Stockholm syndrome

Stieg Larsson’s Girl is stinging Swedish noir
By PETER KEOUGH  |  May 26, 2010

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HONEST STIEG: Unlike most plot-driven page turners, Girl doesn’t leave you feeling cheated.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest | by Stieg Larsson | Translated from the Swedish by Reg Keeland | Alfred A. Knopf | 576 pages | $27.95
With its low crime rate and socialized everything, Sweden doesn’t seem very noirish compared with, say, LA. Then again, much of the country spends the entire winter without sunlight. And who knew Sweden had its own version of the JFK assassination, the unsolved 1986 murder of prime minister Olof Palme? There must be something about the place that made Ingmar Bergman so morose and grumpy.

Be that as it may, Swedish noir these days ranks high among the best and most popular in the genre, with the late (he died in 2004) Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy topping the chart. All three books have been international bestsellers, and all three have been adapted into hit films in Sweden. (The first, Niels Arden Oplev’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoocame out here earlier this year.) Of such things Hollywood takes note: Tattoo is now being remade in English by David Fincher, with a cast rumored to include Johnny Depp, Carey Mulligan, Brad Pitt, and George Clooney.

The newly released English translation of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, the third book in the series, should sustain this momentum. Like the first two, this is one of those 500-page-plus bricks that will deprive you of sleep until you’ve reached the end. Unlike most such plot-driven page turners, however, it won’t leave you feeling cheated.

For one thing, though Larsson might not seem a great stylist (at least in translation), he did have an imagination — one that, when you least expect it, veers from the formulaic into the twisted. He also had a vision that is shaped over the course of 1700 pages. As the title suggests, Hornet’s Nest expands the circles of evil and corruption stirred up in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to the highest and lowest ranks of Swedish society. It also develops with subtlety and intensity the relationship between two of the most engaging and mismatched sleuths since Watson and Holmes.

Those two would be the louche but honest investigative reporter Mikael Blomkvist and the disturbed — perhaps Asperger’s-syndrome-afflicted — punkster and virtual genius Lisbeth Salander, the “girl” of the titles. When last seen, in The Girl Who Played with Fire, Salander had just been shot in the head by her sociopathic, former-KGB-agent father. The upshot is that she’s now hospitalized and can’t pitch in as much as Blomkvist (and the reader) would like. Nonetheless, with on-line back-up from her, Blomkvist follows up the loose ends of the previous book: tracking down her Terminator-like half-brother, investigating a conspiracy refighting the Cold War, etc.

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