There has been so much press surrounding Stieg Larsson and his Millenium Trilogy that it feels anti-climatic to write up this review of my reading experience. But I did finish The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest last month and it was a bittersweet experience.
If you recall, I read the first two books in the series last year. Reading them back-to-back was an interesting experience, and now, having finished the third, I wish I had read all three together. They really are 1 giant book in three volumes. The entire story plays out in a more cohesive manner when they are read together.
The stories of Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander pick-up exactly where they left off in The Girl Who Played With Fire. Most of this novel deals with Lisbeth's trial and Mikael's attempt to bring down a secretive organization within the Swedish government. Stylistically, this third entry in the series has much more political intrigue and exposition into the various investigations and conspiracies that are all going on at once. As a result, there are many plot threads, lots of new characters, and a slowing of the frenetic pace in points, but during the last 200 pages, everything comes together, and it is hard to put down.
Why are these books so popular? I think it has a lot to do with Lisbeth. She is an original, intriguing, complex, and simply fascinating character. In fact, these books have lots of interesting, intelligent, complex and powerful women. Some have questioned whether the portrayal of women is refreshingly feminist or misogynistic. (click here for more on that discussion) I will stay out of the fray here since I see valid points on each side of the argument; however, I do know for sure that these books are highly entertaining.
Other reasons for the Larsson mania. These books are different from everything else being offered in the crime fiction genre, and I am not just talking about their setting. I think the popularity of these novels lies in their appeal.
Here is what I said about their appeal last time I read Larsson:
Appeal: These books are intricately and cunningly plotted, with extremely sympathetic series characters. The two main characters are very flawed individuals, but we, the reader, love them despite their quirks and issues. Readers will love following a subplot into the next book. This series must be read in order. Intriguing and detailed secondary characters are introduced and given a chance to tell the story from their point of view. Like all good suspense novels, we get the villain's point of view, so we know more than the protagonists. This adds to the suspense. We know how bad the danger is before they do. Both books resolve the main mystery but leave other secondary story lines and issues totally open. This is not a problem because there is another book; however, Larsson conceived this as a 10 book series and he died only completing 3. After The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest comes out next year, we may all be left up in the air. The thought already worries me.I think this all applies to TGWKTHN also. And I am happy to report, things do all resolve at the end of the book.
Red Flags: Lots of violence against women, hero and heroine in grave peril, and graphic depictions of sex and rape. Violence and gore throughout.
Three Words That Describe This Book: detailed, complicated, great characters
Readalikes: I have had a lot to say about Larsson and possible readalikes on this blog in the past. Click here for dozens of options.
But since this series has been credited with bringing a lot of men and women back to reading (especially those under 50 who previously did not read more than a book a year), I want to make sure that I really think these readalike options through and provide balanced and well thought out options.
I stand by my previous suggestions of Tana French, Asa Larsson, Henning Mankell, Kate Atkinson, and Arnaldur Indridason. But after finishing the trilogy, I see a few more, less obvious readalike options.
With help from the new NoveList I found these suggestions very intriguing. Rock Paper Tiger by Lisa Brackmann, the international crime thrillers of John Burdett, Box 21 by Anders Roslund, and Learning to Lose by David Trueba.
That should keep you Larsson fans reading for awhile, but don't forget, if you run out of ideas, your local public librarian can help.