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The Flaws in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy

September 6, 2010

Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander

Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy was a part of my Summer reading, and it was a very enjoyable experience to spend hours of my time completely hooked on the dark and riveting tales of computer hacker Lisbeth Salander and crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist. So much has been written about the Millennium trilogy that I doubt I could add much to the praise, but what struck me in particular was Larsson’s brilliant handling of many varied plots and crime sub-genres. The narrative seamlessly moves between and merges elements of the locked room mystery, whodunnit, corporate intrigue, political conspiracy thriller and historical fiction.

However, as Chris has argued on these pages, the concluding volume of the trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, is certainly the weakest of the series. I suspect the editing process had not been completed at the time of Larsson’s death as the novel seems far too long and needs refining. Without meaning to sound killjoy or to give away any spoilers, here are a few other areas where I felt the third novel was disappointing:

There is a long sub-plot involving Blomkvist’s occasional lover Erika Berger leaving Millennium magazine to become editor of a powerful national newspaper. While this is an entertaining and suspenseful diversion it seems to go on forever and the payoff is underwhelming.

I never found the character of Ronald Niedermann to be plausible. Niedermann is a psychopathic giant who is incapable of feeling pain, and whenever he is around the story descends into hokum.

About two hundred pages before the end of the third novel it becomes fairly obvious that the bad guys are screwed and the good guys become annoyingly self-righteous and verbose. The climactic courtroom trial seems to lose all suspense as a consequence.

Again, these are minor quibbles which, on the whole, don’t take away from Larsson’s brilliance as a writer and the Millennium trilogy’s reputation as a stunning achievement in crime fiction. There is an element of tragedy in reading the novels as we know Larsson never lived to see their remarkable success. I was left hungry for more and would love to see a fourth novel if the manuscript ever emerges, and if Larsson’s partner Eva Gabrielsson is ever awarded the fair settlement that she deserves. Although I would hope a fourth novel, despite Larsson’s passing, would receive a more vigorous editing and even redrafting process than The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. September 6, 2010 11:20 am

    I read the entire trilogy in one go and found the third book to be a bit underwhelming too. I think that you are right about it being underdone- even though I liked the character of Neiderman. Still and all this was the best read that I have had all year. Keep up the great blogs!

    • Powell, Steven permalink
      September 6, 2010 12:41 pm

      Thanks DG,

      The Neiderman character had his moments. He was vaguely reminiscent of Moose Malloy in Chandler’s Farewell My Lovely, although I realise this is a limited comparison. I wonder if Larsson had this character in mind when writing Neiderman. The novels are full of references to his favourite crime authors.

      Best, Steve

      • September 7, 2010 8:45 am

        The Malloy comparison is an interesting one; Malloy is less malevolent than he is misunderstood. I was reminded of Jaws in The Spy Who Loved Me, who is simply a killing machine.

        The third book is definitely the weakest. On the other hand, when Joseph Heller was asked why, in his long career, he hadn’t written anything as good as Catch-22, he replied “Who has?”

      • Powell, Steven permalink
        September 7, 2010 10:08 am

        Thanks Chris,

        I guess Jaws worked as a character because the Bond films are clearly fantasy, but by the time they released Moonraker he was beginning to lose his appeal.

        When I was in South Carolina doing archival research on James Ellroy I saw the typewriter Heller used to write Catch-22. Great quote by Heller, but I think the sequel to Catch-22, Closing Time, is really good in parts.

  2. September 9, 2010 9:35 am

    I think Closing Time is good in parts too, but I think it really illustrates the point about the Hornet’s Nest being weaker–personally I would be delighted to have written anything close to the quality of Hornet’s Nest or Closing Time, or to know that I ever would.

    PS. The idea that the Bond films are fantasy is crazy talk. It’s all real I tell you.

  3. September 9, 2010 11:40 am

    I would be very happy to write something half as good too Chris. Of course Bond is real- is there any doubt?

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