The most unfortunate thing about Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is that, due to Larsson’s death, it is the last book featuring the mysteriously endearing, anti-social Lisbeth Salander, the relentless digger Mikael Blomkvist, and his colleagues at Millennium magazine. Largely an extension of The Girl Who Played with Fire, the final novel in this unintended trilogy provided just enough of a conclusion to leave the reader satisfied but mourning the loss of Larsson and what might have been.
Picking up within a few hours’ time from where The Girl Who Played with Fire left off, the reader dives right back into Salander’s dire situation and Mikael’s mission to clear her name. But there are members of the Secret Police just as determined to control the situation and clean up after themselves. It’s reasonable to assume that most readers will have read the first two books and would know immediately that there’s no controlling Lisbeth Salander and that she has an unusual gift for inspiring those around her to similarly fight back.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was a wonderful introduction to these characters and presented a complex stand-alone story. The Girl Who Played with Fire raised the bar with the addition of so many characters and simultaneous points of focus. While The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is very dependent on the backstory provided by the previous novel, it felt cleaner and clearer than the others. Dragon Tattoo was more removed from the trilogy’s core characters and Played with Fire occasionally lagged from some stylistic choices regarding narrative (namely the long absence of Salander’s engaging perspective).
Once again, Larsson’s instinct for pacing creates a novel that is inherently readable. Spending just enough time with the different subsets of characters and plot to keep the reader informed but withholding just enough for a dramatic and clean ending, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest showed that Larsson’s style and method were only getting better. It’s extremely difficult to distinguish so many different storylines and characters when reading, to develop and write them can be almost incomprehensible, and yet, Larsson’s relaxed presentation of the vast quantities of information appears effortless and is addictive to the reader.
Aside from being hit afresh with Larsson’s tragic passing, I was a little puzzled by how much of an after-thought the murders from Played with Fire seemed to be in Hornet’s Nest. It was the only piece that failed to have a satisfying conclusion. It isn’t even the drop in that investigation or the switch to focusing on Salander’s evolving legal problems. What bothered me was that after all the work Millennium put into the special issue and Dag’s book during Played with Fire, they appeared to abandon it altogether.
There was little mention of whether or not that issue even came out (or what the ramifications were) and aside from a couple of sentences about Dag’s book toward the end, it was as though most of that piece of the previous book hadn’t happened (except for the fact that Salander had been suspected of those murders). I felt there should have been a little more considering the importance place on it previously. Of course, there is a good chance it would have come up again in the next book and been given the time it deserved if Larsson had lived to continue the story of these quirky characters who strive for accountability and women’s rights.