Hacker's legacy

Hacker's legacy

Fans of Stieg Larsson will know that he planned for 10 installments in his Lisbeth Salander series of books, though he only managed to write three before he passed away. They will also know that those first three books - better known as the Millennium trilogy - are some of the highest-selling books of all time. It is therefore natural to assume that Larsson's estate will attempt to recreate the magic by commissioning more volumes in the series, presumably working off Larsson's notes.

The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye is the second of these new volumes, the fifth in the series. The writer, David Lagercrantz, is already known in Sweden, and did a fairly good job in the previous volume (The Girl in the Spider's Web). The stories in these new books follow the established formula of pitting Salander and her on-off collaborator, journalist Mikael Blomkvist, against a shadowy conspiracy, all the while having something from Salander's past come up to complicate the situation.

In the current volume, it isn't Salander who's in the most danger, but a young Bangladeshi girl named Faria Kazi, who is in jail for the murder of her brother. Faria comes to the attention of a brutal ganglord in the jail. With no one to protect her, it looks like Faria is done for. However, it turns out Salander herself is in the same jail, related to events from the previous book, but is just using her time to study up on Physics in the meantime. She's unable to stand by as the young woman is bullied, and begins to protect her and study her case. The story soon moves into a well-worn path with known elements, at least for Indian readers - forbidden love, controlling elder brothers and father, honour killing, the younger brother who silently sides with the sister, and so on.

In parallel, Lagercrantz brings in yet another murky element from Salander's past. In his previous book, he'd fleshed out the character of Lisbeth's fraternal twin sister, Camilla, who, while being as intelligent as Lisbeth, is an amoral sadist who takes pride in her ethereal beauty and ability to manipulate men with it. Now, we hear about a secret government experiment to test the impact of upbringing on children, by separating out twins and putting them in diametrically opposite social situations. Lisbeth and Camilla were considered to be a part of this experiment, but things did not go as planned, and they were dropped. However, there is another pair of twins -identical this time - who were subjected to the experiment, and who are now beginning to realise what has happened. But the researchers from that old era don't want their deeds to come out, and are willing to go to any lengths to conceal themselves, including murder.

As plots go, this second thread is more Ludlum than Larsson - the shadowy conspiracy that strives to create a new breed of super-people, and is backed by the state and so on. The weight behind Larsson's conspiracies in the original trilogy came from the assumption that men were fundamentally corrupt, misogynistic and power-seeking, and willing to cover up their own crimes by committing worse ones. The state, run by such people, is collapsing on itself, being hollowed out by this corruption. But Lagercrantz's plot is driven by the reverse - a state proud of itself and willing to compromise on ethics to come up with scientific results.

Lagercrantz is also tied by the need to play safe with his main characters - while Larsson was willing to make his heroine vulnerable, indeed damaged, here we have her as almost a superwoman who can do anything. Lisbeth's evolution is no longer the subject of the story - the changes she effects in other, weaker characters is. Yes, we do have the death of a major supporting character in this volume, but by the time this happens, Salander and Blomkvist have more or less moved on from that dependency.

While the previous book in the series was relatively close to the spirit of the originals, here we seem to be moving towards an obvious template for an assembly-line book. The dark, uncomfortable misogyny that was the heart of the story seems replaced by plotlines pulled from the newspapers and pulp thrillers. It may be a quick, fun, read for new readers, but is likely to be a disappointment for loyal fans.

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