Books: Stieg's Salander has returned
The Girl in the Spider's Web, David Lagercrantz, MacLehose Press, hbk, 448 pages, €29.99
Such has been the avalanche of pre-publicity for the re-boot of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo franchise, only those living in enclosed orders could not be aware that the late Stieg Larsson's wildly successful Millennium series of novels featuring Lisbeth Salander has been continued with the publication of a fourth book featuring her and her investigative journalist friend Mikael Blomkvist.
The Girl in the Spider's Web has been written by Swedish journalist David Lagercrantz at the behest of Stieg Larsson's literary heirs - Larsson's elderly father and his younger brother. The unfortunate Larsson died at the age of 50 having suffered a heart attack while climbing the seven flights of stairs to the apartment he had shared with his companion of 30 years, Eva Gabrielsson. Larsson never knew how successful an author he actually became. The first of the trilogy was published a year after his death, and to date some 80 million copies of his works have been sold in more than 50 countries around the world. Under Swedish law, because they were not married, Gabrielsson was not entitled to any royalties from the books and has been locked in a bitter legal wrangle with her companion's family ever since. Understandably, she is not enamoured with the decision to publish a sequel.
Continuing a successful literary franchise after the death of the original creator is nothing new to the publishing world. Ian Fleming's 14 James Bond novels have been supplemented by offerings from such celebrated literary figures as Kingsley Amis, Sebastian Faulks, William Boyd and Jeffrey Deaver (a new Bond adventure from the pen of Anthony Horowitz, who recently revived Sherlock Holmes successfully in House of Silk, is imminent), and Sophie Hannah has resuscitated Agatha Christie's Belgian detective Hercule Poirot with the well-received The Monogram Murders.
Lagercrantz is a celebrity in Sweden, yet he approached the challenge of taking on Larsson's mantle with some trepidation.
Central to Lagercrantz's dizzyingly complex plot are a Professor Balder and his profoundly autistic son August, an idiot savant who excels at higher mathematics and drawing.
Balder, a scientist at the forefront of the search for Artificial Intelligence, knows his life is threatened and he links up with superhacker Lisbeth Salander, whose current obsession is attempting to hack into America's National Security Agency's uber-protected computers.
Ranged against Balder and Salander is a gang of ruthless Russians, cyber criminals who call themselves the Spiders, whose hired thugs will soon bring terror and bloodshed to the streets of Stockholm. The Swedish police are also on Salander's trail, and as she plunges into the depths of the darknet - that alternate world wide web used mainly by criminals and pornographers - she and her good guy friends in the loose association of computer geniuses called the Hacker Republic (Plague, Trinity and Bob the Dog) are targeted by the mysterious Kira, the evil leader of the Spiders who has a personal grudge against Salander that stretches right back into Lisbeth's grossly dysfunctional childhood.
According to the angry Gabrielsson, Larsson had planned to write eight Lisbeth Salander novels, and the big question is whether Lagercrantz has managed to successfully capture the voice and character of the tattooed and pierced punk heroine of the first three books.
The general consensus, shared by this reviewer, is that he may well have. He has certainly managed to get Larsson's rather clunky prose down pat as he has the original author's tendency to set the plot off in diverting if unnecessary highways and byways.