Note: No spoilers are contained in this review.
After the 2004 death of the author Stieg Larsson, fans of “The Millennium Series” were hoping someone new would come along to continue the franchise past the original three books. (Originally, there were to be ten books in this series.) A widely-publicized dispute ensued between Larsson’s family and his girlfriend, who had custody of his laptop allegedly containing outlines of additional books. David Lagercrantz did not have access to any of this material, but took it upon himself to soldier on without it. I think he did an excellent job.
We continue with the same characters as in previous books including Mikael Blomkvist, the crusading journalist obsessed with social justice; Erika Berger, his (married) co-worker and occasional lover; and Lisbeth Salander, “the girl with the dragon tattoo”.
Lisbeth, the undoubted star of the series, is in her late twenties, small, slight, and goth-looking, and comes from a horrific past in which she was systematically abused and used as a scapegoat. She has grown up to be justifiably distrustful, brilliant, resourceful, way tougher than she looks, and admittedly not the sort of person you would want to cross. As Blomkvist mused about Lisbeth: “Salander was not one to forget an injustice. She retaliated and she righted wrongs.” This doesn’t work out well for some, since she has a special hatred for men prone to violence against women and children.
Like the previous books, the beginning of this one is very complex; the author takes on the very timely topic of computer hacking, specifically relating to the stealing of corporate secrets and confidential business information. Because so much modern-day commerce is global in scope, and because the internet serves to increase international connectivity, more than one nation is involved in this case. Moreover, the national intelligence services of both the U.S. and Sweden are also involved because there are no more discreet lines (indeed, if there ever have been), between industrial and political espionage, especially since governments now contract out so much military research and development.
Even with all the background we have to absorb in the beginning, the suspense and excitement begin right away. The internal computers of NSA have been hacked; a top specialist at a firm working on artificial intelligence has suddenly quit his job in the U.S. and left for Sweden; and the Russian mobsters associated with Lisbeth’s late father are still plying their trade, i.e., running a criminal network that sells drugs and arms, and profits from the exploitation of women. All of these elements turn out to be related, and all are right up the metaphorical alleys of both Lisbeth and Blomkvist.
Tension escalates as the connections unfold. And as both Mikael and Lisbeth get more deeply involved, there are plenty of heart-racing escapes and non-escapes.
Discussion: Lagercrantz, who previously wrote a book on the computer genius Alan Turing, knows his way around computers, but does not make the subject more complex than it needs to be, or more complicated than will be comfortable for readers.
He brings in some new characters, including a wonderful child named August who has a central part to play, as well as giving characters from previous books – like Inspector Jan Bublanski, more prominent roles. But I thought the author overly relied on use of the third person. I did not feel like I got to know the characters as well as in the previous books, or feel as invested in them, since they were kept at more of a distance. In addition, the author’s decision to have a female gay character continually refer to another female professional in her field as “honey” or “sweetheart” didn’t sit well with me.
Jim, who also read this book as well as the previous books in the series, thought that in this book, Lisbeth was too cartoonish in a comic book superhero kind of way. I disagreed; I felt the author dealt with this very issue by taking pains to have Lisbeth’s mentor explain to Blomkvist how engrossed Lisbeth had been as a child with Marvel comics and with the universe of superheroes who fought supervillains. In particular Lisbeth was inspired by the heroine Janet van Dyne, or “Wasp,” and she made it a goal to be as much like her as possible.
Jim also thought the tension level was less than the previous books, and he believes that the amazing success of the hackers was far-fetched (perhaps because he doesn’t even know where the power button is on his computer). Again, I disagreed on both counts. He enjoyed it a lot though, and like me, is looking forward to reading further books in the series.
Evaluation: This is an intelligent, heart-racing series of books, with the latest installment by a new author by no means a disappointment.
Published in the U.S. by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, 2015