Whisky & Culture

The Girl Who...

Jefferson Chase continues his look at Swedish crime fiction
By Jefferson Chase
Judging from the sales figures, I must be one of the last people on earth to have read The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest, the final instalment of Stieg Larsson's massively popular Millennium trilogy. So I won't summarise the plot except to say it's about an ass-kicking cyberpunk named Lisbeth Salander, whose only hope of escaping imprisonment in mental institutions is to uncover, with the help of a journalist, a government conspiracy involving her family.That said, what's the appeal of this Swedish crime series? In the beginning I was somewhat bewildered by the shear detail, the lists of characters and what roles they serve in the plot.But gradually, I got sucked in by Larsson's portrayal of people and what they do. For instance, a doctor at a Gothenburg hospital: The girl on the gurney could live with a piece of lead in her hip and a piece of lead in her shoulder. But a piece of lead inside her head was a trauma of a wholly different magnitude.He was suddenly aware of Nurse Nicander saying something.'Sorry, I wasn't listening.' 'It's her.' The patient in question is Salander, who was nearly fatally wounded at the end of the second part of trilogy.As an American I was struck by the amount of time the characters spend trying to follow the rules of bureaucratic, everything-by-the-book Sweden. In American crime fiction, breaking the rules is part of the hero's appeal. That's where Salander comes in, and I suspect she's the character who mainly attracts readers. A woman of few words, but with a hard kick to the groin and a talent for hacking other people's computers, she's a mystery - even to herself: Salander leaned back against the pillow and followed the conversation with a smile. She wondered why she, who had such difficulty talking about herself with people of flesh and blood, could blithely reveal her most intimate secrets to a bunch of completely unknown freaks on the Internet.In Hornet's Nest, Salander has to rely on a little help from her virtual friends, as she spends most of the novel in hospital. When she does discharge herself, there's hell to pay, and I hope I'm not giving away too much, when I say that the good guys win in the end. More unusual is what Salander does after she ultimately triumphs, namely go to Gibraltar and hunker down at a bar: When she ordered whisky she always chose Tullamore Dew, except on one occasion when she asked for Lagavulin. When the glass was brought to her, she sniffed at it and then took a tiny sip. She set down her glass and stared at it for a minute with an expression that seemed to indicate that she considered its contents to be a mortal enemy.The air of violence Salander emanates is hypnotic - it even extends to her drinks!Larsson was a journalist who wrote his novels in his spare time and died suddenly in 2004, before his works became international bestsellers. After delving into this 2,000+ page opus, I found myself wishing he'd lived to write a bit more.