David Lagercrantz is the author of the fourth volume of the "Millennium" series, which deals with the NSA. His research and style is not as messy as Stieg Larsson's - but the atmosphere isn't as riveting either.
Patricia Cornwell, Ruth Rendell and Elizabeth George are authors who know how to write a crime novel you can't put down. Stieg Larsson, the author of the "Millennium" trilogy, also knew how to trigger fascination.
The main ingredients of a modern crime novel are easy to distinguish: A coherent, exciting plot, flawed yet strong characters in a mysterious social setting which leaves room for exploration. In the three "Millennium" books by Stieg Larsson, the plot was reinforced by a combination of crimes, intense characters and a historical background leading back to the Nazi era.
The "Millennium" books sold 80 million copies, and the filmed versions were box office hits. Clever marketing contributed to their success.
The story behind the story
Obviously, no publisher would want to let go of such a series. Although sequels by other authors aren't unusual in the crime novel genre, determining who was entitled to the rights in this case led to a heated debate between the publishers, the heirs and Stieg Larsson's closest friends. The discussion divided public opinion in Sweden.
Danish star author Jussi Adler-Olsen, whose novels, like Larsson's, were translated into 40 languages, even called for a boycott of "The Girl in the Spider's Web" - finding the commercialization of the work of an author who always fought exploitation "disrespectful."
600 pages for five days
Most readers are nevertheless curious to find out if David Lagercrantz, who wrote "The Girl in the Spider's Web" under the pressure of this controversy, also masters the art of writing a riveting thriller.
The setting and the cast had been established by Stieg Larsson: The editors of the magazine "Millennium" and their investigative reporter Mikael Blomqvist continue their journalistic fight against corruption, supported by the gloomy hacker Lisbeth Salander. Other secondary characters like the police commissioner Bublanski and Lisbeth's former guardian Holger Palmgren also remain unchanged.
The story takes place between November 20 and 25, which means 600 pages cover a period of only five days. The book is divided into three parts and 30 chapters, an orderly construction.
At the beginning of Lagercrantz's detailed and chronological sequence, all of the characters are a bit tired.
Paralyzed by self-doubt, Mikael Blomqvist hasn't published a hot story in ages. "Millennium" is therefore suffering financially, yet the magazine still manages to survive.
Lisbeth Salander has gone undercover to continue her subversive exploration of the Internet.
The IT specialist Frans Balder, who mysteriously returns from the US to Sweden to take care of his autistic son, meets his drugged-up ex wife - and nothing dramatic happens.
In other words: just a typical November atmosphere.
The NSA and the Russian mafia
It takes a little while before the novel brings the characters together again. When the NSA, represented by several rival characters, and the Russian mafia all come into play, they do not add tension to the story right away.
Even the apparition of Lisbeth Salander's sphinx-like twin sister, already a background character in Larsson's novels, does not captivate immediately.
The autistic child who happens to be a genius turns out to be a more interesting central figure in the plot.
Lagercrantz portrays his characters and their backgrounds in the most accurate and elaborate way, but that doesn't make them dazzling. He regularly quotes eyewitnesses, books, experts and academics from the real world, from H.G Wells to Vernor Vinge - inventor of the concept of "technological singularity" - and Ray Kurzweil, a technology expert who has described the harmonious coexistence of people and computers, just to name a few examples.
Real-life connections added social layers and life to Larsson's stories and characters. Lagercrantz follows this path, based on scientifically founded facts - yet it ruins the atmosphere created by Larsson, and the scientific references slow the story down.
Before it gets to the heart of the crime - the secret hunt for data on artificial intelligence - "The Girl in the Spider's Web" explains and lectures excessively. Lagercrantz has done his research, as confirmed by the list of acknowledgements, but his narrative style is too well-behaved to spark an immediate reading frenzy.
Nevertheless, David Lagercrantz fulfilled the commission intelligently and was captivating enough to make one look forward to a fifth volume. Just as the book ends with a sentimental sentence on a shooting star, let's give it 3.5 stars out of five: a solid but not brilliant work.