Lis­beth Sa­lan­der is back – can this ad­di­tion to Stieg Lars­son’s Mil­len­nium se­ries suc­ceed?

The Guardian - Review - - Thrillers - The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye by David Lager­crantz Margie Or­ford Margie Or­ford’s Wa­ter Mu­sic is pub­lished by Head of Zeus.

Swedish jour­nal­ist Stieg Lars­son planned 10 in­stal­ments in his Mil­len­nium se­ries be­fore his un­timely death. The three nov­els he did write, be­gin­ning with The Girl with the Dragon Tat­too , had en­ergy, spec­tac­u­lar vi­o­lence and su­perb plot­ting. Lars­son’s weird, some­times clunky prose style was for­given be­cause there was real chem­istry – em­pa­thy, even – be­tween his two stars, the com­puter hacker Lis­beth Sa­lan­der and the jour­nal­ist Mikael Blomkvist. The se­ries made a for­tune and, as no good deed goes un­pun­ished, it has been turned into a fran­chise.

The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye

is the sec­ond in­stal­ment to be writ­ten by the Swedish bi­og­ra­pher and nov­el­ist David Lager­crantz The Girl in the Spi­der’s Web (2015) sold very well and this new out­ing has been pub­lished with full block­buster treat­ment.

Dam­aged, dys­func­tional hero­ines are com­mon in thrillers, but Lars­son’s Sa­lan­der was a fab­u­lous, sur­pris­ing char­ac­ter – a fem­i­nist su­per­hero, an Ama­zo­nian queen, a Lolita who fought back. Ob­ses­sive and an­ti­so­cial, she was forged in the cru­cible of vi­o­lence she ex­pe­ri­enced as a child. She took the kind of revenge on rapists and pae­dophiles that most only fan­ta­sise about, tak­ing on pow­er­ful, cor­rupt men with righteous but law­less vi­o­lence. With Blomkvist, she was the glam­orous half of one of the od­dest but most ef­fec­tive and en­ter­tain­ing crime fic­tion cou­ples. Blomkvist, the old-school so­cial jus­tice war­rior with a pen­chant for un­der­dogs and a ha­tred of so­cial hypocrisy, pro­vided a per­fect foil.

The Girl Who Took an Eye for an Eye

is billed as the rev­e­la­tion of the ap­palling things done to Sa­lan­der when she was a child, but the nar­ra­tive me­an­ders be­tween a be­wil­der­ing ar­ray of sto­ry­lines that never come to­gether. The story starts with Sa­lan­der in prison for un­con­vinc­ing rea­sons. When she does wan­der on to the page, she gets beaten up or does stuff on her com­puter, but re­mains ghostly and un­in­hab­ited. The au­thor com­mits the car­di­nal thriller sin of telling rather than show­ing what she does: there are long, mansplain­ing sec­tions about ge­net­ics and so­cial re­search that made me pray to El­more Leonard, the god of eco­nom­i­cal thriller writ­ing, who fa­mously in­structed that writ­ers should “try to leave out the part that read­ers tend to skip”.

Lager­crantz has turned Lars­son’s ec­cen­tric and feral fem­i­nism into a sim­ple in­ver­sion. This time there are two fe­male arch-vil­lains af­ter Sa­lan­der. One is an age­ing, ail­ing Mad Sci­en­tist with a doc­tor’s bag of syringes and lethal poi­sons who is de­ter­mined that noth­ing of her so­cial eu­gen­ics pro­gramme will be re­vealed. The other is a lu­di­crously car­toon­ish gang boss who is in ca­hoots with a pair of nasty brothers – billed as Is­lamists – who have hired her to per­se­cute their jailed and silent sis­ter. There are iden­tity-switch­ing twins who make the an­tics of Se­bas­tian and Vi­ola in Twelfth Night seem pedes­trian, and many ref­er­ences to Sa­lan­der’s evil twin.

The reader is re­peat­edly told that Sa­lan­der and Blomkvist are driven by a de­sire for jus­tice, but be­cause we spend so lit­tle time in close-up with the book’s hero­ine, it is not con­vinc­ing. There is a slug­gish­ness to the plot­ting and much of the ten­sion re­lies on or­ches­trated in­ter­rup­tions and de­lays, which ir­ri­tate. Lager­crantz has all the el­e­ments of the Mil­len­nium se­ries at his dis­posal, but the adren­a­line is miss­ing: it feels as if one has gone to a restau­rant, or­dered a rare steak and been served soggy fish fin­gers in­stead.

Trans­lated by Ge­orge Gould­ing. 368pp, MacLe­hose, £20

The Girl Who …

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Noomi Ra­pace as Lis­beth Sa­lan­der in The Girl with the Dragon Tat­too (2009)

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