Sheer page-turning stuff

Sheer page-turning stuff

The girl who kicked the  hornets’ nest ,Stieg Larsson Translated by Reg Keeland Bloomsbury, 2009,  pp 602, Rs 495

Long after you have put down this uputdownable brick of a book, it keeps haunting you. One is left with a deep sense of loss that Stieg Larsson is not around to carry on entertaining us with his brilliance. Even in the translated version there is not a word, much less a sentence, that’s out of place, thanks to Reg Keeland. The characters, especially Lisbeth Salander, journalist Mikael Blomkvist and the good policeman Bublanski will remain in our memory for ever. Not for nothing has Lisbeth been hailed as the original heroine to emerge in crime fiction in a long time.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest is the third in the millennium triology. The first, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and the next The Girl Who Played With Fire, have been as absorbing as the last offering. This one takes off from a hospital ward where Lisbeth is lying with lead in her brain following a bloody showdown with her own wicked father and her brother who is evil personified. He is built like a heavily armoured tank and feels no pain at all. Over a metre tall, he has congenital analgesia which knocks out the functioning of his nerve synapses that transmit pain and pleasure. The endgame sees brother and sister in a life and death battle. Lisbeth’s father too, whom she had attacked with an axe, is lying in the same hospital.

Unlike the first two volumes which are packed with the audacious exploits of Lisbeth, this one mostly deals with skulduggery in the Swedish secret service. That does not take away the drama, though. There is a shadowy organisation in the service which is frighteningly all-powerful: an unseen, unheard of extra-constitutional power centre. It is engaged in a shocking cover-up game. Lisbeth’s father Alexander Zalachenko was a hit man for Russian intelligence. He defected to the Swedish secret service in the 70s and remained there until the collapse of the Soviet Union.

He later switched over to running a deadly criminal network. A psychopath, a cold-blooded killer and a wife-beater, he had a tempestuous relationship with Agneta Sofia Salander. That liason produced Lisbeth Salander and another girl. Agneta was then just 17.

Growing up in a strife-torn family, Lisbeth develops nerves of steel and a fiery temperament. Unable to stomach her father’s ill-treatment of her mother, she lobs a molotov cocktail on him. This almost burns him to death. But the old fox survives. Raging with fury over Lisbeth’s attack, he and the secret service scumbags put her in an asylum. She is subjected to unspeakable horror. Strapped to her bed for over a year, she is also brutally raped by her own guardian. He, incidentally, is part of the ring that gave her a warped psyche and confined her. She lusts for their blood and goes about hunting them down single-handedly.

Just give her a hand-held Palm with a tiny stylus. She would pick at random HTML codes, glance at them, commit them to memory and spit them out flawlessly. A genius of a hacker that she is, she enters any domain, however secure it might be. She is part of the so-called Hacker Republic, an elite force out to knock out computers or just purloin data and even siphon off funds from filthy rich accounts. If Lisbeth could claim any sort of family or group affiliation, it is this band of geeks.

Apart from Lisbeth, journalist Blomkvist is another memorable character. The way he goes about accumulating evidence against Lisbeth’s tormentors is a lesson in journalistic craftsmanship. Then there’s Blomkvist’s colleague Erika Berger, who is the helmswoman at Millennium. For a brief while she moves into a top position at a daily newspaper. She is subjected to a mind-numbing email assault.

Larsson himself employs his journalistic skills to tremendous effect: the net result, fiction that might well be fact. There have been few courtroom dramas that have been as gripping as in this. Sheer paging-turning stuff! That could be said of the entire book.

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