Along with much of the rest of the world, I was a fan of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, especially the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. They combined hugely memorable lead characters in Mikael Blomqvist and Lisbeth Salander, an excellent supporting cast, and a plot with the right balance of modern-day relevance, forward propulsion and complexity; not to mention a welcome dose of Scandi noir-ness. Larsson sadly died after completing the third, and his family decided to allow the writer David Lagercrantz to continue the series. I assume the fact his surname began with ‘La’ wasn’t the only stipulation.
Anyway, the fourth (and first post-Larsson book), The Girl in the Spider’s Web, was surprisingly decent, I thought, if a little more straight-laced and predictable than Larsson’s books. This picks up after the end of that one, with Salander in prison and Blomqvist on the trail of another story of familial mistreatment and businesses doing wrong – a trail that weaves together a range of disparate elements: the scientific study of twins, a young Muslim couple in love, a badly-run prison, and a big business with curious goings-on at the top.
It all felt a bit more functional and predictable this time around: Blomqvist and, especially, Salander remain compelling characters but this all feels a bit ‘film script by numbers’, lacking the genuine radical, creative or innovative edge of Larsson at his best. So we get mixed in some fairly standard and unexplored modern elements: a bit of fake news, a bit of honour-killing, and we have a series of action set pieces in which several different people evade death in new and barely plausible ways. And even with all this, it is all fairly predictable: what ‘surprises’ there are are flagged as much as the Royal Wedding, and the whole thing felt a bit underwhelming. Even more depressing was the ending which clearly signalled where the next one will kick off – not an unusual thing to do but here it felt deeply cynical.
All in all, there are plenty of better thrillers around at the moment; the best bit about this one might well have been the few quid that went to the charity shop at the end of the road.