The Girl in the Spider’s Web book review: The plot thickens

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Published: October 18, 2015 12:09:49 AM

David Lagercrantz walks into the Millennium trilogy hall of fame with great aplomb

The Girl in the Spider’s Web
David Lagercrantz
Hachette
Pp 432
R599

IN DECEMBER 2013, when the estate of Stieg Larsson, the late author of the Millennium trilogy, announced that a fourth book would follow the trilogy, the news was received with excitement, and some apprehension. Larsson gave the world Lisbeth Salandar, the damaged girl with a heart of gold, and Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative journalist, who is not scared to take on the famous and powerful, as he fights against corruption. The trilogy has sold more than 80 million copies worldwide, and Larsson’s family decided the series should go on.

They picked David Lagercrantz, also a journalist and novelist like Larsson, for the writing, Lagercrantz ghost-wrote the autobiography of Sweden’s famous but controversial footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovich and is also the author of Fall of Man in Wilmslow, which is about the British code-breaker, Alan Turing. Clearly, he is no stranger to writing about unusual, but brilliant characters. At the news, fans heaved a sigh of relief, but Larsson’s long-time partner Eva Gabrielsson wasn’t happy, and said no one could continue Larsson’s work.

So, has Lagercrantz been able to breathe new life into Salander, the brilliant computer hacker? The short answer is yes. He gives fans more of what they had been looking forward to—Salander and Blomkvist. When the novel opens, we realise that Blomkvist and Salander have not been in touch for a while. Blomkvist is ‘hardly stimulated’ by his work as a left-leaning journalist at Millennium magazine, which has been his ‘passion and his life’. And yet a storm is brewing and, soon, Blomkvist is contacted by a brilliant Swedish scientist, Professor Frans Balder, with a terrifying story.

Balder’s eight-year-old autistic son August is a brilliant artist with a photographic memory, and his drawings are crucial to the storyline, as his life is in danger. Balder, we are told, is also in touch with Salander, who has just managed to hack into the US’ National Security Agency. As Blomkvist and Salander’s paths cross again, the story unfolds like an intellectual thriller, with Salander now also the target of a gang of cyber criminals, which calls itself Spiders. Salander’s notorious father Zalachenko may be dead, but he lives on through this gang, which Salander must crush.

One obvious difference with Larsson’s point of view is that Lagercrantz’s telling is not as violent. The first three books, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, have mayhem splattered all over them. Also, since the trilogy was published posthumously, they sometimes seem all over the place, as regards plotlines and details. In the hands of Lagercrantz, the story is knitted tighter with no loose strands. The new characters are given a deep background. Stockholm itself, where Blomkvist and Salander live, is etched out marvellously, and Salander is calmer than she has ever been.

Sweden’s crime writers, including Larsson, Henning Mankell and Camilla Lackberg, to name a handful, are famous all over the world and it is to Lagercrantz’s credit that he walks into the hall of fame with such aplomb. His sensitive handling of August Balder and Salander, who, we had been told in book one itself, is ‘odd’, is one of the highlights of
the new book. The story he gives Salander  and Blomkvist is gripping and, in the end, when Blomkvist invites Salander into his home, you have a feeling that the series has a future and should go on.

Sudipta Datta is a freelancer

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