn't have accepted her help, no matter how desperate.

There are other problems.  The most glaring is that a senior citizen hitman was able to shoot a former nationally-important espionage agent in a hospital.  This spy had no sort of bodyguard, no police protection, no nothing.  He also would never have stayed in the same hospital as his original attacker, who was just a few rooms down.  They definitely wouldn't have both been unprotected, especially her, as she was a hated and sought-after person for a long time.  There are many more items of this sort, though this was the most obvious.  Naturally two people who just tried to kill each other--and who are nefarious and related--wouldn't be placed within a few rooms of each other in the same hallway.  And they'd have guards.

The trial was practically an after-thought, and not very realistic, either.  The prosecution, glaringly, had no case, and you would think they'd have bolstered it considering they were dealing with an infamous celebrity by that time.  All they had was a psychiatrist whose testimony a kid in a mock trial could've annihilated.  He clearly had preconceived notions; Lisbeth obviously had reasons not to talk to him or anyone else in authority.  And when everyone swore to the hills that her guardian was a great guy who she murdered, they proved that the prosecution had no evidence that she'd killed him--and then they played the movie.  End of trial.

All that's left over is to find her half-brother, which she does--though every cop in the country, and tons of lawyers representing her father's estate--should have investigated the property she goes to.  The relationship between Blomkvist and a cop is not convincing, and once again a beautiful, independent woman couldn't keep her clothes on in front of him.  The chances she takes after living a life of professional independence is unrealistic.  People do dumb things--but every woman he meets takes a dumb chance because they have to have be with him.  This includes a married woman (whose husband goes along with it, rather happily), an emotionally and psychologically bereft young woman, and a previously missing millionairess who'd been abused by her father and brother until her mid-teens.


Having said all that, the book works while you're reading it, though the above examples had begun to get to me after awhile.  The second book also excelled because the women in it mostly kept their clothes on in front of him.  It was all mystery, intrigue and tension, and zero forced relationships.  Had he lived, I bet Larsson would have realized this, and gone back to that winning formula.  I suspect that his love interest here would've been disposed of in the next book, a la the Bourne movies and its like.  Certainly we would've finally met Salander's elusive twin sister.

The book ends well, as we knew it had to.  He had, after all, stuck by her and saved her in the second book, and basically in the third.  It says in the end that she realized she no longer had any feelings for him in that way, and that also ends like it should, though I don't buy it for a second.  Their relationship, and his with Erika Berger, were clearly the most realized and realistic.  Had there been a fourth book, I suspect there would've been maybe a little more tension there, and Berger very clearly tells his current flame that she'll try and stay away from him, but makes no promises.  He doesn't, either, for that matter.  This wouldn't sit well with her.

Odd and interesting thing about the books is that it shows that getting old is hell.  Every old man is dying of some kind of cancer, or is shot but lives for months as a vegetable, or is set on fire, loses a hand and foot, gets shot a few times, and then finally dies after getting shot a few more times.  Or has a stroke but recovers fairly well, if not painfully.  Old men do not age or die well here.

Lisbeth Salander is by far the most thoroughly and realized character in the books, and rightfully carries the distinction of being one of the more realistic and defined female characters in the genre.  No helpless lady in distress here, and no femme fatale.  She is only herself, and by the end was beginning to realize who that was.  Unfortunately, even she is a pale shadow of herself in the last book, but even that is enough to distinctly define and carry on her character.

I'm very interested in Lisbeth, Berger and Blomkvist.  I hope Larsson's partner and his father and brother can resolve their issues before too long, and that someone lets her finish his book, as I agree with her that she is the only one in a position to know what Larsson himself wanted to do with these characters.  Some hired gun shouldn't take over the series and throw his own beliefs into Salander.  Larsson was trying to say something important through her, and only he--and, second best, his partner--have any idea what he wanted to say next.


  1. I have a book rec for you. "State of Wonder" by Ann Pachett. You might have already read it since it has been on all the "best of 2011" lists, but I picked it up a few weeks ago and burned my way through... and liked it so much I bought a second book by her to read right after, "Bel Canto" which is okay thus far (I thought a story about a hostage crisis would be a little more gripping, but hey, I'm only half way through). Anyway, "State of Wonder" is being described as a modern day, female character driven "Heart of Darkness" in the Amazon.

  2. Thanks, C. I'll check it out. Sounds interesting!