Greetings sports fans and welcome back once again to Vegas Valley Sports Beat that silly little byline of mine that I love so much I might even consider doing it for money eventually. For now, it is simply a labor of love. A wiseguy once said if you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life. I wish I had applied for this job 30 years ago I could have retired a great deal sooner but what can you do? I still love my job and would not give it up or trade it for the world.
It is another lovely day here in the Las Vegas Valley region of Nevada, at least it was when I started this article this afternoon, and of course, it was hot/ But, again, you kinda had to see that coming when you woke up this morning and realized that it is the first week of August and you are in the middle of the desert. If however, you do not live in the desert it is probably hot there too but we have a gigantic air-conditioned oasis called the Las Vegas Public Library where residents and visitors alike can sit and read a good book, magazine or newspaper in quiet comfort and relative safety from the cares and heat of the day.
Speaking of reading and good books, let us turn our attention now to a book and review “The Girl Who Takes An Eye For An Eye” by Swedish Journalist and novelist, David Lagercrantz. The Millenium series, which was begun by author Stieg Larsson centers around two main characters. Lisbeth Salander and her friend and part-time lover, Mikael Blomkvist who is an investigative journalist and the publisher of the fictional magazine called Millenium.
“The Girl Who Takes An Eye For An Eye” by David Lagercrantz has the distinction of being the first novel I have paid retail for in a very long time. On my budget, the ten cent bargain book bin at the public library is more in my price range, but having a tiny bit of disposable income at my disposal I bought a copy of it and read it eagerly.
David Lagercrantz also wrote the fourth installment of the Millenium series, The Girl in the Spider’s Web. According to Wikipedia, he is also the author of the sixth installment, “The Girl Who Lived Twice” which I have yet to read but after reading The Girl Who Takes An Eye For An Eye I can not honestly say I am looking forward to reading either one of them.
In this episode we find Lisbeth Salander doing two months hard time in Flodberga, a maximum-security prison, for crimes which she committed while protecting August Balder in Lagercrantz’s last novel. After doing ten years in a super-maximum security prison I find that premise a bit hard to swallow but, whatever.
She discovers quickly that the prison is riddled with violence and corruption on the part of prisoners, and guards alike so of course our plucky young crusader steps in to rescue another prisoner who is being bullied and brutalized by an inmate named Beatrice “Benito” Andersson who leads a prison gang and even uses violence and threats against their families to keep the guards and prison administrators under her thumb.
A visit from Salander’s former guardian, Holmer Palmgren at about the same time leads her on a quest to expose the nefarious doings of a secret group called The Registry which was involved with children at the institution to which Salander was committed as a child. He gives her her medical file and she manages to blackmail the associate warden into letting her use his computer so that she can foil those evildoers while dealing with Benito.
Lisbeth, of course, enlists the assistance of Mikael Blomkvist who helps her crack the case and all is right again with the world, etcetera. The rest of it is about some people who do some stuff but I don’t want to give away the entire plot. I think it is best for a reader to discover that for themselves one word at a time. If anyone cares to read the chapter outlines the links provided here will take you there.
I found this book to be predictably formulaic in that regard and to be expected, but what troubled me about this particular story is not that it tries too hard to retain the narrative voice of Stieg Larsson, but not hard enough to even rise to the level of the Millenium series which I know for a fact is within the grasp of the author but he admits that was never really his intention.
As other reviewers have pointed out, and I agree, Lisbeth Salander plays little more than a supporting role in the novel and is notably absent throughout most of the pages. One might argue that this is to be expected given the fact that she is incarcerated but she was a lot more present and involved from her hospital bed while in police custody in The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, the third installment written by Steig Larsson who died of a heart attack in 2004 before the first of his three blockbuster novels could be published in 2005. Larsson died after climbing the stairs to work on November 9th, 2004 at the age of 50. Reportedly his diet largely consisted of cigarettes, processed food and copious amounts of coffee.
To judge fairly however it must be held true that no author can speak for anyone but themselves so it would be almost unreasonable for anyone to do more than hope for a reasonable facsimile of the original voice from a new author of an established series. Readers should be willing to let another voice continue telling those tales and allow the new author to sink or swim based upon their own merit.
Mr. Lagercrantz clearly understands this and does say that he is not trying to be Steig Larsson but then he points out the problems with this novel himself. It is not so much that he is a relatively inexperienced author but that he has but he says he has not seen the movies because he wants to have his own idea of who the main characters are. He then says in the same interview that it is his book and in almost the same breath says that Steig Larsson’s universe and his own collided when they should have meshed. I can not help but think that this was the original intent of Steig Larsson’s publisher when they contracted him to write the Millenium fourth novel, not his first version thereof.
When the interviewer asks Mr. Lagercrantz how could he not try to copy him (Larsson) Mr. Lagercrantz said, “I tried to, I was searching for the code. I mean why is Steig Larsson’s book so good?
He also admits that he is not well versed in the field of espionage as Steig Larsson was. From an early age, Steig learned to hate and fight against fascism from his Grandfather, and from his own life experience when someone was assassinated in his home by someone who had photographs of Larsson and his lifelong companion, Eva Gabrielsson in their apartment when the police found them.
The issue for me is not so much that as the fact that the story is not nearly as engaging as the original in the sense that I was never really drawn into Lisbeth Salander’s new world which gave me far too much time to wonder why. I did enjoy it to a lesser degree but the experience did not even come close to that of reading the first three books. To be fair, Steig Larsson was a master storyteller in my opinion and a seeming natural at that, but he had a vast amount of experience and practiced his craft diligently from the age of 18 when someone gave him a typewriter which he reportedly banged the hell out of tirelessly.
Mr. Lagercrantz was a Journalist before being tapped to write the fourth book in the series but not much more about his prior writing career or habits. But it is of no consequence in light of this second offering’s plebian feel. I already guessed that he was inexperienced from that alone but I had no idea it was a deliberate snub of Steig Larsson’s characterizations of his creations based on his own ego.
When the interviewer asks Lagercrantz how could he not try to copy him (Larsson) Mr. Lagercrantz said, “I tried to, I was searching for the code. I mean why is Steig Larsson’s book so good? So I reread them trying to find the secret code, how to write Lisbeth Salander and I reread them (Edited out) But after a while, I have to forget about her, I have to get the characters into my blood system and I had to be a bit wild and crazy.
The interviewer asks. “Did you get obsessed?” to which Mr. Lagercrantz replies chipperly, “I was obsessed.” then he goes on a brief rant about his 3 lovely children (which I am sure they are) before finally saying that the storyline was “going on in my mind day and night, boom boom boom.” In answering the interviewer’s next question about living in the area where the stories take place Mr. Lagercrantz states the biggest truth of them all when he says I did my best writing when I was not writing but then later says he is a literary snob who reads something else if everyone says they love a certain book. I reread them I’m the sort of expert on them (Larsson’s characters) now. I’ve lived them.” he says.
But then when he is asked, “What about the movies?” he says, “I’ve, uh, yeah, I didn’t, yeah I don’t know why, I just, I mean I saw them but I decided not to see them because I wanted to have my own Lisbeth in my head.” He also says that he is tired of violence in crime fiction and suggests that what was not said should create the darkness inherent in Larsson’s novels.
I can normally respect that point of view but considering the subject at hand and what he has said about “trying to crack the code” and his statements to the contrary I have to say that it is obvious why Mr. Lagercrantz’s portrait of Lisbeth does not measure up to the original Lisbeth Salander. You don’t have to be an English literature professor to see that on the cover of his first offering.
That cover girl does not even remotely resemble the adult version of Lisbeth Salander as described by Steig Larsson.
He put neither the time or effort into making his own original story on par and in the spirit and voice of Steig Larsson’s work based upon his own egotistical desires for the vision of a beautifully written series which he did not create but was commissioned to continue. To deliberately torpedo one’s own work for such a selfish reason is completely incomprehensible to me.
One good question which the research for this article has raised is, what happened to that fourth manuscript that Steig Larsson’s companion so famously alleged to have had in her possession all along and was holding onto for some crazy reasons related to either money or loyalty to Steig’s memory? Now it turns out that Larsson’s publisher and companion for life were trying to create both a buzz and a fictitious work of their own for fun or profit. I’ am going to guess for profit. It seems like they may have inadvertently let the proverbial cat out of the bag and exposed what on the surface appears to be their own attempted hoax on Larsson’s fan base. It all makes perfect sense now if you think about it. What happened to the book deal that was reported in the press to have been reached for her releasing that fourth Steig Larsson manuscript for publication?
And now I have learned that Eva Gabrielsson railed publically against Lagercrantz’s first novel. He states that she said he was robbing the grave and says she claimed that Larsson had never intended for the series to go beyond the three original books. Meanwhile, Mr. Lagercrantz contends that Larsson’s publisher told him the series was planned to consist of ten novels. What really happened there, and why do I have this sudden overwhelming urge to call Bullshit on her version of events?
Just as Mr. Lagercrantz has his own version of Lisbeth Salander, 80 million readers and I have our own version of her too. The one that we got from Steig Larsson’s descriptions of her and his masterful way of telling her story. That notwithstanding, this novel barely rises above the level of average for an established fictional crime series or even as a stand-alone second novel. I give “The Girl Who Takes An Eye For An Eye” by David Lagercrantz 3.5 out of a possible 5 stars or a C+.
Dedicated to author Steig Larsson.
1954 – 2004