Fiction — Kindle edition. Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 2015. Translated from the Swedish by George Goulding. 416 pgs. Library copy.
Out of the blue, a Swedish computer programmer named Frans Balder shows up at the home of his ex-wife and announces that he is taking custody of their autistic son, August. He has decided to leave his job in the United States, stopping his research into artificial intelligence after the program he wrote was stolen by hackers.
“It’s always the wrong people who have the guilty conscience. Those who are really responsible for suffering in the world couldn’t care less. It’s the ones fighting for good who are consumed by remorse.”
The breach has caught the attention of Säkerhetspolisen (the Swedish Security Servicce, or Säpo) as well as that of the National Security Agency in the United States, and Balder has been warned that threats against his life and his research have been made. Legally, though, Balder isn’t supposed to have custody of August, and he loathes to cooperate with the police and their protective detail.
Balder’s erratic behavior over the breach has also caught the attention of Balder’s research assistant, who contacts the (in)famous journalist Mikael Blomkvist at Millennium in the hopes that Blomkvist will investigate the matter. The story doesn’t interest Blomkvist until he learns that Balder hired a female hacker to investigate the breach — a female hacker who goes by the handle Wasp, but whom Blomkvist knows as Lisbeth Salander.
Who knows, perhaps the will to please leads people to crime as often as evil or greed does. People want to fit in and do well, and they do indescribably stupid things because of it. Is that what happened here?
The controversy over whether or not Stieg Larsson would have wanted his series to continue after his death — his longtime partner says no; his family (and executors of his estate) say yes — dissuaded me from reading the book when it was first published in 2015. I caved, though, once I saw the promotional trailer for the film adaption and realized the novel features Lisbeth’s twin sister, Camilla, who was mentioned but rarely explored in the original trilogy.
There is a lot going on in this book, a lot of tangents to follow nowhere that muddle the beauty of Larsson’s characters and series. At the center of the story is Frans Balder’s stolen technology and his murder, but there is also Lisbeth’s hacking of the NSA’ intranet, the corporate overlord at Millenium who has it in for Blomkvist and the paper’s financial problems, the less than platonic relationship between Blomkvist and Erika Berger, the crisis of faith that Jan Bublanski is experiencing, the abuse of August’s mother by her new boyfriend, the introduction of Camilla and Holger Palmgren’s perception of her and Lisbeth’s childhood, and so on.
The overlapping of all these subplots involves jumping back and forth in time and in location. One moment, the reader is following Lisabeth; the next, the focus shifts backwards in time to learn how the NSA works and why it is interested in Balder’s technology. These jumps throw off the pacing of the novel; it was a slog to get through the middle section of the novel. And, ultimately, the jumps and numerous subplots muddle how the threads coalesces into a larger crime which, of course, will writing up about will save Millenium from financial ruin.
I could have handled the inclusion of every idea Lagercrantz came up with had the characters not been so foreign to me. It’s been eight years since I read Larrson’s novels, and I’m sure my memory of these characters has faded over time and been muddled by the film adaptations.
Yet there were several moments where I found myself shaking my head at Lagercrantz’s depiction of Salander and Blomkvist. She was too outgoing, too reactive, too flirtatious, and too good at reading people. Blomkvist waited for others to drive the investigation; it was hard to believe he was the journalist whose investigations took down major crime syndicates.
Bottom line, I should have stuck with my original plan not to read the continuation. I may still see the movie adaptation of Lagercrantz’s addition to the series, if the narrative undergoes refinement and tightening, simply because I’m still not entirely sure how the NSA, Säpo, Balder, and all the other narrative threads fed into one another at the conclusion of this novel.