Here’s a link to an interesting piece from the New Yorker with the subtitle of “Why do people love Stieg Larsson’s books?” I don’t think that the author even begins to answer that question, and she’s far more critical of Larsson’s writing than I am, but it’s an interesting discussion nevertheless. Please note that this article very badly spoilers all of Larsson’s books, so if you haven’t read them or if you plan to do so in the future, do yourself a favor and don’t click on that link. I actually enjoyed his Millennium Trilogy quite a bit (my review of the third book in that series is here, for your reference) and regret that we’ll likely never see any of the purportedly seven (!) additional books Larsson had planned.
This is the concluding volume of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, the Swedish crime series that has swept the globe to become an international sensation. The films have been released in Swedish and the first is already being remade in English (“Why?” you might ask? Well, that’s Hollywood for you, I guess.) I very much enjoyed the first two novels of the trilogy – the first especially – and have been eagerly anticipating this one.
Please note: the following review contains spoilers of a crime novel. While I will go out of my way not to ruin the plot in a significant way (or even go step-by-step through it), I must note that if you have any allergies whatsoever to spoilers for books you haven’t read, it’s probably best to skip this review.
The book begins in media res, beginning only minutes after the end of the second book in the series and continuing through the resolution of all the sub-plots introduced in the middle volume of the trilogy. I was initially pretty skeptical when Larsson introduced a fairly significant secret governmental organization/hidden cabal as an antagonist (we had inklings of this in the second book) but this element grew on me as the story went along, probably because they aren’t overly powerful or infallible by any means. It allows Larsson to ramp up the stakes of the story for all involved, so ultimately I think it works. I was particularly struck by the limited scope and capabilities of these antagonists – for a secret intelligence organization that has set itself above the law they certainly do have limited capabilities and resources. I was also interested in the blending of intelligence and law enforcement powers and responsibilities that Larsson depicts with both the good guy police/intelligence officers and the villains of the piece. I can only assume that these roles and duties are depicted in a way that mirrors reality and it therefore also serves to highlight a very different system from that which I’m familiar in the U.S., where these functions are, for the most part, kept strictly segregated for operational and legal reasons.
Also, the climactic courtroom scene where Lisbeth Salander is brought to trial highlighted some of the stark differences between American and Swedish legal processes. I don’t want to sound condescending here, but I found the Swedish legal proceedings (as represented here) to be charming and almost quaint in their informality. (For instance, do all the participants at what Americans would consider a multiple felony trial really just sit around a conference table and feel free to interrupt each other?) I have no idea if Larsson has depicted this kind of courtroom drama at all accurately, but it’s certainly an interesting cultural perspective on Swedish law. For that matter, the entire police investigation also highlights some additional differences – e.g., U.S. police investigators would never proceed as the Swedish cops do here. All in all, I found the various Swedish police, legal, and intelligence organizations and processes to be very different from what I know, and that helped provide an interesting and refreshing read.
There are, perhaps inevitably, some weaknesses in this book. First, Lisbeth Salander, because of the injuries she sustained at the end of the second book and her subsequent incarceration, is not an active participant in the events of this book. Blomkvist and others are the primary protagonists, but it’s a real ensemble cast, with Blomkvist just being first among equals. I like Blomkvist, don’t get me wrong, but we don’t see a lot of additional characterization for him here, plus I’ve always viewed Blomkvist as more than a little bit of a “Mary Sue” for the author. I regretted not having a more active role from Salander. Second, there have been times in all the books that I wished for the inclusion of a Dramatis Personae section, and such a list of characters was never needed more than here in this concluding volume of the trilogy. The sheer number of various police investigators, criminals, intelligence officers, etc. almost necessitates such a list. They probably exist online somewhere, but I didn’t search for one because I didn’t want to spoiler myself while reading. Third, the ending meanders on for a good bit (maybe 60 pages or so) after the climax. Larsson needs some of that space to wrap up some loose ends, but it does drag on longer than strictly necessary, as it did in the first book. We never really do see Salander’s twin sister “onstage,” so I wonder why she was introduced at all and what Larsson might have initially planned for that character. There is certainly enough material for a fourth volume, so perhaps we would have seen her appear there. And lastly, this is a minor quibble, but I also wish that the main events of the first novel (the Vanger family crimes) had been better integrated with the last two volumes of the trilogy. As it is, the first book sets up the main characters and a fascinating set of crimes in its own right, but then the characters go on to do very different things with their lives leaving this original case behind them. Maybe I’m asking too much, but that’s bothered me slightly as I read its two sequels.
I give this final book in the trilogy 4 stars out of 5. For my money, the first book in the series is still the best, but this one is a good book in its own right and a worthy conclusion to the trilogy. It’s extremely sad that Larsson died before he could complete any more fiction. He was extremely skilled at weaving together an extremely complex, rich, well-told story involving dozens of major characters and the world is undoubtedly poorer for his passing. If you haven’t read the first book in the series – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – do yourself a favor and pick that up immediately (and if so, why are you reading this review, anyway?)
Review copyright 2010 J. Andrew Byers