When a well-known author parts company with a series, you never know what’ll happen next. In movie-land, this usually equates to a reboot five years later, but in the book world, something much more extraordinary happens.
Publishers continue on with the same characters, using a different writer to come up with the goods. In the case of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, that mantel has fallen to David Lagercrantz.
As a fan of the original Millennium Series, that’s what I’m going to call them, I don’t envy Lagercrantz challenge.
He’s in a position where he’ll unlikely ever be as popular as Stieg Larsson, and most die-hard fans will be wielding their pitchforks before the books even released. If you don’t believe me, go check out Goodreads reviews of upcoming books and realise some people give books one-star ratings six months before the release date.
Me, I try to stay more open-minded about the situation.
Sure, he could completely cock-up one of my favourite characters of all-time, or he could do justice to the work done before him and produce another solid entry into the series. It’s also a great point to take the series in a new direction, as long as that direction isn’t all out-action hero.
On the other hand, Lisbeth Salander already has a loyal following who’s already invested, having read three large books, so the audience is there for the taking.
It’s worth noting that this new book features a new translator, George Goulding, so that could also play a part in the final story.
A bit of backstory
Lagercrantz is predominantly a journalistic writer, which would make him a prime replacement, given the series nature. The publishers, Norstedts Förlag (Sweden) were fearful of what would transpire, regarding the book’s release, that Lagercrantz wrote the manuscript on a computer without internet access and handed printouts to the publishers in person.
Slightly ironic living in fear of the very character you’re writing about.
Stieg Larsson’s brother and father, who now control his estate, hired David Lagercrantz to continue the series.
However, Larsson’s thirty-two-year partner, Eva Gabrielsson, claims to be in possession of an unfinished fourth manuscript, which she says is not part of the estate and is subsequently not included within the release.
As Stieg and Eva were unmarried, and he hadn’t written a will (he was only aged fifty when he died of a heart attack), all of his possession went into the control of his brother and father.
Eva claims that Stieg was distant in his contact with both of them, and she should have control over the direction in which the series goes.
Of course, Larsson’s family see it differently and believe they were the ones who nurtured Stieg’s writing talents from a young age.
From research, I believe Eva’s side of the story as being closer to the truth than Stieg’s family. Given Larsson’s connections to political violence, it would make sense not to get married and remain as anonymous as possible.
This is the same guy who went into police protection after a fellow journalist had his spine shattered from a car bomb, planted by a right-wing Swedish organisation in 1999.
Unravelling The Spider’s Web
The story centres on Frans Balder, who returns to Sweden to take care of his autistic son, August. In danger of attack by a secret organisation known as the ‘Spider Society’, Balder calls everyone’s favourite journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, to discuss his secret.
Blomkvist arrives at Balder’s house with the assassination already complete, leaving only Balder’s young son August.
Meanwhile, Salander begins tracking people from her past, leading her to the Spider Society. With the help of other hackers in her network, she gains access to the NSA servers. In retaliation, Cyber Security Agent Edwin Needham begins the hunt for Salander to convict her of her crimes.
The webs begin to intertwine, and soon every action appears to lead back to the Spider Society, and it’s leader ‘Thanos’.
Styling The New
As with the other Dragon Tattoo books, this one’s set-up as a mystery thriller, although this time focusing less on character development and more on the main story.
This doesn’t seem a bad way to go, given that the characters are already well-developed. Altering points in their history would only serve to disjoint the previous books and anger fans further.
At some point in this review, it was inevitable that I’d have to bring up the style of the books.
Where Stieg Larsson focused his writing into a journalistic, almost voyeuristic approach, Lagercrantz goes for a softer action-orientated attitude. This is in no way a slight on his part. The book flows along well, the action scenes are well written, however, suspense is hindered in favour of these changes.
The main change that Lagercrantz has made to this book is to introduce an overlapping of stories throughout. I don’t only mean that the stories intertwine, as they always have done, but that the next paragraph will likely start five to ten minutes before the ending of the previous section. This means you get a recapping of an incident but told from a different perspective.
While this can work, and certainly plays into a few decisive moments, it quickly becomes tiresome throughout the whole book.
Comic Book Characters
There’s an underlining theme here revolving around Marvel superheroes and how they’ve affected the codenames of the lives of our main characters.
Lisbeth has always used the name Wasp to conceal her identity and even had a tattoo of one on her neck until it was removed in her cosmetic overhaul during The Girl Who Played with Fire.
Janet van Dyne (Wasp) has abilities that allow her to change her size, along with her strength. As she grows smaller, her body’s particles become compacted, allowing her to become much stronger.
In addition, Lisbeth has similar qualities that are portrayed several times in previous books that she may be petite, but she certainly packs a punch.
Likewise, Thanos is the overarching enemy of The Avengers, whom Wasp is an early member of. In his quest to save the universe, as he sees it, he must lower the world’s population.
I’ll be honest, I don’t know much about Marvel superheroes, so much of these references went over my head. I guess, with a little knowledge in their stories you could get a clearer insight into both characters at the time of reading.
It’s interesting to see how Thanos, the Spider Society leader, got that name in the first place.
I feel there’s a certain subtlety lacking in the way in which we’re shown Balder’s murder, and how it will be solved. Together with the fact it’s banged home repeatedly in the first act that August, Balder’s autistic son, has a unique gift when it comes to drawing. He can render exact copies of objects and people having seen them for a few moments, sharing a similar photographic memory trait with Salander.
Still, due to this skill and the fact it was brought up so many times, you’re swiftly told how the crime will be solved, it’s just a matter of getting there.
All of the characters remain credible throughout, and there aren’t too many instances of any irrational ‘for-the-sake-of-plot’ motives going on.
I went into The Girl in the Spider’s Web with an open-mind, if anything in fear for Lagercrantz. How can you possibly live up to the heights of a much loved, but tragically past, original writer of the series?
It pleases me immensely to know that Lagercrantz did justice to Lisbeth Salander, and the series alike.
Changing the formula is always risky, but a risk that’s worth taking to imprint the author’s style.
While not every change I agree with, this is a solid entry into the series, and I’m keen to see what happens next in this rollercoaster.
If you go into this book expecting the previous tropes of Larsson, you’ll only get disappointment in return. But go into it with open eyes and you will delight in this volume more than you anticipate.
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Hoyle, A. (2010, January 03). Stieg Larsson’s widow has not seen a penny of the £20m fortune they earned together. Retrieved from https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1240159/Stieg-Larssons-widow-seen-penny-20m-fortune-earned-together.html