Book review: The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz
Yes, you are reading correctly. These are just the top 10 things wrong; I could go on for some time, otherwise, and that may not be fair to any brains hoping for a simple afternoon of catching up with the latest “international blockbuster”. Or whatever they’re saying this week.
So let’s begin …
1. Personality Problems
Blomkvist went into the kitchen to get some peace and quiet. He was exhausted and wanted to go home.
This is laughable. Blomkvist had just had sex with his lover, a married woman and therefore extra frisson, he had just heard from the most dangerously exciting woman in his life after many months of silence, he had just been shot at, and he was the first to discover a hugely important dead man alongside a highly traumatised autistic boy. Blomkvist would be wired on adrenaline, testosterone and a dozen other synaptic exciters. He would not be a tired wimp!
There are numerous other examples of Larsson’s original characters being portrayed in such poor ways, and then you’ll find new characters similarly wimpish … and in too many cases coupled with misogynist nonsense:
Gabriella Grane buried her face in her hands. She had not been to bed for forty hours and she was racked by a deep sense of guilt, only made worse by the lack of sleep. Yet she had been working hard all day long. Since this morning she had been part of a team at Säpo – a sort of shadow unit – which was investigating in secret every detail of the Frans Balder murder, under cover of looking into broader domestic policy implications.
In short, someone so high up in her field is not a wimp.
2. Cardboard & Cliche Characters – laden with tedious and unnecessary explanations
Needham looked like a man possessed and was standing there bawling out a young man whose face shone with an icy pallor, a pretty weird guy, Casales thought, just like all those young genius hackers Needham had surrounded himself with. The kid was skinny and anaemic-looking with a hairstyle from hell, and had strangely rounded shoulders which shook with some sort of spasm. Maybe he was frightened. He shuddered every now and then, and it did not help matters that Needham was kicking at his chair leg. The young man looked as if he were waiting for a slap, a clip across the ear.
Needham calmed down and ruffled the boy’s hair like a loving father. That was not like him. He did not go in for demonstrative affection. He was a cowboy who would never do anything as dubious as hug another man. But perhaps he was now so desperate that he was prepared to give normal humanity a go. Ed’s zip was undone and he had spilled coffee or Coca-Cola on his shirt. His face was an unhealthy flushed colour, his voice hoarse and rough from shouting. Casales thought that no-one of his age and weight should be pushing himself so hard.
Although only half a day had gone by, it looked as if Needham and his boys had been living there for a week. There were coffee cups and fast-food remnants and discarded caps and college jerseys everywhere, and a rank stench of sweat and tension in the air. The team was clearly in the process of turning the whole world upside down in their efforts to trace the hacker. She called out to them in a hearty tone:
“Go for it, guys! … Fix the bastard!”
And then …
She did not really mean it. Secretly she thought the breach was amusing. Many of these programmers seemed to think they could do whatever liked, as if they had carte blanche, and it might actually do them some good to see that the other side could hit back. Here in the Puzzle Palace their shortcomings only showed when they were confronted with something dire, as was happening now. She had been woken by a call saying that the Swedish professor had been murdered at his home outside Stockholm, and even though that in itself was not a big deal for the N.S.A. …
And that sort of junk does, literally, litter the book.
3. Lazy writing and plotting
Kira was staggeringly beautiful and knew how to make the most of it like no other beauty before her. She was unmatched when it came to power games; she knew all the moves. She could be weak and needy when it suited, but also indomitable, hard and cold as ice, and sometimes plain evil.
Well now, these most amazingly, awesome, exceptional characters appear in descriptions again and again, yet not one turns out to be capable of coming close to their PR.
4. Whatever happened to “show, don’t tell”?
“Because it looks like the hacker also wanted to show us something. You know, he got himself superuser status which gave him access to documents maybe even you haven’t seen, highly classified stuff. But actually the file he uploaded is so heavily encrypted that neither he nor we have the slightest chance of reading it unless the fucker who wrote it gives us the private keys. Anyway …”
“The hacker revealed through our own system that we cooperate with Solifon too, the same way the Spiders do. Did you know that?”
“No, my God, I did not.”
And pause. And breath. And …
“In the worst case? We share 90 per cent of our D.N.A. with mice, and we’re assumed to be about one hundred times as intelligent. Only one hundred times. Here’s something completely new, not subject to these kinds of limitations, according to mathematical models. And it can become perhaps a million times more intelligent. Imagine that.”
“I’m certainly trying to,” Blomkvist said with a careful smile.
And I just keep wondering which Blomkvist this can be, for Larsson’s wouldn’t say, “said with a careful smile.” NOOOOOO!
5. Dialogue from Comics?
“I’ll do it, but I have some conditions,” Bublanski said. “I want my usual team: Modig, Svensson, Holmberg and Flod.”
“Come on, Jan, get a grip. Faste is an extremely reliable and loyal investigator, and I won’t listen to any more of this. Any other requests?”
How about you go take a running jump? Bublanski thought.
6. Plot telescoping revealed over and over
“Tell me,” she said, “if this hacker is so clever, won’t he have covered his tracks?”
“No need to worry about that. No matter how smart he’s been, we’ll find him and we’ll flay him alive.”
“What happened to all that respect for your opponent?”
“It’s still there, my friend. But we’ll crush him all the same and lock him up for life. No fucker breaks into my system.”
7. Translation – shocking and stilted – and about 100 years out of date
On the other hand, it was not so easy to view murder in relative terms, and Casales took a solemn vow to leave no stone unturned in trying to unseat Thanos. She did not get far. In fact she only managed to stretch her arms and massage her neck before she heard puffing and panting behind her.
Needham looked dreadful. His back must have given out on him too. Her own neck felt better just looking at him.
“Ed, to what do I owe this honour?”
“I’m thinking you and I are working on the same problem.”
“Park your butt, old man.”
8. Bad writing or bad translation? Or both!
Detective Sergeant Sonja Modig had been running around all morning. Now she was in her office and looked briefly at a framed photograph on her desk. It showed her six-year-old son Axel on the football pitch after scoring a goal. Modig was a single parent and had a hell of a time organizing her life. She was expecting to have a hellish time at work in the next few days too.
The Penny Dreadful writing continues for chapter after chapter:
… haven’t slept and you’ve seen things that no human being should have to see.
9. One good idea?
“There is an extraordinary amount of research going on in this area, and even though most scientists aren’t specifically aiming for A.G.I., competition is driving us in that direction. Nobody can afford not to create applications which are as intelligent as possible. Nobody can afford to put the brake on development. Just think of what we have achieved so far. Just think back to what you had in your mobile five years ago compared to what’s in there today.”
… but crap dialogue:
“The pace of growth goes on increasing and in the end it escapes our control. The interesting thing isn’t actually when we reach A.G.I., but what happens after that. Just a few days after we’ve reached A.G.I., we’ll have A.S.I. – Artificial Super-Intelligence – used to describe something more intelligent than we are. After that it’ll just get quicker and quicker. Computers will start enhancing themselves at an accelerating pace, perhaps by a factor of ten, and become a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand times cleverer than we are. What happens then?”
“I dread to think.”
10. ‘Fight’ scenes are laughable
Two highly-trained killers walk side-by-side, firing their guns, supposedly looking for Lisbeth. Which means she only needs one second of surprise to jump up and bang-bang, with them so close together, easy to shoot. Any half-trained duo would have stayed apart, covering each other as much as possible, and making it very difficult if not impossible to shoot them both within a couple of seconds.
Mikael and Lisbeth meet at the end and everything goes Mills & Boon. This ‘reunion’ is so far from the characters that Stieg Larsson invented that this reader can only laugh-cry in sorrow at the whole travesty that Lagercrantz and his editors and publisher have produced, and what Erland and Joacim Larsson have allowed to be published.