About 15 years ago, the late Swedish crime writer Stieg Larsson created one of the more fascinating characters in modern mysteries: Lisbeth Salander.
Punk, tough, angry, brilliant, she’s a hacker of global reach whose family history drives her to daring, thrilling and dangerous extremes.
Yet Salander is also driven by a strong conscience and moral code. She can be tender and vulnerable with the right person at the right moment. Sometimes her lover is a woman, other times a man. It’s easy to imagine an alienated, bright introvert identifying with Salander, which may be why she appeals to many of today’s mystery readers.
Larsson died in 2004, and his Millennium trilogy featuring Salander was published posthumously. They have been runaway bestsellers, followed by thoughtful, popular action movies.
David Lagercrantz, also a Swedish novelist and journalist, was chosen to pick up the story and now has published the sixth book in the series. As expected, “The Girl Who Lived Twice” turns around a complex plot that extends halfway around the world.
In downtown Stockholm, a beggar who’s missing some fingers and has a battered-looking face is found dead. Earlier that day, witnesses said, he had been shouting: “Me Khamba-chen … hate China.”
He had a habit of stationing himself on a piece of cardboard in a park by “the fountain and the statue of Thor in Mariatorget, and there he commanded a measure of respect.”
“He was in fact about five feet tall, but he was certainly erratic, and he would occasionally spring up and grab people by the arm, babbling incoherently,” Lagercrantz writes.
Meanwhile, a cloud of ugly rumors hangs over Johannes Forsell, Sweden’s secretary of defense, a pleasant man whose brilliance is obvious to all who know him. But there’s something about his relationship with Russian intelligence that dogs him.
Mikael Blomkvist, the low-key investigative reporter for Millennium magazine, is pulled into the inquiry regarding the death of the man in the park. Soon, Blomkvist contacts Salander, who has a twin sister, Camilla, who lives the high life in Russia with corrupt oligarchs. The loathing between the twin sisters is mutual for complicated reasons having to do with their father, who terrorized their mother and had an incestuous relationship with Camilla.
Lisbeth even considers killing her sister. But something about the mysterious man’s murder has “knocked her off balance”:
“It was a fresh realization from her past. Not just the fact that she had lain there powerless when [her father] came to fetch Camilla at night. There was her mother, too. What had she known? Had she too shut her eyes to the truth? This thought was constantly chafing at her, so much so that it made her frightened of herself — frightened by her indecision, frightened that she would be a useless warrior in what inevitably awaited: her life’s crucial battle.”
The story involves not just Russia and Sweden. Readers also will find themselves on Mount Everest in Nepal as several of the Swedish elite join the surge of climbers who strive to reach the summit.
Though he doesn’t climb Mount Everest, Blomkvist, using his connections and his long-standing ties to Salander, eventually unravels the mystery of the shouting man and how he is tied to the fate of the Swedish minister of defense.
This is to be Lagercrantz’s last Blomkvist mystery. (Another writer will take over.) He’s going out on a high note. This reviewer found it hard to stop reading, day and night.
Repps Hudson is a freelance writer and adjunct instructor who lives in University City.