Girl in the Spider’s Web: Can anyone live up to Stieg?

girlI read the new Lisbeth Salander/Mikael Blomqvist novel by David Lagercrantz over the Labor Day holiday, and just a few hours before that I read Lee Child’s review of the book in the Sunday New York Times. This was not necessarily an intuitive matchup, but I liked Child’s take on the book, which boiled down to this:  readers want to engage with Lisbeth, to relive the excitement and energy and connectedness of discovery of her as a character… and Lagercrantz does a good job, but doesn’t quite come up to the original.

At the time I read the review, I wondered… how much of Child’s perspective is because of Lagercrantz’s efforts, and how much of it is just the idea that no one could recapture that magic?  

The answer:  It’s Lagercrantz.  Or perhaps his translator, although for all I know, the publisher got the same translator.

Don’t get me wrong, the book is totally worth reading, and I enjoyed it.  But both the plot and the characters were missing that feeling of desperate urgency that Larsson’s books had.  In Spiders Web, Blomkvist and Salander are at arms length, but work together to solve the murder of Frans Balder, an oddball scientist who was working to develop a superior form of artificial intelligence.

In many ways, the most compelling character in the book is Balder’s nine-year-old son, August.  August is autistic, but also a savant in math and art. He’s a witness to his father’s murder, and the goal is to keep August alive and vanquish the villains while exploring the potential impact of AI that is even more intelligent than the human brain.

Of course, there’s also a subplot about corporate skulduggery at Millennium, the magazine Blomkvist founded, and a lot of admiration for him as a journalist even as the people around him are conspiring to oust him.

All in all, I did not find the stakes in Spider’s Web high enough to live up to my expectations for the Stieg Larsson series.  But it is a well-written book, with familiar and enjoyable characters, some terrific bad guys, a heart-wrenching death of an innocent, and the potential for many books to come, so I say: read it!

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