Larsson’s triumphant trilogy of thrillers

2009-11-11 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest

Stieg Larsson (translated by Reg Keeland)

Maclehose Press

STIEG Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, of which this is the final volume, is one of those publishing phenomena that somehow catch the mood of a moment. In Larsson’s case, there is the added poignancy that there will not be more to come. The author died shortly after delivering his manuscripts to his publisher.

The first two novels can stand alone, and for my money, the second, The Girl Who Played With Fire, is the better of the two. Not that there’s much wrong with the first. This one picks up where the second ended, and without having read The Girl Who Played with Fire, it isn’t going to make a lot of sense.

Lisbeth Salander, “The Girl” of the titles, is lying in hospital with a bullet in her brain. And two rooms down the ICU ­passage is her father, the brutal Russian cold war defector ­Alexander ­Zalachenko, who wants to kill her — and the feeling is mutual.

Salander is not only up against ­Zalachenko and sundry potential killers, but also a rogue group of Swedish secret service men (I use “men” advisedly: a subtext throughout the trilogy is the way women are treated by men in modern society). Those on Salander’s side are few and far between, led by Mikael Blomkvist who, when the book opens, is in handcuffs.

Once again, this a gripping, page-turning thrill combined with a meditation on the state of the world as ­rampant capitalism succeeds the Cold War, bringing with it a tide of greed against which the diminishing band of ­idealists struggle in vain, not least in the beleaguered world of news­papers.

Not that Salander is ­really an idealist — she is one of a kind. Blomkvist, amoral and driven, is an idealist, tilting all the time at the windmills of corruption — a ­character with, one imagines, much of his creator in him.

I don’t want to give away the plot. Suffice to say that Stieg Larsson, ­after a slightly tentative start in this book, brings his trilogy of thrillers to a triumphant conclusion.

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