Stieg Larsson is gone, but Millennium lives on

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Let's dispense with this from the beginning: The Girl in the Spider's Web, the fourth installment in the wildly popular Millennium series, shouldn't exist. After submitting the first three books to his Swedish publisher, Stieg Larsson died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 2004. Logically, the series should have died with him.

But the overwhelming popularity of the trilogy, which has sold more than 80 million copies worldwide, has dictated that Spider's Web should exist. And taken on its own terms, the work of Larsson's fellow Swedish author David Lagercrantz does a remarkable job of bringing readers back into the heart of one of the most gripping narrative worlds in contemporary fiction.

In the wake of the trilogy's conclusion, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, the series's two protagonists, hacker Lisbeth Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist, have gone their separate ways. Salander, ever the rule breaker, is busy hacking her way into the National Security Agency's encrypted networks in an effort to expose the agency's corruption. Meanwhile, Blomkvist and the rest of the Millennium staff, caught up in an increasingly competitive media field, face the threat of being swallowed up by a new corporate partner.

What brings the two back together is Frans Balder, a computer scientist whose mysterious decision to leave a high-paying job in Silicon Valley and return to his native Sweden is viewed skeptically by many observers. Balder, driven by concerns over corporate theft of his AI technology and the care of his autistic savant son August, is a compelling character who serves as a conduit for Lagercrantz to explore themes of surveillance, trust, and, of course, violence (it's a Millennium book, after all). When Balder is murdered, leaving only the mute August as witness, it's a thrilling race to see if Blomkvist and Salander can track down the killer before a police leak can do them in.

Lagercrantz's writing does a respectable job of capturing Larsson's intensity, and having last read a Millennium book about a year ago, I was hard-pressed to tell the difference in the author's syntax. Other than a few clunky idioms ("Money talks, bullshit walks") perhaps introduced in translation, there's little to distract from the page-turning adventure.

Where the book really shines is the ways in which it builds off of existing knowledge of the series's rich universe of characters. Particularly exciting is the development of Camilla Sander, Lisbeth's twin sister, who had been mentioned but barely developed in previous books. Leading the Spiders, a shady group of Russian criminals dedicated to bringing Lisbeth down, Camilla proves a worthy foil to her ever-impressive twin sister. Their back-and-forth chess match is a logical extension of the narrative in light of the death of their father, the ruthless Alexander Zalachenko, and Camilla's ultimate escape suggests that more Millennium books are forthcoming.

In spite of the murkiness surrounding the publication of the book (Larsson's partner, Eva Gabrielsson, has gone on record denouncing the book's existence), there's no denying the power of The Girl in the Spider's Web, and, by extension, Larsson's entire series. Compounding the original trilogy's scathing attacks on men who harm women, Spider's Web's take on the increasingly tight net of surveillance provides the kind of haunting revelation that is captured most viscerally in fictional writing. While it may not be the literary sensation The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was when it was first published in English in 2008, Lagercrantz's effort is worthy of the hype.


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