This is the third Lisbeth Salander novel by David Lagercrantz, so it’s the sixth in the Millennium series. By a short nose it’s a better read than The Girl in the Spider’s Web and a return to form after the slightly disappointing The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye. When he took on the series, Lagercrantz didn’t, thank goodness, attempt to copy Stieg Larsson’s style, it wouldn’t have worked. He gave the novels a new feel, they are more literary, less explosive, a bit more realistic. Having a fresh approach to familiar characters was the only way to breath new life into the series. It worked well, The Girl in the Spider’s Web was an entertaining thriller that managed to keep the spirit of Larsson’s work alive without mimicking it, so does this novel. The second novel in the series was less successful but it takes a writer time to get used to their characters and the stories they inspire. That brings us to The Girl Who Lived Twice. Now Lagercrantz is comfortable with his material and the story and the technical detail that backs it up. The Girl Who Lived Twice is intriguing and engaging.

Stockholm: Mostly people don’t pay any attention to the beggar, a young couple who noticed him saw him as a ‘crazy dwarf’. The mumbling figure hung out near the fountain by the statue of Thor in Mariatorget. He wore a distinctive marmot parka and once wrote a message that he pinned to the bus stop wall. A nurse tried to read the garbled notes. Were they the ravings of a paranoid schizophrenic? If so, why did a man in an Audi turn up and tear the message down? The beggar wandered off one night and died in the nearby wood, the body was found by Ingela Dufua, but the police missed the poisoned bottle of alcohol he’d dropped a few yards away. The autopsy showed that he’d been poisoning himself for years, bad alcohol is hardly unusual for a man in his position. There was no ID on the body and that bothered Fredrika Nyman, the medical examiner.

Mikael Blomkvist hasn’t seen Lisbeth Salander since the funeral of Holger Palmgren, her former guardian. He worries about her, she has enemies. On the way home from the Millennium magazine office he heads to her flat in Fiskargatan but only finds a woman moving in and no sign of Lisbeth, she has sold up and gone. Of course, it’s not unusual for her to maintain sporadic contact, or even to disappear. As he arrives home Blomkvist gets a call from Nyman, she found his number among the tramp’s meagre possessions. Despite a description of the man, scars, toes and fingers missing due to frost bite, Blomkvist doesn’t recognise him. Blomkvist can’t help Nyman but his curiosity is aroused and he isn’t exactly enjoying the magazine’s investigation into Russian hacking.

Lisbeth is watching Blomkvist at the old flat from her laptop. She’s in Manazhnaya Square, Moscow, getting ready for a night out. She wants to protect Mikael Blomkvist but there’s a personal matter to take care of first:

“I will be the hunter and not the hunted.”

She approaches the restaurant where several Moscow VIPs are gathering for a glitzy party. Vladimir Kuznetsov, petty crook turned celebrity chef, actually runs a troll factory (fake news, anti-Semitic bile, election tampering and fomenting genocide). He greets his guests but looks a little nervous as the last limo pulls up. As Kuznetsov approaches the car and the driver opens the door for the woman passenger Lisbeth launches her plan. First, the cyber attack, then she approaches Kuznetsov with the Barretta at her side.

Enter Lisbeth Salander’s sister Camilla, now known as Kira, a woman who has adopted all her father’s bad traits and psychotic tendencies. Remember Alex Zalachenko beat their mother to death many years ago. When Lisbeth’s attempt to kill Kira goes wrong, she and Mikael Blomkvist are in grave danger. Russian gangsters, mad scientists, an expedition to climb Everest and woman hell bent on revenge.

The Girl Who Lived Twice has moved on a little from Larsson’s concerns and there are several modern themes at the heart of the novel but, of course, the fast moving high tech world features heavily. The sexual sadism has been dialled down and the violence is less pronounced, I think that makes these novels more accessible for a wider audience, the original Millennium trilogy was pretty full on. Lagercrantz is a different kind of writer and well aware that #MeToo changed things for new thrillers.

The novel is as much about Mikael Blomkvist as it is Lisbeth Salander but it’s a good balance, more realistic and grounded, although not totally. This is a more of a slow burn read, at times slightly meandering, nonetheless it’s a decent thriller, better for less pyrotechnics on show.

Translated by George Goulding who has worked with Lagercrantz on his three Salander novels and his brilliant novel about Alan Turing, Fall of Man in Wilmslow.

Paul Burke 4/3

The Girl Who Lived Twice by David Lagercrantz
MacLehose Press 9780857056368 hbk Aug 2019