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Book review: “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest” by Stieg Larsson

Lisbeth Salander is fascinating.

Thin, short and socially stunted, she is a victim of abuse, domestic and institutional. Yet, she is even more a survivor — one with extraordinary skills as a hacker, a fluid, computer-like intelligence and a steel will.

Often, she is in control.

She is the reason to read Stieg Larsson’s crime trilogy: “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Girl Who Played with Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest.”

Alas, in the third book, “Hornets’ Nest” — an overfed 743 pages — she rarely appears.

For literally hundreds of pages, people meet, people fight, people argue, people search, people scheme, people pontificate, people have sex, people have meals, people go for a run, people murder, people nab bad guys. But Lisbeth isn’t one of them.

She’s stuck in a hospital bed, and then in a prison, and the nervous, exhilarating energy she has as she moves through the world is totally missing from the book. Even so, when she’s on the page, even when she can’t move a muscle without great pain, she captivates the reader.

Of course, the reason Lisbeth is immobilized is that, as the book opens, she’s recuperating from a bullet in the brain. But I blame Larsson for not finding a way to get her out and about. Instead, he plods along with layers upon layers of conspiracies and investigations in a plot that’s even more super-duper convoluted than in either of the first two books.

Larsson himself is a victim — of the Harry-Potter syndrome.

With each new Harry Potter book, J.K. Rowling seemed to feel that she had to out-do the others in terms of complexity and number of pages. Yet, she knew enough to keep good old Harry at the center of the action and the story.

Larsson failed, pursuing greater twists and turns but forgetting that dear old Lisbeth is why we’ve been reading these books.

In addition to Lisbeth’s few scenes, there are some highlights, such as a long, compelling trial scene, a contretemps between Lisbeth and her brother and two startling plot turns within a couple pages of each other involving her despicable father.

Still, this is a book that waddles along, providing just enough intrigue to keep the reader turning the pages, if only in the hope of finding Lisbeth.

Patrick T. Reardon

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