I just finished the last volume of Stieg Larsson’s trilogy, and I have mixed feelings about them. I thought the initial book, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, was excellent. I liked the second volume, The Girl Who Played With Fire, although I thought it was not as strong as the first book. I also thought the last volume — The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest — was the weakest of the three.
I liked the first volume because it was deliberate in its pace and different in its approach to storytelling. It took a while to get into the story, and the author didn’t seem to care that he was taking his time introducing you to characters, major and minor, and giving you their back stories. The character of Lisbeth Salander was fresh and different, the bit-by-bit relating of the horrible incidents and tragedies in her life was like finding successive clues on a treasure hunt, and the overarching tale of the redemption of journalist Mikael Blomkvist and his discovery of the secrets of the Vanger family, with the eventual assistance of Salander, was an interesting plot line. In the first book, although both Salander and Blomkvist have unique talents — as a computer hacker and reporter, respectively — their characters are believable and their actions and accomplishments are within the range of possibility. And I liked how the telling of the engrossing story also helped me learn a bit about Sweden and its history and culture.
Unfortunately, as the story progressed through the second and third books it became increasingly unbelievable and, as a result, much less interesting. Lisbeth Salander somehow acquires the skills of a master spy and action hero who survives being shot in the head and buried alive. The middle-aged Blomkvist is revealed as a super-sleuth and awesome sexual athlete who apparently is irresistible to every woman he encounters and is able to fight off contract killers. By the middle of the third book, the story has become a pretty standard trial drama where the outcome is foreordained and the only question is when and how, inevitably, Salander will confront and defeat her equally superhuman but evil half-brother.
I understand the buzz about Larsson’s books, and I applaud any series that has the mistreatment of women as one of its principal story lines. I do find myself wishing, however, that Larsson had stopped writing after the first book.