What do you do if your favorite author writes three enjoyable novels then dies at age 50?
Judging by friends who are equally voracious readers, I am not alone worrying about that.
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” was the first in a series by Swedish writer Stieg Larsson.
It was followed by “The Girl Who Played with Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest.”
The fictional books introduced two superb characters to the landscape of modern literature, Mikael Blomkvist, a driven, muckraking journalist, and Lisbeth Salander, a computer hacker. The book series, which spawned Swedish and Hollywood movies, was labeled the Millennium Trilogy, taking the name from Blomkvist’s political-investigative magazine.
I believe Lisbeth Salander is the most compelling fictional character created in the last two decades, if not my lifetime.
She is removed from her parental home after a violent crisis, then cruelly abused by her guardian, though she gains a perfect, justified revenge. She’s a bisexual twentysomething, an edgy free spirit. She is the most awkward, difficult, annoying person anyone could wish to meet. She is also brilliant, and I use that word in both the American and British usages, intellectually superior and worthy of admiration.
You would never want to be her, but you might want to know her. You certainly would not want her as your enemy; but as your friend, you would have to work hard to accept her as she is.
I read somewhere that after the European films were shot, actress Noomi Rapace had to have therapy after portraying her. (I can no longer locate the quote — it could have just been hype.) There was a solid Hollywood remake of the first story, only two years after the 2009 original, starring James Bond actor Daniel Craig. I abhor unnecessary remakes, but this version didn’t disappoint. Rooney Mara was excellent, though, with slightly less edginess than Rapace.
The question remains, when Larsson had a heart attack in 2004, did Salander die too?
The answer is “no,” thanks to another Swedish writer, David Lagercrantz. With the blessing of the original publishers, his book, “The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” continues the Millennium story with Blomkvist and Salander.
The precedent for other authors continuing the work of deceased writers is a long-standing one. Agatha Christie died in 1976 and lawyers for her estate guard her rights very rigidly. But with permission, Charles Osborne and Sophie Hannah have showcased her characters; Hercule Poirot lives on.
Sherlock Holmes stories have been continued by Anthony Horowitz, among others, and even Mrs. Hudson, the sleuth’s landlady, and Irene Adler, Holmes’ love interest, have figured in spinoffs.
Not all are successful. When Ian Fleming died, James Bond was first continued by Kingsley Amis in “Colonel Sun.” Bond’s boss, “M,” gets himself kidnapped in Greece and, well, really, it just wasn’t very plausible, especially for over-critical readers. (I was in sixth grade and wanted to picket the publishers.)
So here’s the dilemma: Read sequels and risk disappointment, or don’t read them and miss out on your favorite characters solving a new puzzle.
“The Girl in the Spider’s Web” begins with a computer expert put in danger when he returns to Scandinavia from the United States to care for his autistic son. Blomkvist, tipped to a potential newsworthy investigation about the man, is initially reluctant until he learns that Salander, with whom he has lost contact, is somehow involved. The plot features Russian criminals, a mysterious secret society and touches on the National Security Agency surveillance controversy.
A dilemma is defined as having two choices, both of them bad. I’d like to suggest another option: read the darned novel!
See for yourself how it compares.
And don’t be worried.
If you are a fan of Larsson, you will not be disappointed.
In fact, you will be rooting for Lagercrantz to write another.
North Coast writer Patrick Webb is the former managing editor of The Daily Astorian.
“The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” by David Lagercrantz.
Alfred A. Knopf, 418 pages, 2015