Stieg Larsson died in 2004 from a heart attack, but the question is: did Lisbeth Salander die with him? Larsson’s father and brother (who own the rights to the famous Millennium series) went against the wishes of his partner Eva Gabrielsson and commissioned David Lagercrantz to continue the story.
But it’s not really a continuation. The story sits within its own context. Mikael Blomkvist our esteemed journalist with ideals that seem quite remote in today’s world of sensationalised headlines and little research, receives a call that gives him a reason to ditch the penny thriller novels he’s been consuming. Frans Balder, he’s told, is an algorithm genius who works with artificial intelligence. However, his research and probably his lack of social skills have placed him in jeopardy, him and his autistic son who shows remarkable drawing ability as well as numbers. Blomkvist doesn’t seem particularly enthralled by this story until the mention of someone who aided Balder in certain activities.
Lisbeth Salander. She’s feisty, sharp-witted and has the physical technique to decapitate enemies at will. She’s also brilliant at hacking. Suddenly the story of Frans Balder and his savant son become a tad more interesting to Mikael Blomkvist and the narrative kicks into fifth gear.
But it does take a while to get excited. Balder’s son August becomes the key character, a child who has suffered much physical abuse at the hands of his mother’s egotistical and aggressively one-dimensional boyfriend (he’s an a**hole and that about covers it) and to make it worse his mother is pretty pushover whose dreams of silver screen success have faded after a few fleeting successes.
But the central plot (and there are many it’s a spider’s web after all) is the research that Balder was working on and which of course many international organizations would love to use to their own advantage. It probably helps that Salander’s fresh from breaking into the NSA and coupled with an utter abhorrence for men who abuse women and children it’s natural that she will do anything to protect the young boy. That includes even her evil twin sister who appears as the complete antithesis to everything that Salander fights against: corruption, deception, sadism, abuse you name it. She’s evil incarnate.
And that’s where the problem lies. The plots are just a little too neat, the high-tech jargon surrounding the NSA hack is not quite convincing (and I’m no expert but it’s lacking) and the characters, particularly Salander comes off as a silent, brooding almost stilted anti-heroine.
In addition, humour is missing. Not just in comparison to previous novels where the dry and often acerbic bite of Mikael Blomkvist (a trademark of Larsson’s writing) has vanished but in general as well. Occasionally, it feels that the narrative is trying a tad too hard and perhaps this is to appeal to a younger audience and it doesn’t quite gel. There are some over-extended metaphors, rather pat exchanges and it feels that Lagercratz is caught between trying to be true to the legacy of the Millenium series whilst finding his own voice as an author.
On its own terms it is a good page-turner, not necessarily as a who-dun-it as we find that out pretty quick but it has its own merits in trying to weave multiple sub-plots together and prepare the readers for upcoming sequels.
So to be fair on its own terms The Girl in the Spider’s Web races like an average thriller but at the end of the day it never quite leaps of the page with the same aplomb of it’s predecessors.