The final book in Stieg Larsson's massively popular Millennium trilogy is less a follow-up to the last one than a continuation of it, as if he'd written a single 1,000-page volume and then ripped it in half. The story picks up just moments after the blood-soaked ending of The Girl Who Played With Fire, throwing you instantly back into the chaotic world of crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist and troubled genius Lisbeth Salander, who was so badly injured in the previous installment that she spends most of this book in a hospital bed.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is a more subdued affair than its action-heavy predecessors, which comes as a welcome development after Fire's cartoonish final act. Here Larsson finally explains the whole truth about Salander's grim history, devoting much of the story to the intricate battle of wits between Salander's devoted band of protectors and her shadowy, high-powered enemies. At the center of it all, Larsson reveals early on, is a rogue unit of the Swedish Security Service, whose members have secretly manipulated Salander for much of her life and are now desperately trying to save themselves by getting her committed to a mental institution.
It's a tangled plot and a pretty far-fetched premise. Larsson, who died in 2004, seems worried that his narrative is too complicated, so he repeats the core story over and over. But the race to save Salander is often thrilling, especially as the conspiracy against her starts to unravel (the exquisite courtroom evisceration of a key villain is one of the series' high points). Fans of the first two books might miss the Hollywood-blockbuster action sequences and wish Salander the series' most compelling character were more of a presence, but Hornet's Nest is still a satisfying finale to Larsson's entertainingly suspenseful trilogy. B+