The Girl in the Spider’s Web
by David Lagerkrantz
translated by George Goulding
‘. . . . makes us stronger’, as the saying goes. That Which Does Not Kill Us (Det som inte dödar oss) is the original Swedish title of this new novel about Lisbeth Salander, Mikael Blomkvist and Millennium Magazine. David Lagerkrantz has taken up the pen of Stieg Larsson to give us another sizzling tale of corruption in high places, computer hacking, contract assassination – and men who hate women.
‘And after that things moved quickly. Lasse raised his hand to strike her but no blow came, not from him. The young woman reacted with lightning speed, and hit him in the face two, three times like a trained boxer, felling him with a kick to the leg.‘
It was inevitable that the British publishers (and I presume the American too) of the translation would want to give it a new title in keeping with previous custom. The Girl in the Spider’s Web is OK but I rather like the original. There is quite a lot of unpleasant killing in the book so if you don’t like violence, especially when it’s directed at the innocent, you had better not read it. On the other hand, if you are an admirer of Salander and Blomkvist, as I am, please read on.
Frans Balder, a top computer scientist and authority on AI, leaves his job and returns to Sweden to look after his autistic son, August. Locked in his computer are dangerous secrets which an unscrupulous international criminal network, the Spiders, will do anything to get hold of.
‘She was not surprised to see August begin to sway nervously back and forth. But after a few seconds he leaned forward and wrote on his paper: 9419 x 1933.
‘ “Good. How about 971,230,541?”
‘August wrote: 983 x 991 x 997’
Mikael Blomkvist’s career is in the doldrums when he is offered a story about Balder and the stealing of innovative technology. The story doesn’t interest him until his contact mentions that Balder has been consulting a female hacker who calls herself Pippi. Meantime, Lisbeth Salander has hacked the NSA computer and downloaded a sensitive encrypted file which she is unable to decrypt. And Ed Needham, a top NSA executive is out to get whoever has done the hacking!
Before Blomkvist can interview Balder, the scientist is murdered. The only witness to the crime is his son. Unfortunately, August can’t speak. However, he can draw accurately from memory. He is also a wizard at mathematics and can among other skills find the prime factors of numbers in his head, not just simple ones like 24 and 456 but huge numbers such as 18,206,927. And that makes his mind of great interest to Lisbeth.
When the criminal gang learns of August’s drawings, it sends the hitman after him too. Lisbeth saves his life and kidnaps him. With Blomkvist’s help, she takes him to a safe house, which turns out not to be safe after all, because the Spiders are every bit as good at hacking as Lisbeth is.
‘Ed stared at the strange woman in front of him. Then he did something which would surprise him for a long time. He burst out laughing. He laughed until he cried.’
The problem with novels like this is that to reveal the complete plot is something of a spoiler. So I’m going to stop there and say only that the resolution is a reasonably satisfactory one and that some questions posed by the earlier Larsson novels are answered. And Lagerkrantz introduces us to a new anti-heroine, a psychopathic female who dominates an international net of villains.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web has a few negatives. There are one or two characters who are not developed sufficiently to make them necessary in the story. The action is sometimes jerky, leaving a scene without completing it and moving rapidly to another. Mr Lagerkrantz also relies too much on dialogue for backstory in one particular section of the book (featuring incidentally the psychologist Holger Palmgren). It’s as if he gets tired of what he is writing and wants to hurry along to the end. That said, he has done a good job of recapturing Larsson’s Millennium world and of ‘getting into’ Blomkvist and Lisbeth. Talented though some writers are, they have their own picture of setting and character and can so easily shatter the one readers have built up in their minds from the original author’s work. That has not happened here. I hope David Lagerkrantz will write some more ‘Girl’ novels.
Hopefully, they can only get better.