Category: Mystery Review

#BestsellerCode100: Reader’s Review The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest by Steig Larsson

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, by Steig Larsson, is next on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  You can read Roberta’s kick-off description here.

This post contains spoilers.

Steig Larsson’s The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest*

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Stieg Larsson first introduces us to Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (check out my review at Musings, Mischief, and Mayhem), where Lisbeth and Mikael team up to solve the mysterious disappearance of 16-year-old girl more than forty years ago.  The Girl Who Played With Fire continues the saga, with Lisbeth eventually confronting her father, the terror of her childhood, with disastrous consequences.  In The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, Larsson pulls the various story lines from the preceding books together for a thrilling conclusion.

When I first saw this book on our list, I knew I would be reading all three books in the trilogy for a couple of reasons:

  1. I hate reading books out of order
  2. To compare the three books to figure out why only the third book showed up on our list

Each of the books in this trilogy became bestsellers, so why did the computer “kick out” this particular book as the best of the best and not the first two in the trilogy?

After reading all three books, I believe the answer is in the level of human interaction that Lisbeth achieves in this third book.  More than one character throughout the books made the observation that Lisbeth might be autistic.  She has extreme difficulties making and maintaining friendships and in sharing personal details about herself with others.  Partly this is a learned response – during her childhood, authorities repeatedly ignored her statements and requests.  Even worse, there was a government group that conspired to incarcerate her in a mental institution as a preteen in order to protect the identity of her father.  But even Lisbeth knows she’s different; she just doesn’t view friendships and social norms the same as others do.  She expends great energy, time, and expense in the first two books protecting her personal privacy to the point of anonymity.  Yes, that’s partly due to safety issues, but also because that’s how she prefers it.  Even those closest to her have learned they will never really know anything personal about her.

Personal Crisis → Growth?

In The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, though, Lisbeth undergoes a trial by fire that brings her to a personal crisis.  She must decide whether to take the advice of others, to rely upon others, to resolve her legal issues.  Without their help, it’s certain that she will end up incarcerated in a mental institution for the rest of her life.   Only with their help does she have a chance to be free.  And then when she achieves that legal freedom, Lisbeth goes through more personal conflict before she ultimately admits to herself that she has friends, that she needs friends, that she wants friends, and opens herself and her life up to them.

Larsson’s trilogy is Lisbeth Salander’s story, and it is in this third, and final, book that we see real character growth in her. Without this growth, even though the series wraps up nicely, we would not care as much for Lisbeth.  If she continued her solitary life, continued to ignore and block out of her life those who helped her, all she went through in the three books would have been pointless.  She might as well have allowed those conspiring against her to lock her back up.  Instead, Larsson allows Lisbeth to open the door to a potentially more fulfilling life.  And that, I believe, is reason enough for book three to make the 100 Books List.

What did you think of The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

  1. The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest landing page
  2. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

After you finish the book, you might want to drop by to take our survey.


You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.


What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 93 on the list, Olive Kitterage by Elizabeth Strout (2008) – Discussion begins February 13, 2017.  This books is classified as Literary Fiction.

Craig Johnson (Longmire Series) @poisonedpen Bookstore

Have you ever met Craig Allen Johnson, who is the author of the famed Longmire Mystery series?

Johnson was in Arizona recently to discuss the release of his newest novella,  The Highwayman.


(Amazon Affiliate Link)

We are lucky in Arizona because The Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale regularly brings in top-notch authors to give talks. Even better, they record many of the events and post the videos on Livestream. Being able to watch on your own schedule is so helpful for those of us who are constantly overbooked.

If you have a few minutes, check out how living on a Wyoming ranch adds balance to Craig Johnson’s life and creates the setting for his books.



It is such a treat to get the inside scoop on what the author’s typical writing day is like. In this case, Johnson talks to his horses and ends his work day looking up at the stars in the clear Wyoming skies.

The discussion about the novella length is also fascinating. There’s the impression a novella is a short story, but really it is a 200 page novel. Johnson convinces us that sometimes the story shouldn’t be padded with extra words just to meet the novel-length page requirements.

John is a staunch plotter, writing from an outline he sets up ahead of time. He says it helps prevent the potential from writer’s block because he always knows what is coming next.

I think watching interviews like these help inspire and inform one’s own work. What do you think?

Are you a fan of the book series? What about the TV series based on the books?

If you watch the video, what parts resonated with you?



Photo via Visualhunt

Disclosure:  I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. If you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.





Logical #Mystery The Nine Mile Walk: The Nicky Welt Stories of Harry Kemelman

Author Harry Kemelman is best known for his mystery series featuring Rabbi David Small, but he also wrote short stories featuring a college professor named Nicky Welt. The Nine Mile Walk: The Nicky Welt Stories of Harry Kemelman is a collection of these short stories.


(Amazon Affiliate link)

In all his stories, Kemelman’s protagonists use logic to solve crimes, but nothing beats the pure logic of “The Nine Mile Walk”  (text available online).


Modified slightly, the short story is also available as in a two-part video.

First part:

2nd part:


It is a short, but highly-entertaining mystery.


(Public domain)

Have you read Harry Kemelman’s books? What do you think of them?

#amreading #mystery: Camelback Falls by Jon Talton

A friend who lives in Arizona recently recommended the David Mapstone series by Jon Talton. Because I am reading mysteries as a way to study the craft of writing, this will be more of a discussion of writing techniques than a general review.

This post contains affiliate links to Amazon.

Let’s start with Camelback Falls, although it is the second in the David Mapstone Mystery series.


Main character David Mapstone began his career working in the sheriff’s department of Maricopa County, Arizona. After a detour to train as a historian, he found himself back in the sheriff’s department. When the newly elected sheriff who has been his mentor is shot, Mapstone must find out who did it and hopefully clear his mentor’s name.


The first thing I noticed when reading was the rhythm of Talton’s words. Even though he sets his stories in the Sonoran desert, the cadence reminds me of the uneven staccato of the rain on pavement. I have to admit it took me a couple of pages to adjust to his voice after having just read the slowly ambling prose of Elizabeth George. Once familiar with it, however, the driving beat was compelling.

Many mystery authors write using a third person point of view, but Talton writes in the first person. The distinct advantage of first person is that there are no confusing shifts in voice or perspective. It can be limiting, however, because it only tells one person’s story. It also can be difficult to show action because the main character must always be involved. Talton adroitly overcomes the limitations by adding certain characters with a wider perspective of events and by moving Mapstone around to follow the action (even though as acting sheriff realistically he might have been trapped in his office). Kudos to Talton, because that is hard to pull off in a mystery.

One intriguing pattern in this novel was that most of the male characters tended to be either mentors or adversaries. Few men were neutral or friends. As Mapstone interviews the women characters, on the other hand, they impart many of the clues to that help wrap up the mystery. I wonder whether the choice of helpful females was a conscious decision as a way to define Mapstone’s character or an unconscious choice by Talton. Because he is an experienced journalist, I suspect the former.

In any case, Camelback Falls is a enjoyable mystery to read, and delving more deeply, an informative case study of the writing process.

Have you read any of the David Mapstone mysteries? What did you think?




#amreading #mystery: Revealing the Strengths of Lisa Gardner’s Hide

Have you read any Lisa Gardner mysteries? I have been reading through her D.D. Warren series, and I have to say my new favorite is Hide (A Detective D.D. Warren Novel).

This title really stands out for a couple of reasons. First of all Annabelle, even though she is at the brunt of some of the villain’s wrongdoing (victim/potential victim), gets as strong a role as some of the law enforcement characters. Including the victims’ viewpoints gives Gardner’s books an interesting emotional core because their reactions are more intense and direct.

Second, I love that Bobby Dodge, who got pretty beat up in the last book (Alone), has a better time of it in this one. To say anything more would be a spoiler.

The main reason Hide works so well, however, has to to do with Annabelle’s motivations. Having recently read a Writer Unboxed blog post about The Duplicity of A Character’s Desire, it seemed like a good time to evaluate how desire worked in this novel. Annabelle’s desire to find out who her father was, why he kept her family on the run throughout her childhood, and ultimately her desire to discover whether or not she can have a more normal adulthood align to make her a clear and compelling character. Many of Lisa Gardner’s characters wander off into the realm of unreliable narrator, which is fine. Keeping Annabelle confined to a clear path, however, made this particular book more satisfying.

The bottom line is that although the Annabelle character spent her childhood in hiding, the act of revealing her desires to others ultimately makes Hide a highly enjoyable read.


What do you think?



Mystery Review: The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz

Let’s start out with a mystery that you could feel comfortable recommending to a young adult or even your mother because it is completely devoid of violent murders. The Spellman Files  by Lisa Lutz is about a unconventional family (read dysfunctional) of private investigators who often spend more time investigating each other than criminals. It is the first of a six book series (list on authors website.)

Although the books are touted as humorous, be aware that Lutz’s humor runs towards the deadpan. You have to pay attention to catch all the improbably funny situations.

You can get a feel for her wacky humor in this video about another in the series, Trail of the Spellmans.

If you have trouble getting the jokes, you should think about what it might be like to be an author at a book signing.

Speaking of book signings, I met Lisa Lutz at the Tucson Festival of Books last weekend. There she revealed she wrote The Spellman Files as a screenplay first and revised it to be a stand alone novel. She also said that if she had known the Spellmans would become a series, she wouldn’t have killed off one of the characters.

If you are tired of the standard meaty fare, give the The Spellman Files a try. It is a light fruit salad of a mystery, perfect for a warm summer night.

Have you read The Spellman Files? What did you think of it?


Disclosure: This book was purchased and signed at a book signing. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title or image link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website

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