Title: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
Author: Stieg Larsson
I mentioned to a friend the other day that I was reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest and she said, "I don't think I'm going to read those books. I heard that they are violent crime books that lean toward pornography." I hate to admit it, but that description is fairly accurate. This is the third book in the series of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. (I also have to admit that I mistakenly picked up and read book 3 before book 2. Oops!) I'm generally not a crime book type person, though I did enjoy several V. I. Warshawski novels, mostly because of the Kathleen Turner movie of the same name. However, "everyone" was reading the Girl with Tattoo series a few years ago, my father-in-law gave me the books, and then the American movie came out. BTW - glad I read the book before the movie - like is often the case, the book was better than the movie, but the movie was good if you hadn't read the book (according to my husband).
The title is very appropriate for the book, which I especially love! The metaphor of Salander stirring up the hornets in the secret government conspiracy is absolutely spot on. The story begins with Salander being carted off to the hospital after being shot in the head. Blomkvist "rescued" her from almost certain death, but then has to deal with backwoods cops who think he had something to do with not only Salander's injuries, but the murders and assaults of several other people. Disentangling the 30 year conspiracy and clearing Salander's name becomes Blomkvist's mission. It begins with Salander's father, as ex-Russian spy who defected to Sweden and concealed for his valuable information - even though he abused Salander's mother mercilessly. As a teenager, Salander took revenge by throwing a Molotov cocktail, but rather than killing him, it resulted in Salander being committed to a mental institution and abused by a twisted psychiatrist, which was alluded to in the first book. Since the government didn't want people looking into the incident, "The Section" continued to hide and cover-up the unpleasantness. I now realize that there was a whole lot of stuff that happened in book 2 that I missed, like the murders of some of Blomkvist and Salander's allies, which led to Salander tracking down her demonic father and half-brother, which resulted it her current situation of a bullet in her head.
While Salander is operated on and recovering in the hospital, the conspiracy begins to unravel. Salander's father is murdered by The Section to prevent further confessions, but this leads to more people suspecting illegal and unconstitutional dealings deep within the government. Blomkvist continues to get help from his part-time lover Berger (editor of his magazine) who transfers to a rival newspaper. She is involved in petty office politics and a stalker/harasser, which had no bearing on the central plot, other than to make Berger edgy. Blomkvist makes a deal with another secret group within the government to investigate The Section, and through this, finds several more allies - including a new lover, a fitness fanatic security guard.
One of the most interesting character, which isn't developed fully, is Blomkvist's lawyer sister, Giannini, who agrees to represent Salander, even though Giannini's specialty is civil cases. However, it turns out that Giannini's background in psychology is useful, as is her background in abuse cases.
Even though Blomkvist and Salander don't meet again until the last few chapters, they have an ongoing conversation via chat. Even though Salander is under hospital arrest without visitor, Blomkvist manages to smuggle her a PalmPilot (Hee-hee, modern readers would not have a clue what this is - but I had one!) and she "taps" out to her hacking group for help in the investigation.
Having read the first book, I realized that Larsson spends a long time setting up his stories. To me, it was like watching the show Unchain Reaction based on Rube Goldberg's machines. In the show, the first 25 minutes is all about the concept, design and sorting out the problems and the finale lasts all of 2 minutes. In Larsson's book, the set-up takes 3/4 of the book, but once I was that invested in it, it felt like hitting the top of the hill on a roller-coaster - I just held up my hands and screamed!
Returning to my friend's comment about the violence and the prom - yes, it was pronounced. There are graphic descriptions of the murders, abuse (physical and sexual), and various altercations. As horrible as this all is, it makes Salander seem all that more amazing - to have survived and thrived under conditions that took away her freedom, rights and dignity. I can't say I would recommend this book to everyone - even though it was an the best seller list and such, I think it would appeal to a particular group of readers, unfortunately none that I know, so this book is going to The Little Free Library!