Everybody’s favorite revenge-fantasy heroine is back—and as vengeful as ever.
Lisbeth Salander, the girl best known for her dragon tattoo and an unyielding hatred of those who hate women, has gotten a new lease on life—even though her creator, Stieg Larsson, has been dead since 2004.
The reins have been picked up by David Lagercrantz, a Swedish journalist and novelist, in the fourth action-packed and thoroughly enjoyable installment of the series, The Girl in the Spider’s Web.
Without giving too much away, the story involves Salander, now rich but still pissed, as she tries to track down the remnants of her late father's criminal empire. Her friend and former lover, the investigative journalist Mikael Blomqvist, finds himself an old dog too tired to learn new tricks in the new media age of Twitter and neutered journalism institutions.
A man of genius-level intelligence, Frans Balder, has kicked up an international shitstorm when his artificial intelligence research catches the eye of the NSA, Russian gangsters, and Lisbeth Salander.
In typical Millennium series fashion, the story kicks off with a major hacking, a murder, a beating of an innocent woman and child—and never looks back.
Lagercrantz, and the book, will of course be under intense scrutiny (as they should be) given the shoes he has attempted to fill. There is also the issue of Larsson’s former partner Eva Gabrielsson’s very vocal displeasure with the decision to publish another volume. "I read original writers, not people who copy other people's books, so to say. So I won't read it," she has said.
In one sense, Lagercrantz has succeeded.
While the book begins in fits and starts, and his writing can be heavy handed and a bit cliché—particularly when it comes to politics—the book rapidly progresses into the finely-wrought thriller we have come to expect from this series. There are juicy secrets uncovered by hackers, gun fights, car chases, and underdog heroism aplenty.
He has also managed to expand upon the character of Salander without seeming too presumptuous. More of her childhood is explained, including her origin story with computers and her alias, Wasp.
In another sense, he has come up short, though not for lack of effort.
The reason Larsson’s books were not considered mere thrillers is that they held up a very ugly mirror to societies that thought of themselves as liberal and civilized. The first book’s title, in Swedish, was Men Who Hate Women. It was a brutal reminder of how much violence women in western society face—whether in their own homes or in government institutions, whether they were rich or poor girls trafficked from Eastern Europe.
It was also a not so gentle reminder of Sweden’s anti-Semitic sympathies.
In Larsson’s books, Big Brother was terrifying—but in a much more insidious way. Institutions and professions created to help people—in this case the mentally ill—were being perverted in the name of rape and murder.
For Lagercrantz, Big Brother is the NSA, which is kind of low hanging fruit. It has always been viewed skeptically by the general public (let alone in the world of thriller novels) and recently was caught with its pants down.
And while in many ways it is a relief that the readers are spared the endless stream of violence against women that was so controversial in Larsson’s books (and often was seen as porn for literary sadists), there are still men who beat their women. This time, however, they seem more as a set-up for a gratifying comeuppance than as part of a larger commentary.
All that being said, I will eagerly devour the next adventure for Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomqvist, especially now that we know their fate lies in the hands of a writer worthy of their story.