Disappointment with Stieg Larsson’s finale

I just finished the final book in the millennium trilogy.  After his second book I said that Larsson was really clever for challenging our notions of heroes by making his main protagonist (Lisbeth Salander) engage in behavior that is ethically and legally questionable.

In this third book, I seriously had to consider the possibility that Larsson wasn’t as clever as I originally thought and, in fact, was quite substandard.  Larsson’s third book lacks just about any of the qualities that made the first two books worth a read.  The characters were flat (Salander fades into the background for the vast majority of the book, popping up only to act as a Deus ex machina), the plot was predictable and it resolved weekly.

Larsson’s villians are evil.  That’s cool.  They’re supposed to be.  But they’re also grossly inept.  So inept that they would be at home with the lamest stormtroopers or other minions.  Every decision they make is wrong…fortune breaks against them at every step…every assumption they make is delusional.

Alternately, Blomqvist and Salander are blessed by the gods.  Every long shot pans out, every guess becomes fact.  Despite the fact that Larsson occasionally tries to build suspense by writing things like ‘She knew she had to get away or she’d be dead…but there was no way out!’ (Ok, not an exact quote but not far off).  Before you can even feel a bit of suspense, however, the situation magically resolves itself and usually with a prize of a new critical clue.

In Larsson’s world you can quickly determine if you’re supposed to root for characters.  Heterosexual men who aren’t too old to have sex are either:

  1. incompetent government employees
  2. sadistic sexual predator
  3. part of a secret government conspiracy (usually combining one and two above)
  4. Michael Blomqvist

Likewise, you’ll know if women are important characters in the story if:

  1. They’re bisexual
  2. They sleep with Michael Blomqvist
  3. They are totally cool with the fact that Blomqvist is only interested in casual sex and has multiple partners
  4. Men refer to them as ‘bitches’ or other sexist terms with amazing frequency

Women who don’t meet those criteria can be counted on to totally cave when placed under pressure or be murdered violently.

Through long stretches of the book I was actually hoping that the main characters would get whacked by a decent hit man.

The one trick that Larsson brought back from the second book (which I’m increasingly coming to believe was unintentional) is that he makes his protagonists copies of the antagonists.  So, the villians violate the constitution, attack and kill to further their own ends?  Hey…so do the heroes.

It’s like a socialist version of Death Wish.  500 pages of revenge fantasy.  Larsson pretties it up to rationalize all sorts of illegal activity but at the end of the day it’s just not clear what separates the ‘bad’ from the ‘good’ apart from the favorable press of Larsson.

I’d recommend the first book but after that, save your time.


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