The Girl Who Takes An Eye For An Eye
by David Lagercrantz
(trans. George Goulding)
‘A wave of hatred rippled through the cell and Benito lunged towards Salander, knife raised. Faria never understood what happened next. A punch was thrown, an elbow jabbed, and it was as if Benito had run into a wall . . .’
An Eye for an Eye opens in a prison, where Lisbeth Salander is doing time (two months only) for what seems the altogether petty crime of hiding an autistic child whose life was in danger – see Spider’s Web. The narrative doesn’t dwell on that. It has much more devilish stuff to get through.
Salander is in the secure unit for her own protection, where her nemesis is Benito Andersson, a triple murderer and knife-wielding sadist. In one of the two main storylines, Benito is bullying Faria Kazi, a Muslim girl who has been imprisoned for killing her brute of a brother. Salander decides to intervene.
‘Then she hammered something out with astonishing speed, rows of white numbers and letters on a black screen. Soon after the computer began to write by itself, spewing a flood of symbols, incomprehensible program codes and commands.’
Elsewhere, the focus is on Blomkvist as he investigates, on Salander’s behalf, a young financier called Leo Mannheimer. There is something strange about Leo. According to Blomkvist’s latest girlfriend, his habits and mannerisms have changed in subtle ways since she last knew him. But is she imagining it? Perhaps, but we detect that Sweden has more than its fair share of clandestine and corrupt quangos, so maybe not. Another of those quangos takes the stage here – the Registry for the Study of Genetics and Social Environment.
What on earth is that, you ask? Well, you will remember that Lisbeth has a twin sister, Camilla, who is Miss Big in the criminal underworld. The Registry’s remit is to study twins who have been separated at birth. That seems an admirable enough scientific objective yet the Registry – certain individuals within it at any rate – believe the end justifies the means, no matter how illegal, how twisted, how inhumane those means are. Moreover, these individuals are prepared to go to any lengths to protect their secrets. One of them is Rakel Greitz, seventy years old and dying of cancer (remind you of anyone?) Rakel’s and Lisbeth’s paths have crossed before, when the latter was six years old. And what happened then has an indirect connection to Lisbeth’s colourful tattoo.
Making an enemy of Benito is only the start of Lisbeth’s worries. Getting out of prison puts her at greater risk than before, and her obsession with justice brings danger for the few people she cares about.
Eye For An Eye brings together some of the cast from previous Salander novels – Inspector Bublanski and his team, Holger Palmgren and Erika Berger, for example. It introduces a few new names too – Greitz, Mannheimer, Faria and another young man called Dan Brody – someone else with an interesting background. Lagercrantz, like Larsson before him, cleverly manipulates our emotions so that we either side with the characters or instinctively shudder at their perversity.
Here, the author tackles the issue of Islamism, the suppression of women’s rights and so-called honour killing. He also asks other questions about the rights of parents and children, not to mention the role of the state. There is quite a lot of back story, not always welcome in a novel, though here it adds to the tension. We think we know how things are going to turn out when the narrative changes tack.
‘ “Do you know your Koran?” Salander asked. She could tell right away … that her question had unsettled him. She went on to say that the Prophet had condemned all types of kerises*, they belonged to Satan and the demons, and then she quoted a sura, one she had invented.’
I remember reading somewhere of people who were disappointed with David Lagercrantz’s first venture into the world of Millennium – The Girl In The Spider’s Web. Of course, literary tastes vary and, although I liked the book, I’m not going to quarrel with them.
However, literary criticism is a strange beast and often goes off in unanticipated directions. I have been reading (and re-reading) some of the press reviews of that first Lagercrantz novel and note that more than one reviewer actually rates the writer as better than Larsson. For example, Mark Lawson in the Guardian – ‘He is, technically, a more adept novelist than Larsson’; and Benjamin Percy in Esquire magazine – ‘…. Lagercrantz transcends the source material. He is a better writer’.
I don’t feel able to either agree with, or to challenge those opinions; much, it seems to me, hangs on the translator. However, while reading Eye for an Eye, I decided to test them.
On the whole, Lagercrantz is the more concise writer of the two. His novels are shorter than the originals. He also meanders less. However, I cannot agree with Esquire; I don’t think he’s a better writer, but maybe a better novelist. I miss some of Larsson’s detail, even when it’s irrelevant in a novelistic sense (I’m thinking here, violence, sex, politics and character background), and believe he may be a better storyteller.
Whoever is right or wrong, I enjoyed this story as much as its predecessors. Lisbeth is as crazy as ever and the essential spirit of Millennium and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is preserved until the end.
- *keris: a kind of dagger