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Steig Larsson’s last ‘Girl’ is worth the wait, say most reviewers

May 24, 2010

Steig Larsson

If the phrase “at the center of it all is a rogue unit of the Swedish Security Service” strikes you as risibly absurd, then The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, the last volume in Steig Larrson’s global phenomenon, the “Millennium Trilogy” (40 million sold!), is probably not for you.

Sweden has spies? I thought people in the Nordic utopia of socialism were too busy taking eight-week vacations, driving Volvos and shopping at Ikea to bother with anything as impolite and unsanitary as espionage or corruption.

And yet, early reviews of The Girl Who Kicked a Hornet’s Nest, which goes on sale tomorrow here in the U.S., are surprisingly strong. I say “surprisingly” because Larsson, a Swedish journalist-turned-crime novelist, wrote all three books only to die at age 50 before they could be published– with the implication that the last still needed some work.

In the Los Angeles Times, Richard Schickel certainly thinks so. A perceived lack of polish grates on Schickel, who takes off points for “a banal style” and “slapdash manner,” while Joy Tipping, in the Dallas Morning News, calls Hornet’s Nest “definitely the weakest link, with little of the action and suspense that enthralled readers in the earlier books.”

At The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani, one of the toughest book critics in the business, arrives at the opposite conclusion. She describes the new book as a “thoroughly gripping read that shows off the maturation of the author’s storytelling talents.” Indeed, Kakutani dismisses The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, first in the trilogy and the one that hooked its worldwide audience as  “a preposterous mashup of bad serial-killer movies.”

The Girl Who Played with Fire, the second book in the series, showed Larsson’s increasing narrative sophistication. The final book is even better, less Silence of the Lambs horror than “something by John Le Carre.” That’s high praise, especially coming from Kakutani, who has been known to savage everyone from E.L. Doctorow to Anne Tyler  to Jonathan Lethem.

Likewise, Publishers Weekly calls Hornet’s Nest the “exhilarating conclusion to bestseller Larsson’s Millennium trilogy.” Over in Britain, where the novel debuted last Fall, the London Times says Hornet’s Nest “confirms Larsson as one of the great talents of contemporary crime fiction.”

The Guardian calls the last in the series  “a grown-up novel for grown-up readers, who want something more than a quick fix and a car chase.” Maxine Clarke, writing for EuroCrime, says Hornet’s Nest “pulls you right in on page 1, and is terrifically difficult to leave behind on page 600.

Caveats and interesting factoids: Some of these reviews, especially The New York Times‘ give away too much of the plot, so if you hate spoilers then proceed with caution to any of the links above. The heroes — journalist Mikael Blomkvist and goth computer hacker Lisabeth Salander — are supposed to be grown-up versions of Pippi Longstocking and Kalle Blomkvist, from the children’s books by Astrid Lindgren.

Larsson himself, in real life, was a crusading journalist, focusing on women’s issues and on right-wing fascist groups in Sweden, as well as the Swedish spy service (yes, they actually have one).

So tell me: Are you planning to read The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest? And if you already have, let us know: Better than the rest? Not as good?

13 Comments leave one →
  1. Tommy Smart permalink
    May 24, 2010 2:10 pm

    What is Swedish for no? No, no, no, a thousand times, no. Men who hate Women or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as it’s known here in the land of ladies, left me feeling “fjordish” towards the girl. Cold, isolated, cursed.

    I remember asking myself after I had finished TGWTDT, “Why?”, “Why did I do that to myself?”. The ending was absurd.

    I have not read the second book, The Girl who Played with Fire. I have, however, been “Lisander” enough to get a hold of all three of the swedish language movie versions. If I was to use the films as a guide, Fire would be a better book than Tattoo. I have not screened the third film (Luftslottet som sprängdes) yet, I am waiting for the perfect rainy day in which to punish myself.

    Here is a link top the imdb.com website for the 2012 American release of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1568346/ , go ahead and read the rumored cast and weep.

  2. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    May 24, 2010 2:58 pm

    Tommy,

    This may be the most profoundly Swedish thing I’ve ever heard: “I’m waiting for the perfect rainy day in which to punish myself.” In the Bergmanian sense, of course.

    I did not know IMDB went in for spoofy humor. Brad Pitt? George Cloony?! Carey Mulligan?!?

    Surely, they jest. Surely.

    • Tommy Smart permalink
      May 25, 2010 10:33 am

      I was not trying to sound so… so… Swedish. Maybe along with Spanish Conquistadors and Scottish Highlanders some Norse storyteller is in my blood.

      I know… the imdb rumored cast is either too funny to be true or bizarre enough to be real.

      I was hoping they would cast K-Stew alongside Woody Harrelson and then change the title of the film to “The Girl With the uhh… the uhh… Captain Crunch Tattoo, will somebody get me a Coke, my legs don’t seem to be working and I am freaking out, Biscuit?”

  3. May 24, 2010 3:32 pm

    It isn’t the London Times, it is the Times. I know many Americans don’t like this, but it is not the London Times, but the [0riginal!] Times and still going.
    I think the Millennium Trilogy is an excellent series of thrillers with a strong female character. Lots of flaws in all kinds of ways, but exciting, absorbing, and giving a voice to crusading journalism that the younger generation don’t see in this era of cynical media that are more interested in someone because they wear a designer dress than for anything they actually do. Maybe the era of crusading journalism never really was, but it gives the individual a voice whcih is one of the many powerful aspects of this series.

    Just compare Stieg Larsson with an author like “James Patterson”. See what I mean?

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      May 24, 2010 8:54 pm

      Thanks for the correction regarding the title of the (ahem!) original Times, but like many North Americans I will continue to refer to it as the “London Times” as a kindness to readers who might otherwise think I mean The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, the Irish Times, the Times of India, In These Times, or any of the other publications with “Times” in their titles.

      I assure you, the era of crusading journalism not only really was, but it extends back to the times of John Peter Zenger and probably beyond. And it continues today, though in much reduced circumstances giving the ailing condition of newspapers in general and journalism in particular. As a journalist, it heartens me to know that Larsson carried this torch in Sweden, and that Blomkvist serves the same purpose in the novels.

  4. rachel permalink
    May 24, 2010 3:42 pm

    Not only does Sweden have spies but they also have crazy killers who travel all the way from China to wipe out entire villages!

    I like the Swedes, but I have no desire to read any of this. And can I just say the title itself kind of drives me nuts? “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.” Sheesh.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      May 24, 2010 8:56 pm

      I’m sure the original Swedish title is something entirely different. Remember Larsson fought hard to keep his title — Men Who Hate Women — as the Swedish name for the book we know as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

      Say — you got something against Henning Mankell? I’m inferring you didn’t care for The Man From Beijing…

      • Tommy Smart permalink
        May 25, 2010 10:56 am

        The translation I get from the Swedish title “Luftslottet som sprängdes” using an online translator (which are usually pretty bad at translations) is “Air castle which was blown”. Huh? Makes me think of a bouncy-house, which Salander would pop with all her literal and metaphorical spikes.

  5. Kris Montee permalink
    May 24, 2010 4:42 pm

    Have to agree with Michiko Kakutani on “Tattoo.” After a sloooooow start, it found its stride as a decent murder mystery — sort of Val McDermid insular-village-drama transported to Sweden but not as well-written. But then it got silly, complete with hoary scene wherein killer holds hero captive while delivering speech on “why I had to do it.” I was disappointed after so many had raved about it.

    But the trilogy is good for publishing, which needs every mega-hit it can get right now.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      May 24, 2010 8:59 pm

      I think 90 percent of the series’ popularity rests on the energy and charisma of the Lisbeth character. As much as the series has been loved and touted, I’ve heard from some writers I admire who feel as you do. Or even more strongly.

  6. Candice Simmons permalink
    May 24, 2010 9:25 pm

    You read it, Chauncey Mabe. If you like, I’ll try it.

    My perception on Sweden is peaceful. Maybe that is not really true. Don’t know, but would love to vacation there. Not as a spy of course.

  7. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    May 25, 2010 11:06 am

    Ah, I think I’m gonna pass. I do want to see the Swedish-language movie versions, though, and quick, before Hollywood remakes spoil the fun for everyone.

  8. June 1, 2010 10:23 am

    I have read it yet but I plan to read it over the next few days. Thanks for the heads up though.

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