The Girl Who Danced with Death is a neatly pitched sequel to Runberg’s own graphic novelisation of the Millennium Trilogy (2017/2018 Titan Comics). This is a fast-paced thriller, packed with action and familiar characters shaded slightly differently. An original story that captures the dark political reality of resurgent extremism in Sweden and across Europe that has fed on the paranoia surrounding the influx of refugees from war-torn countries. Thus continuing the exploration of the themes that were so important to Steig Larsson when he wrote the original novels. Larsson was a fierce critic of fascism, so this will please his fans. The Girl Who Danced with Death is wholly consistent with Runberg’s graphic interpretation of those original novels but brings to the fore the misogyny associated with extremism in modern Sweden – a feature of the story that may be attractive to a new audience. It’s also a credible extension of the Lisbeth Salander story, fully in the spirit of the original Larsson creation; she’s angry, at times naive and foolhardy, but also resourceful, brave and fiercely true to her values and her friends.

One of the weak points in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series (the Millennium Trilogy) was that some of the sex was a little gratuitous for a novel with serious themes. It’s too harsh to accuse Larsson of misogyny but he does linger on the abuse of Salander too closely having made the point and there is always a danger of that becoming salacious. No such problem here this story eschews any strong sexual content, instead sticking to the important aspects of Larsson’s work, namely, the fight against fascism and the extreme right. The Girl Who Danced with Death attacks racism and misogynistic brutality, the subversion of the news agenda – fake news, and the underhand role of the secret services, SAPO. This is the graphic novel as platform for very modern ideas but don’t worry it’s thoroughly entertaining too.

We pick up with Lisbeth Salander (Wasp) where the Millennium Trilogy left off. Both her and Michael Blomkvist have their lives back but they estranged by a mutual mistrust and have gone their separate ways. The peace doesn’t last long, Wasp and her friend, Trinity, are on their way to a concert in Gothenburg when a van pulls up in front of them. Men in balaclavas, claiming to be SAPO, snatch Trinity but Wasp fights them off, managing to escape. The Swedish Republican Party (SRP) is making gains in the polls as the national elections approach; their message of “refugees go home” is striking a chord. They accuse the ruling Social Democrats of allowing terrorists and rapists into the country; too many Romanian and Muslim immigrants. Their leader, Sten Windoff, is charismatic and seems to have washed his hands of his dirty past. Windoff accuses Millennium magazine and Michael Blomkvist of being hostile to the SRP – part of a communist press conspiracy. Millennium is doing well online but hardcopy sales are dropping. Blomkvist won’t consider advertising, he’s too busy gunning for Windoff. Meanwhile, Lisabeth Salander and some of her hacker friends have their own little island from which to plague the authorities, they are trying to get into SAPO’s data centre to expose them and find Trinity. What they actually discover is political dynamite. In exchange for his help Salander is willing to give Blomkvist a story on Windoff. Then there is Mark Borrow, who runs seminars for men that are supposed to be confidence building courses but in reality they are thinly disguised anti-feminist, misogynistic nonsense but they are dangerous. The big question is how that is connected to the secret organisation Sparta, the SRP and a billionaire with some very nasty plans for the future of Sweden? Salander and Blomkvist intend to find out.

Once again Millennium is under economic threat, Erika is struggling with keeping the publication afloat while Blomkvist and Salander pit themselves against some nasty enemies – they have realised they need each other. Runberg takes a swipe at everything from Trump and Brexit to Putin in this novel. It reflects the current political climate and the real fear in Sweden over its growing extreme right wing. This is an up to the minute thriller. The art work helps to set the mood and intensity of a cracking story. For fans of the Millennium Trilogy but hopefully new readers too.

Paul Burke 4/4

The Girl Who Danced with Death by Sylvain Runberg and Stieg Larson
Hard Case Crime 9781785866937 pbk Dec 2018