Lisbeth Salander Returns: A Book Review
A Little Background
I have already reviewed Stieg Larsson’s three-book Millennium Series: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2005), The Girl Who Played with Fire (2006), and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (2007). They bring to life an intriguing title character, Lisbeth Salander—a dark, brilliant young woman with a slight build, horrendous past and gruff attitude. She captures the reader’s heart even as she antagonizes most people she encounters. The second main character is Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist and eventual friend and colleague of Lisbeth.
Larsson planned a 10-part series but died in 2004 only having completed the three books that were all published posthumously. The novels gained critical and popular acclaim almost immediately. As of March 2015, the three novels have sold over 80 million copies worldwide.
A few months ago, a friend and I were lamenting that there would no further books in the Millennium Series. We both really like Lisbeth—she is a unique character come to life. We have both re-read the trilogy several times, and I have recently watched the three Swedish films made from the books. There is also an American film of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I was disheartened to read that plans for American films #2 and #3 were on hold but more so that there were plans to diverge from Larsson’s plots for those films.
As sad as it is to contemplate no further tales of Lisbeth Salander, it would be worse for her to be changed, modified in some way. Above all, Lisbeth’s dark, quirky anti-social brilliance needs to not be tinkered with. Then I heard the news that Lisbeth was slated to live again; in fact, had already come to life in a fourth book in the series: The Girl in the Spider Web (2015).
Apparently, Larsson had a common law wife but no will. Swedish courts gave control of his estate and thus of Lisbeth Salander and the Millennium Series to his father and brother. Although his wife insists that Larsson would not want further books written, would not sanction someone else bringing Lisbeth and Mikael to life, David Lagercrantz had been commissioned to write the fourth novel in the series. Lagercrantz is a respected Swedish author with journalistic experience who loved the original three novels and their title character.
I was hopeful but cautious as I picked up this new novel.
The Girl in the Spider Web: A Book Review
David Lagercrantz has done a good job writing the fourth novel in the Millennium Series: The Girl in the Spider Web. The Swedish title was initially That Which Doesn’t Kill You. Of course, although that title does not follow the pattern of the first three, it does point to Lisbeth Salander’s ability to survive and endure. As in the original novels, Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist and their unusual relationship are the heart of the story. Lagercrantz draws these two characters as well as a few others from earlier books with careful attention to their pasts while setting them free in new situations.
Lisbeth Salander rings true to the young woman who came to life through the first three books. Lagercrantz even adds some explanatory details about her childhood that help readers better understand what motivates her approach to life and generated her hacking alias Wasp. Her actions are as direct and purposeful as ever even as her conversations are short and to the point. Her willingness to risk all to protect someone else, to right a wrong, is at the heart of this novel’s main conflicts.
Mikael Blomvkist is still the brooding journalist committed to the integrity of a story while being bored with the superficial that can take over everyday headlines. He jumps into action when a lead sparks his interest as well as his sense of decency. He works to balance protecting sources while also helping the police when events turn deadly. And above all he is fiercely loyal to Lisbeth. Their interaction starts slowly, since they have been estranged for some time, but follows from the creative and intimate albeit somewhat cryptic exchanges via his computer. Lagercrantz entices the reader, slowly pulling Lisbeth into the story line: she is first merely mentioned, then is seen in small snippets until she actually takes action. It is not until about half way through the book that she and Mikael actually connect directly.
The plot offers layers of complexity similar to what is found in the original novels. This time the journalistic expose centers on digital surveillance, privacy, hacking, national security vs. personal gain, and international espionage. Sapo, the Swedish secret service, is part of the picture again, but this time the intrigue is international as it pulls America’s NSA (National Security Agency) into the action as well. Slowly pieces of the puzzle surface as those involved share what they know—sometimes for the greater good and other times for personal concerns. The big picture slowly takes shape, so that by the end of novel the suspense builds keeping readers fully engaged. I stayed up much too late, just to finish the last chapters, so I could see how things turned out!
There is also an element of social awareness in the novel through some of the new characters that Lagercrantz brings to life. There is an autistic boy whose memory offers a clue to solving the murders at the heart of the plot. Several of the other characters focus a spotlight on such topics as effective parenting and domestic violence. There are also some fun surprises and revelations in the characters and plot twists that readers will just have to discover on their own. The ending neatly ties up the disparate threads of the plot—some perhaps a bit too easily—but overall the resolution is satisfying and seems realistic. And there are enough loose ends to warrant another novel in the ongoing adventures of Lisbeth and Mikael.
If you enjoyed Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Series and especially the characters of Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomvkist, you will enjoy Lagercrantz’s addition to the series. As in any series, it helps to have read the previous works to fully appreciate the subtle details and connections within the current novel, but you do not need to have read the originals to enjoy The Girl in the Spider Web. A short who’s who is offered at the start of this fourth novel, explaining some of the main characters and plot points from the first three books.