Initial reviews for David Lagercrantz’s The Girl in the Spider’s Web (MacLehose), the fourth novel in the late Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series, have been largely favourable, with the Telegraph giving the book four stars and the Guardian saying “Lagercrantz has constructed an elegant plot”.
The book centres on characters Lisbeth Salander, the hacker who gave the series’ first book its title – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – and on journalist Mikael Blomkvist.
In The Girl in the Spider’s Web, translated from Swedish by George Goulding, Blomkvist is contacted by a Swedish scientist whose life is in danger, and who has been working with Salander.
Salander’s work trying to hack into the American National Security Agency has made her the target of ruthless cyber gangsters who call themselves The Spiders.
Reviewers have pointed out how closely Lagercrantz’s book reads like Larsson’s originals.
The Telegraph’s Jake Kerridge said at times he “kept forgetting for several pages at a time that I wasn’t reading genuine Larsson”.
“Lagercrantz has even managed to appropriate some of Larsson’s imperfections, including a capacity for sometimes being boring: as in the original books, there is far too much detailed information about the lives of fairly minor characters,” he said. “This habit was even more irritating because so few of Larsson’s characters ever seemed to me to really come to life to a depth one might expect in such long novels, including Mikael Blomkvist; and he remains just as two-dimensional here.
“But one devours Larsson’s books for the plots, the action, the anger, and most of all for Lisbeth Salander, a character who resembles Sherlock Holmes or James Bond in being so powerful because she is a brilliantly realised myth rather than a psychologically convincing character study. Lagercrantz has caught her superbly, and expertly spun the sort of melodramatic yarn in which she can thrive.”
Kerridge also praised Goulding’s work, saying: “The translation of this novel by George Goulding is much more satisfying than the clunky English-language version of the original Millennium trilogy. And where Anglophone publishers of the previous books bizarrely decided to shrink Salander’s dragon tattoo to something small on her shoulder, it is good to read here that Salander’s “large tattoo of a dragon all the way up her back” has been restored to her.”
In the Guardian Mark Lawson said that Lagercrantz “sticks closely to the existing design” of Larsson’s novels.
“The biggest narrative decision is how and when to bring Salander and Blomkvist together again, and he paces their reunion nicely,” said Lawson.
Lawson also said that Lagercrantz’s continuation novel is “a cleaner and tighter read than the originals, although he follows the template in building the plot slowly and methodically."
“He is, technically, a more adept novelist than Larsson, smoothly switching viewpoint in two sections where characters come under threat from assassins,” said Lawson.
“Without ever becoming pastiche, the book is a respectful and affectionate homage to the originals.”
“There may still be arguments about whether continuation novels should be written at all, but Lagercrantz could not have fulfilled the commission any more efficiently,” concluded Lawson.
In America a number of publications have said the plot of the book is not smooth.
In the New York Times Michiko Kakutani said there were “plenty of lumps in the novel” but that “Salander and Blomkvist have survived the authorship transition intact and are just as compelling as ever”.
Kakutani said the “efforts to connect unsavory doings in Sweden to machination within America’s National Security Agency are strained and fuzzy”.
“But then, readers weren’t smitten by The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo because of its plotting (which relied heavily on straight-to-video serial-killer-movie clichés), its plausibility or Larsson’s anti-authoritarian politics,” said Kakutani. “They were smitten with that novel and its two sequels — The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest — because of the fierce charm of Salander and Blomkvist, and their unlikely chemistry… In Spider’s Web, Mr Lagercrantz demonstrates an instinctive feel for the world Larsson created and for his two unconventional gumshoes…”
Patrick Anderson in the Washington Post said that the book is “fitfully interesting, but more often the story is disjointed and annoying”.
“Lagercrantz’s narrative is fragmentary and confusing,” said Anderson. “It’s almost impossible to keep track of all the hackers, scientists and killers who emerge briefly, vanish, then turn up again after you’ve forgotten them. There are absurdly complicated moments when characters discuss such things as singularity theory, black holes, prime-number factorization and self-teaching algorithms. Several of the characters are certified geniuses but, sad to say, most readers are not.”
But Patrick Ryan in USA Today said that Lagercrantz “takes the reins with prowess, not only mimicking Larsson's shamelessly pulpy prose, but admirably expanding the deliciously depraved world of the novels”.
The Girl in the Spider's Web is out today in £19.99 hardback.