by Stieg Larsson
576 pages, Knopf
Review by Hereward L.M. Proops
The law of diminishing sequels states that every follow-up to a popular novel or film will be inferior to its predecessors. Whilst there are a few exceptions to this rule (“The Godfather Part 2” and “The Empire Strikes Back” are two sequels that immediately spring to mind), it is generally pretty true and should serve as a stark warning to those authors and film-makers hoping to replicate an earlier success. As George Lucas so expertly proved with the subsequent entries in his “Star Wars” saga, a string of sub-standard sequels / prequels can utterly destroy the credibility of the original vision and alienate even the most enthusiastic of fans.
The first instalment in Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy was “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” - a brilliant, utterly gripping debut that introduced the world to rogue journalist Mikael Blomkvist and anti-social hacker-savant Lisbeth Salander. Despite Larsson's somewhat idiosyncratic style, the book became an international success that has enjoyed the ridiculous sales-figures normally reserved for the latest Harry Potter novel.
Like many readers out there, I lapped it up and eagerly launched myself into the sequel, “The Girl who Played with Fire.” Though enjoyable, the sequel lacked the self-contained brilliance of the first book. The lack of resolution coupled with a cliff-hanger ending left fans frustrated but hungry for the third instalment.
“The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest” picks up exactly where the previous novel abruptly concluded. Salander is in hospital with a bullet in her brain and a string of police charges against her. Mikail Blomkvist's snooping into her murky past has led to the discovery of more than a few skeletons in the closet but forces are at work to undermine his reputation before he can investigate further. It’s not just the repercussions of the events in “The Girl who Played with Fire” that Salander and Blomkvist have to contend with. A shadowy faction in the secret police have also taken an interest in the case and are willing to go to great lengths to ensure the secrets of Salander's childhood remain hidden.
This is a doorstop of a book. Clocking in at close to 800 pages, it is an imposing read and its complexity might be off-putting for many. It does not function as a stand-alone novel and readers are expected to have read “The Girl who Played with Fire” in order to make any sense of the plot. However, those who have read the previous instalments of the Millennium Trilogy are in for a treat as the multitude of loose ends are deftly tied up and the story is brought to a hugely satisfying conclusion. Though a lengthy tale, Larsson manages to sustain the pace throughout. This is no mean feat given that one of the main characters spends the majority of the story confined to a hospital bed. The climax of the books comes when Salander is brought to trial and the resulting scenes in the courtroom are as thrilling and exciting as any all-guns-blazing-kung-fu-robot-ninja-car-chase you've seen in an overblown Hollywood blockbuster.
Larsson's final novel is essential reading for anyone who was left frustrated by the ending of “The Girl who Played with Fire.” Does the law of diminishing sequels apply to this novel? Not really. Though it never quite reaches the dizzying heights of the first book of the trilogy, “The Girl who Kicked the Hornets' Nest” is a brilliant book, skilfully ending a trilogy of books that have raised the bar for popular fiction.
Hereward L.M. Proops