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Saturday, 28 November 2015

Book review: The Girl In the Spider's Web, David Lagercrantz (2015)

There was some controversy about this book being ghost-written by a new author years after the death of Stieg Larsson - who wrote the three original books in the 'Millennium trilogy' about the adventures of Lisbeth Salander - but you'd have to agree that Lagercrantz is probably a better writer than Larsson was.

What's clear however is that the pacing of events and the way information is introduced into the narrative is quite different in this new novel, compared to how those things were performed in the original novels. For a start Lagercrantz is forced to bring forward a bunch of old detail in order to generate continuity in the series. Somehow this novel has to tie in with the original novels. And in the plot that is done partly by making the new enemy Lisbeth's twin sister, Camilla.

But although those rhetorical devices make some parts of the new book a bit clumsy the problem lies deeper. It has to do with authorial voice. The thing is that for all his good intentions - and he talks about the size of his task in an afterword - Lagercrantz was not able to emulate Larsson's sometimes stilted but ultimately high-toned way of adjusting our ethical foundations to fit the purposes of his books. The new book just doesn't impact on the reader's imagination in the same way as the old ones did. It's much smoother than they were, I'll grant you, but something else important is lost along with Larsson's sometimes goofy delivery.

The major elements of a new 'Millennium' book are all there. You have hacking, a murder, an autistic savant, a high-level plot to commit crime (this time led by the NSA, in a topical move by the book's planners), a battered wife, and an insane psychopath. Then you have the usual suspects, including Mikael Blomkvist, the famed journalist who still works at Millennium magazine but who has come in for a bit of stick for being "behind the times", Erica Berger, his faithful love-interest and Millennium's editor, and of course the inscrutable and mostly silent Salander herself.

Because I was a fan of the first three books it was not difficult to decide whether to buy and read this book. I found this one a bit dire, however, and very nearly put it aside due to the horror some parts of it inspired in my imagination. It is a gruesome book in many ways, and includes a brutal scene of torture that many might find repulsive. But while the despicable Camilla is an ideal foe for Lisbeth, our heroine struggles mightily as you'd imagine. There are a few new favourites who might reappear if there should ever be another book in the franchise, including Ed Needham, an NSA security expert, Gabriella Grane, a Sapo operative who leaves the agency at the end of the book, and Alona Casales also of the NSA.

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