The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye, a Lisbeth Salander Novel
By David Lagercrantz; translated from the Swedish by George Goulding
Alfred A. Knopf
347 pages, $27.95
Somewhere beyond the grave in the Great Hereafter, Stieg Larsson must be smiling: Lisbeth Salander, his "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," is still avenging injustice, hacking files, kicking butts and exposing corruption with the help of unlikely partner, investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist.
Swedish journalist and author David Lagercrantz has produced a multilayered and even better thriller this time around in his second outing continuing Larsson's Millennium series, crafting an intricate web of intrigue that includes a prison gang, Islamist extremists, Salander's evil twin Camilla and a cruel, top-secret pseudoscientific experiment.
As the novel opens, Salander is incarcerated in Sweden's Flodberga prison, in a "secure" unit that is in reality run by gang leader Benito Andersson, who has singled out Bangladeshi prisoner Faria Kazi for special nightly torture. (If there is any weakness in the novel, it might be the lame reason Salander has ended up with a two-month prison sentence for her actions in Lagercrantz's previous novel, "The Girl in the Spider's Web.")
Elderly Holger Palmgren, Salander's beloved former guardian, visits her in prison with new information about her childhood, launching Salander on a mission to uncover the secrets of her terrible early years, a mission that requires the warden's cooperation, Internet access and the help of Mikael Blomkvist. At the same time, Salander is determined to rescue Faria Kazi.
Lagercrantz is a master at creating a sense of menace in small details. For example, here we meet Benito, arriving in Kazi's cell:
"Benito's painted toenails were now visible in the doorway, her pale feet sticking out of standard-issue plastic sandals. She had rolled up her shirtsleeves to expose her snake tattoos. She was sweaty, and made up and cold-eyed. Yet she was smiling. Nobody had as unpleasant a smile as Benito."
Lagercrantz effectively shifts the narrative back and forth between characters and time periods, from Kazi, her terrible family and her doomed romance with a Bangladeshi activist; to Palmgren lying in terrible pain in his lonely apartment; to Leo Mannheimer, who was adopted as a baby by a wealthy couple and is now a successful official in his father's securities firm but is still mourning the accidental death of his therapist 25 years before and plagued by the strange feeling that something vital is missing from his life.
This shifting back and forth amps up the suspense with a cliff-hanger every few pages as the action accelerates toward its explosive finale.
Another major player is one Dan Brody, who has overcome his miserable early years in Sweden in the foster care of an abusive man to start a new life in the United States. Other interesting new characters include Hilda von Kanterborg, a woman Salander has known since childhood; Blomkvist's former fling Malin Frode, Mannheimer's horrible racist colleague Ivar Ogren, and elderly psychoanalyst Rakel Greitz.
For those new to the series, a helpful list at the front of the book introduces the continuing cast of characters including Salander's father, a Russian spy and mobster and particularly horrible human being, now deceased.
Larsson's Alexander Zalachenko was a fascinating character and terrific villain – and the complex political reality that allowed him to wreak havoc was what made the original novels such terrific reads.
Lagercrantz here crafts an equally interesting villain and a different but interesting political reality that allows the victimization of the helpless and the outcast in the name of what certain quarters view as the greater good – and perfectly meshes with what we already know of Salander's early years.
He is also true to Larsson's depiction of Salander, a young woman who keeps others at a distance, yet burns to save anyone she sees being treated unfairly. Salander here has as fine a moment as any in the series.
And yes, we finally learn why she has that dragon tattoo.
Jean Westmoore is The News' longtime children's book reviewer.