The Girl In The Spider’s Web

Author: David Lagercrantz
Publisher: MacLeHose Press/Quercus, fiction

Nothing is better for a new book than controversy, and The Girl In The Spider’s Web has it in spades.

One issue is this whole idea of an author writing a new novel using another author’s characters.

In this case, David Lagercrantz was hired to continue the work of the late Stieg Larsson, whose very successful Millennium series was published only after his sudden death at just 50.str2_martinwebgirlR_ma_1

But perhaps we have become immune to this – after all, the last book I read before this one was Trigger Mortis, Antony Horowitz’s new take on Ian Fleming’s James Bond. There have been “new” Sherlock Holmes stories (not by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) and “new” Bertie Wooster tales (not by P.G. Wodehouse) to name just three of the more obvious. So a continuation of an established, and lucrative, series perhaps does not raise the eyebrows it once would have done.

And then there is the whole issue of Larsson’s partner, Eva Gabrielsson, objecting strenously to the choice of Lagercrantz to continue Larsson’s world, a choice that was made by the publishers who did not consult her at all (see details in “Web Of secrecy” opposite).

But enough of the background. What of the book itself?

The key characters at the heart of the Millennium trilogy are Mikael Blomkvist and, of course, Lisbeth Salander. When The Girl In The Spider’s Web opens, Blomkvist is going through a lean patch; jaded and disinterested, he can barely be bothered to get out of bed: “These days he was hardly stimulated by his work. Over the weekend he had even considered looking around for something new, and that was a pretty drastic idea for a man like Mikael Blomkvist. Millennium had been his passion and his life….”

He has had no recent contact with Lisbeth Salander.

He perks up when contacted by Frans Balder, an artificial intelligence expert who believes his life is in danger. Balder has a messy personal history and an autistic son named August. He has also had contact with a prodigiously gifted hacker with a dragon tattoo. There are no prizes for guessing who that is!

From these almost domestic beginnings, the plot broadens to include a hack into the US National Security Agency itself, a cyber gangster group called the Spiders, and the appearance of Lisbeth’s beautiful and dangerous twin sister.

Needless to say, it is a potent combination and the novel, after what I felt was a slightly slow start, sets off at a cracking pace.

Leaving aside the right and wrongs of the publication of a sequel, Lagercrantz has produced a very proficient novel. I like the way in which he keeps the thriller aspects of the book grounded in the real domestic world, I like the fact that he has purposely eschewed the rather extreme violence of the Millennium trilogy and I welcome the introduction of some new characters.

In particular, August the autistic child is an inspired creation and Lagercrantz makes the most of the stilted exchanges between him and Lisbeth. Their relationship, for all its oddity, manages nonetheless to be surprisingly touching.

Many would argue that the Millennium series hangs on Salander and here she once again does not disappoint. Lagercrantz delays her introduction into the novel for some considerable time (too long?) and throughout she is as determinedly enigmatic and independent as you might wish.

She is, of course, an appealing blend of anarchic outcast and avenging angel who, despite her awkward social presence, is a force for moral good. Part action hero, part boffin, all the qualities that made her so appealing in Larsson’s original work are maintained or developed here.

I enjoyed The Girl In The Spider’s Web and found myself reading it when I should have been doing other things – always a good sign! Lagercrantz writes well for the most part, although I do think some of the earlier sections are a little plodding – but that could equally, of course, be the fault of the translation.

Regardless of what I think, however, the book is already a massive success as, no doubt, will be the film that must surely follow. Whatever the background controversy, Lagercrantz has done an excellent job of ensuring that the characters created so brilliantly by Stieg Larsson live on.