Saturday 21 April 2018

Salander lives on in net thriller

Síle McArdle, The Girl in the Spider's Web, David Lagercrantz, MacLehose, €18.99

Rooney Mara starred in the blockbuster, The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo, penned by David Lagercrantz
Rooney Mara starred in the blockbuster, The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo, penned by David Lagercrantz

David Lagercrantz had a tough act to follow in undertaking to continue the late Stieg Larsson's world-famous Millennium series.

But then again, journalist and author Larsson bequeathed an incredibly detailed blueprint by way of his three violent, interwoven tales of the exploits of maverick crusading reporter Mikael Blomkvist and maverick crusading hacker Lisbeth Salander.

And from the first page of The Girl in the Spider's Web, it's clear that Lagercrantz has worked extremely hard to recreate the elements of success that propelled The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo et al to the top of the bestseller lists and onto the silver screen.

The story opens with technology wizard Frans Balder returning from Silicon Valley to his native Sweden to save his autistic son August from the odious boyfriend of his faded-actress ex-wife.

Having received a call about bruises on the young boy's body, Professor Balder is determined to redress his lack of hands-on parenting - even to the extent of defying a custody ruling.

Yet he is allowed to take his son without protest, and in trying to protect him exposes August to a brutal crime which drives the rest of this intense thriller.

Like its Millennium predecessors, there are sub-plots galore and many detours to describe peripheral characters.

Although in my view The Girl in the Spider's Web isn't as burdened with unnecessary detail as Stieg Larsson's three doorstoppers, the book does reprise his irritating habit of naming practically every street in Stockholm.

Gradually this novel's taut web is woven, though: Blomkvist is contacted by disenchanted computer analyst Linus Brandell, who flags Balder's edgy return to Stockholm after his pioneering work on Artificial Intelligence was hacked and stolen.

Blomkvist is feeling jaded because the new owners of his beloved investigative magazine Millennium intend to fill it with celebrity trash.

But then Linus mentions the 'weirdo hacker' Balder had discreetly called in for her verdict on how his research was compromised ... and Blomkvist spies a scoop that will save the day.

Although peppered with geek-speak and at times too complicated, The Girl in the Spider's Web will be seen as a competent sequel.

Yes, it's a mishmash of familiar plots (think Mercury Rising meets various Bond movies), but the anarchic revenge exacted by Lisbeth 'Wasp' Salander, even upon the US National Security Agency, and the warped reactions of a chilling new female villain help make it memorable.

The overall concept poses an interesting dilemma, too: if you seek to replicate success, do you also repeat any flaws?

For Lagercrantz has done just that - and just about got away with it.

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