Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, by Stieg Larsson

With the third volume of his only venture into the world of fiction, Stieg Larsson really hit his stride as a novelist. I don't necessarily gravitate toward books with 'riveting' or 'a gripping page-turner' on the back cover. (Actually, nearly everything I read nowadays is in electronic format, so there simply is no back cover, but you get the point.)  There I was, though, sitting up long past my normal bed-time and sneaking quick reads at the bus stop. This time round, Larsson braided three plot-lines, each complex enough to justify its own novel, with plenty of twists, and still managed to pull them together for a satisfying conclusion that wasn't overly tidy or trite. We are talking about Lisbeth Salander, after all, so nothing is likely to end in perfect tidiness.

For those of us who love poetic justice (and Lisbeth Salander), this book is delicious. At long last, the wrongs she has suffered at the hands of corrupt officials, a creepy psychiatrist, a perverted lawyer, and her deplorable blood relatives gets put right, either by the law, with thanks to a brilliant strategy by Blomquist's reluctant sister, or to Salander's own cunning.

This novel often gave me reason to think about trust. Lisbeth has reasons galore to trust no one, yet she realises that if she is to prevail in this situation, she must trust that a small group of individuals is working together on her behalf and in her best interests. She never trusts them blindly, and she never relinquishes total control of her fate, but she is forced to acknowledge that she cannot succeed on her own. I also admire the point that the judge made to her upon revoking her legal guardianship at long last:  If you are declared legally fit to be an adult member of a society, you have responsibilities.

Another character, a former policewoman now working as a private security guard, reveals why she changed careers. As a cop, she was always arriving at the scene of a crime. It was too late to do anything other than prosecute the perpetrator or beat the stuffing out of him, as she did when she finally snapped. She is happier working toward the prevention of crime, but she admits that she has a limited scope. She discusses her only reservation with the woman she is presently protecting.

“So now you know. I work for Armansky, and I come into the picture before a crime is committed.... I work with all kinds of things. Security assessments, bodyguard protection, surveillance, and so on. But the work often concerns people who have been threatened. I get on considerably better at Milton than on the force, although there’s a drawback.” 
“What’s that?”
“We are only there for clients who can pay.”
As with its two predecessors, this novel dashes any delusion that Sweden is a paradise of law, order, and transparent governance. Larsson gives us thuggish motorcycle gangs, wealthy industrialists preying on southeast Asian sweatshop labour, and secret government agencies acting without oversight or regulation. I'm sorry that Larsson died before writing more fiction, but I'm enormously thankful that he completed this trilogy.

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