The Girl in the Spider’s Web, by David Lagercrantz

Three stars

In this long-anticipated release, Lagercrantz adds his own flavour to Lisbeth Salander and Mikhael Blomkvist. After leaving a prestigious job at a computer firm in California, Frans Balder is back in Sweden and looking to regain custody of his son. A messy divorce left him with little choice but to flee, but Balder wants to care for August and leave his California dreams in the rearview mirror. As the reader soon learns, August is an autistic savant, proficient in both drawing and the calculation of complex numbers, two traits rarely seen in combination amongst savants. While alerted to numerous security issues surrounding his past work, Balder ignores them, choosing instead to focus on his time with August. Meanwhile, Mikael Blomkvist has come to realise that his prized magazine, Millennium, is on the verge of collapse and is looking for the next big story. When approached by Balder to discuss some of the issues he’s faced and his work on Artificial Intelligence, Blomkvist takes some interest and agrees to meet. However, before Blomkvist can meet with Balder, a hitman kills Balder, but left August as a mute witness. August is sent back to his mother, who can no longer handle her son and ships him off to an institution. As Blomkvist digs a little deeper, he realises that August may be the key to solving the mystery and calls on his past acquaintance, Lisbeth Salander, to help. Salander agrees to take August to a safe house in the hopes of discovering the secret behind the murder. She is able to discern that August’s abilities go far beyond his drawings, which offer clues to the murder, but he can help her as she cracks into the NSA’s secure servers for her own interests. Salander discovers that Balder may have been targeted by a Russian gang, calling themselves the Spider Society, whose membership includes a key figure from her past. Hindered by his inability to speak, can August help reveal the person who killed his father and can Salander utilise August’s abilities to crack a highly-encripted code the NSA has on its most top secret documents? Layered with multiple other storylines, some of whom mesh with the aforementioned summary, Lagercrantz does his best to continue the narrative where Stieg Larsson left it at his untimely death.

I have read a number of series continuations after the death of a celebrated author (Robert Ludlum, Margaret Truman, and Vince Flynn, to name a few) and it is always the attentive reader who seeks to place this ‘new’ author under the microscope to determine their mettle. In Lagercrantz’s case, the shoes to fill are enormous and the expectations are likely insurmountable. While it has been a while since I read the previous three novels, I did sense a disconnect in this book, especially as it relates to Lisbeth Salander. While Lagercrantz attempts to weave another layer of horrific backstory into the young woman’s life, depicting her witnessing the repeated rapes her mother faced at the hands of a drunken father and her twin sister’s sadistic desire to side with their father, the impact is not the same. Salander is a complex character and one who is well-known and respected both in the Scandinavian crime writing community and around the world. While the story flowed well and Lagercrantz injected a few well-researched storylines, the flow of the series is lost on the numerous plots the reader must follow. For this reason, I found it harder to tackle this book and end on a high note. With at least two other Lagercrantz novels in the works, I am uncertain if the series will find its strength again, or if, like the doomed Jason Bourne series, it will die at the hands of an author who has bitten off more than he can chew. Stay tuned for the verdict.

Kudos, Herr Lagercrantz for your attempt. I will give you the benefit of the doubt on this occasion, though I remain leery of your taking on this project, especially when unpublished manuscripts remain in existence.