Review: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest by Stieg Larsson

dscf1356I’m sure most of you know that bittersweet feeling, that  inevitable despair, when you finish a series. Typically, you invest your time in a series because you enjoy it, and so the experience is usually pleasurable. Yet, the ultimate irony, is that by enjoying the series, you rush through with an insatiable desire, and before you know it, the sadness of having consumed the entire series hits you full force. That is precisely how I feel now I have finished reading The Millenium Series by Steig Larsson. You can read my reviews of the first two books in the trilogy here (Book 1 and Book 2), but in summary, I can say I absolutely loved these books. I actually preferred the second book to the first, feeling that the writer had linked the books perfectly to allow the growth of the characters. Of course, the trope of employing a shocking cliff hanger also helped.  As such, I set forth on the last book in the trilogy with extremely high expectations.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest follows on simultaneously from the events of the last book. After being buried alive, with a life threatening gunshot wound to the head, Salander is rushed to the nearest hospital where the race to save her life begins. Meanwhile, the police are in a tangle as to who they are now chasing for the various crimes which have been quickly building, whilst others within national security attempt to maintain their criminal secrets at any cost. As ever, Mikael Blomkovist, investigative journalist, continues his work with a stubborn determination to expose the corrupt secret services which have so cruelly abused Salander’s free rights over and over again.

Interestingly, the book starts with neither of the established main characters perspective. Instead, we are given Dr Jonasson, the man who is left responsible to perform complex brain surgery on the barely alive Salander. Because of this, the first chapter maintains a very careful balance. We remain slightly detached because we view Salander from a stranger’s perspective, yet still feel completely connected to this complex character who we have followed so ardently. Through Jonasson, we are able to asses the situation through a medical man’s eyes, and are given yet another new perspective with which to preoccupy ourselves.

In fact, differing perspectives are somewhat of a continual theme throughout the novel. From Dr Jonasson, Salander herself, Mikael and Berger, the list is endless. I especially liked the fact that we are given free rein to see how a criminal/murder investigation is conducted. The proceedings seemed wholly authentic, and the internal hierarchies within the police force certainly gave food for thought. Additionally, in this book we delve much deeper into the corrupt governmental areas which have dedicated their lives to hiding the existence of Zalachenko at the expense of his daughter, Lisbeth.  To think that something like this could actually be hidden by those who hold the highest levels of authority, and whose jobs are to govern society, is truly frightening. By exposing this idea, Larsson really does create a book in which fiction and reality blur into a worryingly thin line, giving rise to troublesome political topics which are currently rife in the world.

As always, Larsson’s books seem to be a brilliant testimony to his intelligence and assuredly hard work and research he must have undertook to complete these complex novels. There were rich details concerning Swedish politics which I had never before understood, especially concerning the way the books present past relations with Sweden and others countries such as Russia. In many respects, this book touched on many areas of difficult history which remain as problematic today. The very way he presents organisations which should be officially sanctioned by the government, yet have become corrupt (e.g Sapo, the Security Police) raises questions which are entirely relatable to any governed society. It highlights how deep these things can be, and also how high up the troubles can be within groups which are intended to secure a country.

In this book, I was constantly surprised by how intricate the corrupt section of the Security Police became. Just when you thing a certain individual is the leader, and is calling the shots, another person appears from higher in the hierarchy who seems to be the main instigator. This presents an image of how internal organisations are deadly in their complexity and secretive nature. Even more worrying was the thought that some of these organisations which are operating do not even officially exist. How are you suppose to maintain order and check the legitimacy of a group if said group do not actually officially exist?

Having such a complex and dangerous plot really does make this book a scandalous and thrilling read. The sheer task which Larsson undertook of tackling such a thoroughly detailed plot is momentous in its accomplishments, and is matched only by the amount of characters which Larsson is required to control and bring to life. From the main players in the novel, to the minor but equally necessary individuals, the world he has created is astounding. There is a seamless blending of narrative voices which I cannot help but envy  from a talent view point. Quite frankly, how he keeps hold of the multitudes of threads he has created astounds me even now on looking back. In theory, this series should be a chaotic mess, yet the detail in the subplots and backgrounds was almost something which should belong to the genre of fantasy, and shows the confident capabilities Larsson employed to create this generously rich world.

Having said that the books are extremely detailed and complex, what has always struck me is precisely how easy a read the books actually are. These are long, meaty books with a hell of a lot of information to process, but I never felt that it was a burden. Contrastingly, it actually enriches the novel. Even with some of the more political aspects which are really not my natural forte, I both enjoyed and flew through these novels.

Whilst the others novels have focused upon themes relating to sexual violence, and the violation of women in particular, this last novel has a much broader theme which encompasses the violation of rights from all kinds of areas. Salander, naturally, is the embodiment of this, the driving force which gives the novel heart, steering it away from the colder climates of a purely plot driven novel. The last section of this book where events come to a final stand, were without a doubt some of the most entertaining and exhilarating moments I have ever read. The outrage in my heart for certain characters proved how fantastically Larsson has brought his characters to life.

Larsson’s characters are not perfect by a long shot. But they are human. I will be the first to admit that I do not always agree with their actions or their choices. In particular, I find the relationship between Blomkovist and the married Berger to be quite problematic from my own view point, but that is exactly how the world operates. People are free to make choices, to live their lives, in ways which might seem completely alien to us, but which they are completely entitled to do. And isn’t that what these books are largely about? Giving characters the right to make their own decisions, to live their life free from the restraints of a judgemental society and to be true to their own selves.  We can judge who we label the villain as wrong in their actions, yet aren’t our own favourite characters forced to retaliate in a similar manner to ultimately destroy these enemies. The world is not clear cut, and this idea remains a figurehead throughout the novel.

Looking back safely in hindsight, I can wholeheartedly say these books have changed and matured my ideas about the way I regard many things. One thing in particular is the way I view the figure of the journalist. It has made me question what their purpose is, what can make them corrupt, and the ways in which a journalists own moral code can differ from what the law maintains is acceptable.  However, personal maturity aside, I can say that this trilogy has kept me almost constantly shocked. It took turns I would never have expected, and have risen the bar where the genre of crime and thriller are concerned. Larsson had a remarkable ability to think outside the normal boundaries of logic and societal expectations, and I am truly thankful that he was able to leave such a perfect legacy in the form of this series.

Have any of you read this series? What do you think?

Publisher: MacLehose Press, imprint of Quercus

rating: 5*/5*

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