The book begins with Frans Balder on the doorstep of his estranged wife’s home, readying himself to take his son away with him, despite this being against the law. His son August is severely autistic, and spends his days doing complex puzzles. To Balder’s surprise, his wife and her partner, the violent drunk Lasse Westman, give August without a hitch, into his custody. Balder becomes, unexpectedly, a full-time dad.
This book, by David Lagercrantz, carries on the story told in the Millennium series. Because the third book more or less wrapped up the storyline with Salander, her dad, and the Swedish secret police and mental health systems, Lagercrantz had to pull the story forward plausibly; not losing any of Larsson’s best characters, but bringing them further into the present day.
This story is all about obsession with power. Balder is a computer scientist, and has created the closest thing to an independently aware Artificial Intelligence programme that exists anywhere in the world. While creating this, and working at the American firm Sofitel, he accidentally found something out about what his company managers use their power to do, which leads to his life being endangered. The danger comes from a group of criminals that call themselves The Spiders, who have an enigmatic leader who only goes by the title Thanos. Thanos is obsessed with power, a fact that becomes evident as we meet them.
As the story opens, Blomkvist is at a loose end and worried he is losing his mojo, after a coordinated attack on his character from unnamed source. Millennium is on the back foot since having been acquired by a media group called Serner, and Serner are now in the position to make demands of the far-left magazine. They need a breaking story. Blomkvist is harried into meeting with a former associate of Balder, and learns something that piques his interest: Balder had previously asked Lisbeth Salander, or somebody who sounds a lot like her, for help tracking who had stolen his A.I. research. Through this acquaintance, Blomkvist arranges to meet Balder at his home, inadvertently turning up at a fateful moment.
Salander, meanwhile, is busy hacking the NSA’s computers. Her reasons for doing so are loftier than others she is working with – the underground group Hacker Republic. Lagercrantz researched the hacking in this book extensively, to make it as genuine as possible – a large portion of the plot relies on Salander’s genius with computers, so you can understand why. It was worth it: the descriptions given by Lagercrantz in comparison those used by Larsson, who had a rather more convenient view of hacking, seemed plausible.
Keeping August safe for long enough to get him to draw – he is an artistic and mathematical savant – quickly becomes the name of the game. Salander, Blomkvist, Milton Security, Sapo all become involved in the mission. This isn’t all there is to it, though – there is something personal between Thanos and Salander; something that drives Salander to keep the boy safe at all costs.
This is an excellent read. Fast-paced, well calculated action, fluid writing and the same facility of jumping from character to character that Larsson had. The styles of writing were similar enough to one another for me to check whether the same translator was used for both Larsson and Lagercrantz’s books: no, but I guess having the same publisher and editor was very useful. Lagercrantz was understandably concerned with trying to get Salander right: he did well. Salander was a wholly unique character, crazy and brilliant in the same sentence. You don’t get the crazy through as much in this book, but I reckon it will be back in the next one.
I don’t think Larsson’s fans will be disappointed with this effort at all. I was personally very happy that Lagercrantz doesn’t dwell as deeply on setting as Larsson, while keeping one of Larsson’s other idiosyncrasies, that of referencing popular crime writers, alive at the same time. Altogether, this is a gripping read, and a suitable sequel to a madly popular series. I look forward to the next one.
Reviewed by Sarah Forster
The Girl in the Spider’s Web
by David Lagercrantz
Published by MacLehose Press