The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is the third and final novel in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, published posthumously and translated from the Swedish by Reg Keeland. Whether or not you have read any of the countless other reviews about this book, you should know that this one avoids discussing the eating habits of any of Larsson’s characters. Yes, they drink too much coffee and Swedish sandwiches sound disgusting (cheese, marmalade and avocados anyone?), but others have already covered these topics a little too thoroughly. Sorry to disappoint.
The series tells the story of the antisocial hacker Lisbeth Salander. In the first novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, she teams up with Mikael Blomkvist, financial journalist for Millennium magazine, to solve a 40-year-old missing persons case that turns into a sadistically violent situation. The Girl Who Played with Fire follows with a devilish twist when two of Mikael’s colleagues are murdered and Lisbeth is the main suspect. It turns out that the murder is only part of a much larger conspiracy involving the Swedish government and a shady figure named Zalachenko, later revealed as Lisbeth’s father.
Hornet’s Nest starts right where Fire left off, with Lisbeth suffering from multiple gunshot wounds courtesy of her criminal father. Still under suspicion for the murders, she wants revenge for the injustices she suffered at the hands of her father and the Swedish government. Mikael pursues the truth behind Lisbeth’s story and attempts to correct the negative image of her painted by the media. He’s not alone in his efforts, though, as previous characters come back to aid the heroine.
Erika Berger, Mikael’s best friend, is given a more prominent role this time around, becoming more than just an occasional partner. Her departure from Millennium magazine, a complication introduced in the previous novel, is fleshed out as yet another suspenseful side plot involving a potentially dangerous stalker. Though at times the side plot does detract from the main storyline, Erika’s troubles also contribute to the overall sense of unease throughout the novel.
Brutal violence perpetrated by both sides, as well as strong female protagonists in an oppressively male-dominated atmosphere, make Hornet’s Nest a familiar read for fans of the series. Mikael continues his casual love affairs, Larsson’s way of reminding us that all men are slightly misogynistic. And no Millennium novel is complete without plenty of vile men in positions of power. Peter Teleborian, introduced in the previous novels as the doctor responsible for keeping Salander in restraints and sedated during her time at a children’s psychiatric clinic, earns a significant role in the narrative.
Paced slower than the previous two novels, the third nonetheless provides a thrilling read. The in-depth descriptions of Swedish government, police organizations and politics may seem a bit daunting at first, but they soon prove vital to the story. Packed into the first half of the book, the long-winded descriptions allow the events leading into the conclusion to unravel at full speed with few pauses for explanation. Don’t worry about forgetting key plot points, though. Larsson’s characters are fond of recapping major events to the point of redundancy.
Unfortunately, deepening the storyline takes up a number of pages and consequently, Lisbeth’s voice is often lacking from the narrative. There is plenty of talk about her from other characters, but the insights into her thoughts that made the first two novels so intriguing are much rarer in the third. She seems so preoccupied with hating her father, among others, that we never really understand what she thinks about her life being made so public by the murder investigation. For someone so guarded about her private life, she is strangely indifferent about it.
With its near-constant suspense and hefty length (over 500 pages), The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is worthwhile but significantly time-consuming read. If it appeals to you, I would recommend saving it for a vacation when you can devote full attention to Larsson’s brilliant conclusion to his bestselling series.