Hello there book lovers. Today we will be diving into The Girl in the Spider’s Web which is book four in the Millennium series. Before diving into the review and analysis, however, I would like to discuss the amazing journey that has transpired behind the scenes over the course of this series’ existence.
Stieg Larsson created the world in which the magazine Millennium exists. It is run by Mikael Blomkvist and a savvy team of reporters in Sweden. Blomkvist, over the course of the first book, meets Lisbeth Salander who is a hacker and an amazing one at that. Larsson stated initially that he had enough material for the series to span 10 novels though his untimely death in 2004 seemingly put a halt to this idea. After his death, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was published in 2005 and was incredibly well received. The following two years, in 2006 and 2007, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest were published respectively. The ’07 publication of Hornet’s Nest was the last of the complete manuscripts Larsson left behind.
It was at this time that Larsson’s publishing house Norstedts Förlag was at a cross roads. Leave the Millennium series as is or continue the work that Larsson began by passing the torch onto another writer. However, it was not as simple as that and it is here where the literary soap opera gets juicy. You see, Larsson’s longtime partner Eva Gabrielsson was in possession of all of Larsson’s outlines and notes and partial manuscripts. The two had never married due to safety issues stemming from Larsson’s activism and journalism. The will Larsson left behind had not been witnessed or documented properly and because of this, his estate fell into the hands of the deceased’s brother and father. They were on board with the continuation of Larsson’s series however Gabrielsson staunchly opposed the idea. A very public dispute ensued. In the end, the Larsson’s gave permission to Norstedts to proceed with a fourth installation of Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander’s escapades and at the very end of 2013 it was announced that David Lagercrantz would pen the title. In August 2015 The Girl in the Spider’s Web was published worldwide followed by a release the following month in the United States.
That being said, let us now dive into the title in question:
This was the first time that I listened to an audiobook. I know, I know, get with the times. I am a huge podcast fan and love talk radio, but for some reason I had never listened to a book on
tape file. Man I loved it!
The Girl in the Spider’s Web was written by David Lagercrantz and was recorded by Simon Vance. I was apprehensive about this title because I have been such a fan of the series and to hear that another author would be taking over is enough to make anyone skeptical. I think Lagercrantz did a really good job though! There are a lot of negative reviews on the title and so that only added to my apprehension but I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was of a different mind.
Firstly, Lagercrantz did something that I noticed fairly quickly in that he made Mickael Blomkvist much more believable as a real person. How did he do this, you might ask. Well, for starters, he did not have every woman Blomkvist encounters throw herself immediately at our main character. This was so refreshing. Previously, Blomkvist had been such a ladies man that by the second and third book it was almost farcical. Every. Woman. Like, what? I know he is charismatic and that he is a reporter so he has a certain je ne said quo but cooooome ooooon. So that was a definite improvement.
This was a super important shift that I found very refreshing and humanizing.
But it wasn’t only this detail that made for an obvious departure of Larsson’s writing. The story itself unfolded in an interesting way. Before I dive into that, however, let us get a brief overview of The Girl in the Spider’s Web.
There has again been a lapse in time from where the previous title left off, as has been the pattern for the series. We open with Millennium magazine not doing too well and rumors run wild that Mikael Blomkvist is now a washed up journalist who is feebly riding on the waves of his past success. Timing is everything though and a scandal soon begins to unfold. Scientist Frans Bolder is murdered in front of his autistic son and it is later determined that one of his computers is missing along with the A.I. technology that he had been working on. At the same time, the NSA in America is hacked. Something no one thought possible. The hacker players in Spider’s Web are very interesting and it is here that we learn that Lisbeth Salander just cannot escape her past and the family that she so deeply despises. You see, it is revealed early on that Lisbeth’s twin sister is in on the plot. This I loved and will get into more detail on in a second. Blomkvist gets involved because the night that Bolder was killed he had called the journalist saying that he had information that needed to be shared and that he was nervous about who wanted this knowledge and what lengths they might go to to get it. Thus begins the unraveling of what his technology did, who wanted it (both criminal and government), and how Lisbeth Salander fits into the equation.
There is a writing technique that Lagercrantz employs frequently and with great affect. He goes through a scene/time frame from one character’s point of view and then he alternates this view and retells the same moment from a different perspective. For example, Bolder’s death scene. We are outside the house with the police officers who have been assigned as protective detail for Bolder. They encounter someone outside and are speaking with him when Blomkvist arrives. The next passage is seen from inside the house as the murder is taking place. The killer runs out of the house and slams into the newly arrived Blomkvist as he makes his way up to the house. This happens again and again throughout the book and it is very well done. These time frame parallels enable us to have a fuller understanding of a particular scene and point in time. This is also a great tool because it allows a tense moment to play out from different vantage points and then it is easy to cut away from the tension and switch to another which creates cliffhangers in interesting spots. Very exciting.
As we dive into the hacker aspect of Spider’s Web we get further insight to Lisbeth’s past; something that I always enjoy and which was a particularly important through line of Hornet’s Nest. In book three we gain a deeper understanding of Lisbeth’s father and the terrible things he did to her and her mother that formed the Lisbeth we all know. Closed off, man-hating, curious, incredibly smart, and somewhat on the spectrum (not that her dad caused her to be on the spectrum but how his behavior impacted her). So then in Spider’s Web we meet and get more info about her sister Camilla who had briefly been mentioned in titles past. Camilla is described as a polar opposite of Lisbeth. She glows with beauty, has charm for days, and is able to persuade anyone to pretty much do anything. She is their father’s heir to his criminal empire and she is a cold and nasty piece of work. Seeing the contrast of the sisters becomes a big part of the third act as we find out more and more what Camilla is capable of. At the same time, we see a more tinder side of Lisbeth than has been expressed so far.
After his murder, Lisbeth takes Bolder’s son August into hiding as he was a witness to the crime. Despite the fact that he doesn’t speak, he is a savant in numbers and drawing. He saw the face of his father’s killer. While on the road with the boy, Lisbeth begins trying to open him up. Lagercrantz does this in a very real way. Lisbeth does not speak down to August, does not try to pander to a child. She speaks to him like a fellow human and it is very refreshing and eventually something comes of it in that he draws his father’s murderer. In true Lisbeth fashion, she just wants what is best for the boy and his mother and there are parts of the story that transpire between the three of them that are solely known by these three characters. It is special and I really enjoyed seeing how that part played out.
Going back to Lisbeth’s sister, we see how deep seeded their hatred for each other is and are taken back to their childhood. It is here, in the past, that Lisbeth’s hacker name Wasp is given explanation. The Marvel universe is brought into play and we learn how important the Janet van Dyne character and the Avengers are to Lisbeth. As Camilla becomes more nemesis than sister, she begins to call herself Thanos. This pull from pop culture was the only thing that stuck out as odd to me and while it is interesting to hear about the psychology behind this, it took me out of the story a bit to have something so American mentioned. I am not sure if that was always the origin of the Wasp handle; it makes a lot of sense when the backstory is given but I wonder if that was Lagercrantz’s doing or taken from notes of Larsson’s.
Overall, The Girl in the Spider’s Web was a really great listen and Simon Vance does a great job with all of the Swedish that occurs throughout. I am really interested to see if he continues on with the series or if the publishing house will do each title by a separate author. The sales for book four have been pretty good and the title stayed on bestsellers lists for 16 weeks where it sold over 200,000 copies in it’s first week! Lisbeth Salander is such a compelling and stimulating heroine who stands up for the rights of women, what is right and just, and doesn’t take any shit from anyone. I hope that these numbers will parlay into a book five and that we won’t have to wait eight more years for it!