by David Lagercrantz
Commissioned by the estate of Stieg Larsson, who died an untimely death before the publication of the wildly successful Millenium series, to write a fourth installment in the escapades of Lisbeth Salander, David Lagercrantz had his work cut out for him. It would have been so easy to ruin the beloved characters in a beloved franchise.
However, Lagercrantz manages not only to stay true to the complicated, vengeful, remote, tough but curiously vulnerable Lisbeth – one of the most original and awesome female protagonists to ever come along – and the brilliant, charming, but weary Mikael Blumqvist, but he’s crafted a riveting, suspenseful story to boot.
I will confess that a lot of it went over my head; it’s full of computer hacking tech talk, espionage, corporate debauchery, and shadowy underworld criminals – a lot of it I couldn’t make heads or tails of, let alone keep track of who was after whom, and who was a good guy, who was a bad guy, and who might be some of both. But even this element is familiar, and like with the first three books in the series, you have to just go along for the ride.
At the heart of the story is an eight-year old autistic boy, the son of a genius scientist who specializes in artificial intelligence, who is the only witness to the brutal murder of his father. The bad guys who killed Frans Balder, the boy’s father, realize too late that although young August is non-verbal and appears to be severely intellectually disabled, he is actually a savant who is perfectly capable of identifying his father’s murderer. And so the rest of the story centers around the bad guys’ efforts to do away with the boy, and Lisbeth Salander’s efforts to protect him.
On a side note, I have to comment on August Balder – or rather, the utilizing of a disabled character in fiction writing. It’s become so commonplace that it almost feels cheap to me. Here we have a disabled boy (who of course is actually brilliant, because a truly intellectually disabled character wouldn’t do – what possible value could such a character bring to a story except to elicit pity?), who, although he resides squarely at the center of the story, is nonetheless one-dimensional and stereotypical. We never actually get to know August, nor are we given an opportunity to care about him beyond the fact that men are trying to kill him. His character – and his disability – are merely convenient vehicles for a particular plotline. I just wish that authors could do better. Sadly, this is merely a reflection of society’s persistent views of people with disabilities: the disabled remain on the fringes. Even when they occupy positions central to a novel, they are rarely fleshed-out, whole people in their own right.
Aside from that criticism, The Girl In the Spider’s Web definitely lives up to its predecessors. It’s suspenseful and has plenty of interesting twists and turns. I wish there had been more kicking ass and taking names by Lisbeth Salander, but how much kicking ass and taking names can one violent waif of a girl do in the span of just a few days? It’s a very good book, and, I must say, it has a very satisfying ending.
I very much look forward to another installment.