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by Stieg Larsson and Reg Keeland, trans.
Maclehose Press, October 2009
576 pages
18.99 GBP
ISBN: 1906694168

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNETS' NEST gave me sleepless nights I sat up well into the early hours devouring it. But at the back of my mind all the time was the feeling that I should be rationing it out, as this is the end of the road for the Millennium trilogy unless you believe the rumours about what's left on Stieg Larsson's laptop.

In case you've just arrived from Mars and are wondering why all these earthlings are raving, Larsson's books have become instant sensations. The Swedish journalist, though, died before he could savour his success. His dysfunctional heroine Lisbeth Salander and maverick reporter Mikael Blomkvist have captured imaginations worldwide.

THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNETS' NEST is the end of the road in more ways than one. It's the culmination of a complex and lengthy series which delves into the psyche of a nation and what it has done to the main characters.

This is crime fiction for grown-ups. The political, social, cultural and historical background of Sweden is bound up in Salander's story. And for those who associate the country with faintly bohemian liberalism, Larsson rips away that superficial layer to reveal a seething, sinister underbelly.

As The Wire was more than just a cop show, the Millennium trilogy is more than just simple crime fiction. It demands that the reader makes an effort. And it never feels like Larsson resorts to cheap genre tricks as the steamroller of a story moves inexorably on.

THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNETS' NEST will make no sense if you haven't read the previous two books and Larsson doesn't recap much for those late to the action. So if you want to know why Salander, the anti-social computer hacker, is seriously ill in hospital with gunshot wounds to the head, with her equally dangerous father critically injured in the next room, you'll need to get up to speed before approaching the final book.

Blomkvist, meanwhile, knows he has to help Salander prove her innocence. So he mobilises Millennium magazine behind her and makes some strange allies as they all bid to show that Salander is the victim of abuse on a horrendous scale.

There's perhaps the faintest hint of melodrama towards the end of the court scenes, but I think we can forgive Larsson that as his plotting is rock-solid and he has created an air of menace throughout that's entirely believable. And there's also some very tight tying-off of loose ends in the final few pages, which does make sense if you work on the principle there isn't another novel or two hidden away on Larsson's laptop.

The sweep of these complex and challenging books, which expose the media the government and the police, as well as the covert parts of Swedish society, is breathtaking. Larsson's career as a campaigning journalist before his untimely death has not been wasted and he's left a formidable legacy for posterity. The snag now is that it feels as if I've been spoiled for anything else in the genre for the foreseeable future!

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, October 2009

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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