Lisbeth lives! Of course, fans of Stieg Larsson's girl with the dragon tattoo knew that she would. With this third book in the series about computer hacker and unjustly abused loner Lisbeth Salander, Larsson breathlessly takes up his tale the day after book No. 2, "The Girl Who Played With Fire," left off. Our heroine, shot by her dad in a heated confrontation over his longstanding abuse and criminal history, has been found by investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist and whisked to a hospital.
But while her body recovers, her life remains in a shambles. She managed to injure her Russian defector dad, but that's little comfort when she realizes he's landed just a few doors down the hospital corridor.
The secret police are still trying to bury her -- either with trumped up charges, or literally -- so no one will find out how they've covered for her father. And she doesn't have access to her lifeline, the Internet. The book founders a bit until Blomkvist figures out how to smuggle her Palm Tungsten T3 into her room.
Larsson remains a stickler for details regarding computers and women's clothing choices, which often involve black and red. His palette is broader when it comes to showing the corruption of power and the righteousness of idealism. Given what is known of him (he was a tireless crusader against hate groups in Sweden), we know where he stands. But his characters have nuance and depth.
Of course the sinister secret police are reprehensible, but they started out thinking they were doing something good for their country. A businessman somehow slides from being an upstanding citizen to being a greedy exploiter of child labor. But Salander treads a fine line, too. When Blomkvist's former editor, Erika Berger, is targeted by a stalker, Salander and her cohorts break into e-mail accounts to identify the culprit. But when Salander complains about the secret police, she has to ask her friends to hold off on destroying the country's economy or some equally drastic form of vengeance. Good call.
Larsson also has tilted the balance of gender roles. A vile misogynist dispatched with scores of women in the first novel, but in this book women have the upper hand. As the editor of Stockholm's largest newspaper, Berger fights her bosses over proposed cuts. And Salander gets stronger as she inches toward intimacy.
Although it feels like the series is ending at a natural spot, I would like to see Salander meet up with her long-lost twin. Maybe that scenario is addressed in the nearly complete fourth book that Larsson was working on when he died. Apparently the publishing rights are a matter of dispute between his longtime partner and his family. What is not disputed is that he left the world too soon, and "The Man Who Left Too Soon" is the title of a Larsson biography by Barry Forshaw. It's set for publication in June.
Kathe Connair is a copy editor at the Star Tribune.