The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest Kicks Butt, But the Editing Does Not : Home Business Concepts
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The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest Kicks Butt, But the Editing Does Not

Posted by Linda | 2:23 AM

"The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" concludes Stieg Larsson's "Millennium" series of three sex crime books featuring the hacker/detective Lisbeth Salander and her journalist friend Mikael Blomkvist. (A fourth novel reportedly was left unfinished on Larsson's laptop when he died of a heart attack.) While the first two books ("The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," "The Girl Who Played with Fire") may be read independently of the other, "Hornet's Nest" requires reader familiarity with both of the earlier volumes.

"Hornet's Nest" picks up right where "The Girl Who Played with Fire" left off. At the end of that second book, Salander was awaiting transport to a hospital with a bullet in her head after being shot by her sociopath father, Alexander Zalachenko. "Zala," as it turns out, was a Soviet agent who had defected to Sweden. When Salander was only 13, and after Zala had brutally beaten her mother, Salander tried to kill him with a Molotov cocktail; she succeeded only in severely burning him.

Much of "Hornet's Nest" is concerned with Blomkvist's uncovering the rogue Swedish security police element that had protected Zalachenko and kept Salander locked up and mistreated in a mental institution through her teens. Late in the book, the story takes up the trial of Salander for the attempted murder of her father--or so it was presented, but after the testimony focuses on Lisbeth's mistreatment by the state, the attempted murder gets lost as the conspiracy unravels.

This points to a weakness (or a charm, depending on how you look at it) in Larsson's writing: his expository sections tend to go on ...and on. We don't really need all the background history of the Swedish Security Service, for instance, but we get it, seamlessly blended in with the fictional events of the novel. Also, the account of the trial, after slaking the reader's thirst for justice, drowns the reader in continued court dialogue. When the judge offers to let Salander go if she promises to return to court and Salander admits that she would flee the country if he did so, you're ready to go with her. When she at one point does leave Sweden for Gibraltar, the chronology becomes confusing, and in any case the sequence seems pointless. An editor needed to take scissors to manuscript, methinks.

A rather substantial subplot involves Millennium editor-in-chief Erika Berger's decision to accept a position with the prestigious if stodgy newspaper, Svenska Morgon-Posten. Once ensconced in her new job, Berger is threatened by a mysterious rival and detractor. This entire story line, though, aside from underscoring the overall men-who-hate-women theme of the series, appears to be a plot device to allow Berger's frequent lover, Blomkvist, to take up an unlikely affair with a security service officer.

The denouement is made for the movies: it is suspenseful, dark, and grim. The payoff is big, with a violent but satisfying finish. (One might say Larsson, ahem, nails the ending.) The coda, too, wraps (most) things up nicely.

All in all, it is the characters that make the story work so well. Salander is a compelling character: an anti-social, counter-cultural, almost idiot savant, technogeek, woman warrior. Blomkvist, too, holds great appeal, despite his lack of any apparent personal integrity in his intimate relationships. The three books have well-constructed stories, if overripe exposition, but it's the smart, strong and occasionally vulnerable characters that draw the reader in.

I can't praise the reader, Simon Vance, highly enough. His interpretation of the material really made this story come alive. I know I've elsewhere criticized his Count Chocula version of private security chief Dragan Armansky, but all of his other voices, including Salander's, are superb. He is the rare male reader who can convincingly do women's voices. Vance's reading is definitely worth springing for the audio book.

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