David Lagercrantz came to the attention of the estate of the late Stieg Larsson for his ghost-written autobiography of soccer player Zlatan Abrahimović. Lagercrantz was tapped on the shoulder to adopt Larsson’s style and approach and continue the globally popular Millennium series featuring everybody’s favourite punk hacker tough girl Lisbeth Salander and crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist.
Lagercrantz takes a completely new angle as the jumping off point for this instalment, but many characters from the previous books make an appearance, and there are plenty of spiderweb-like connections to the previous books. The plot revolves around a Swedish computer genius, Frans Balder, doing ground breaking work in artificial intelligence and his relationship with his autistic son, August. It is when Balder is targeted by the criminal underworld that Salander and Blomkvist, still estranged after the last book, get drawn in.
Lagercrantz, while adopting Larsson’s style, successfully makes the series and the characters his own. He stays true to Larsson’s causes, using the characters and situations to explore issues of state and media power, gender politics, sexual abuse, child abuse, loyalty and honour. The plot itself is fairly straight forward - there are good guys, bad guys and some morally grey functionaries, who end up falling on the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ side, in between.
Unfortunately, also in keeping with Larsson’s style, the novel takes an incredibly long time to set up, involving lengthy sections of exposition and explanatory dialogue. As with the previous volumes in the series though, once the pieces are in place and Salander is fully engaged in the plot, the action and tension ramp up. But even in this latter half, the tense scenes are padded by lengthy pauses and digressions to fill in backstory.
Lagercrantz’s last novel translated into English was The Fall of Man in Wilmlsow. This odd mix of historical and crime fiction with heavy doses of philosophy, explored the life and work of Alan Turing, the inventor of modern computing. Lagercrantz hijacks Larsson’s agenda a little by using this novel to continue to explore the issues of artificial intelligence and cryptography that he raised in that novel. Balder, himself a distant, social awkward computer scientist, comes across as a modern Turing-esque character. His son, August, among other things, seems to have an affinity for prime numbers which form the basis of modern cryptography. And the story takes plenty of time out to explore some concepts usually only broached in science fiction, including the “technological singularity”, a state in which computer-based intelligence has outstripped our own.
Overall, this return to the world of the Millennium magazine and nasty goings on in the state of Sweden and the wider world is a success. Lagercrantz, a more measured writer than Larsson and with less of an axe to grind, not only inhabits his world but gives Larsson’s characters more depth and humanity. His greatest success is with the odd couple of Salander and Blomkvist, a fantastic fictional pairing, once again brought vividly to life. And while the main plot points of the novel are tied up, Lagercrantz knows his audience well enough to leave much to be resolved in future Millennium books.