Book review: Staying true to the vision

THE DAY I called David Lagercrantz in his hotel in London for an interview was also the day of the London tube bombing (Sept 8).

When asked if he was okay, he said he was fine and was just glad that he was with his family.

Lagercrantz (below) is the Swedish author and journalist who has been tasked with continuing the Millennium series created by Swedish journalist-turned-novelist Stieg Larsson who died of a heart attack in 2004.

Larsson's series, which was published posthumously, revolves around two primary characters – hacker Lisbeth Salander and journalist Mikael Blomqvist.

The series began with the Swedish version, Men Who Hate Women (2005), but it became a worldwide hit when the English translation, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, hit the bookstands the same year.

His subsequent books, The Girl Who Played with Fire (2006) and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest (2009), established Larsson as one of the finest crime thriller writers in his country and beyond.

The books, which sold over 80 million copies, have since been adapted to film.

In 2013, Swedish publisher Norstedts contracted Lagercrantz with the offer to continue the series. Up to that point, Lagercrantz was only known for writing biographies such as I am Zlatan Ibrahimovic (about the celebrated Manchester United footballer) and Fall of Man in Wilmslow (about scientist Alan Turing).

Nevertheless, he accepted the challenge, and in 2015, released The Girl in the Spider's Web. The book soon became a huge best-seller worldwide.

This year, Lagercrantz came out with the fifth book in the series, The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye, which is currently doing well.

Critics and fans have since applauded Lagercrantz's efforts to stay true to Larsson's vision, though initially, he faced some controversies over being selected to continue the series.

Lagercrantz clarified that he did not approach the publishers for the job. He had written two biographies and told his agent that he wanted to do other things.

"One day, I got a call from the publishing house and we met in a room in the basement without any windows," recalled Lagercrantz who admitted it sounded like a scene from his books.

"The strange thing is that I would have never ever considered doing anything like this, but when they suggested it, I did not hesitate for a second.

"I felt a fervour and passion to do it. Maybe it is because I loved [Larsson's] books so much and also because of the challenge of writing a series like this, something I had not done before."

Lagercrantz added that his contract only stipulates that he writes three books in the series.

Stepping into the world created by Larsson was, of course, daunting.

"I could understand the Mikael Blomkvist character and I could identify with him in many ways. I am a reporter myself," Lagercrantz said, but that did not stop him from cracking jokes about how women fall so easily for this middle-aged character.

"I would joke that I didn't understand that part, because it's never happened to me!"

Lisbeth, however, is the more pivotal character in the series, and Lagercrantz has been re-introducing people from her past.

"The twin sister Camilla who was mentioned previously (by Larsson) as being manipulative, beautiful and the father's favourite, I had some clues there. Otherwise, I have to invent them.

"I thought it was my mission to delve deeper into the mythology behind the book. "

He said Larsson himself has left a lot of questions unanswered about Lisbeth such as why she has a dragon tattoo. "I think it was part of my job to deepen and add the darkness."

Lagercrantz was inspired somewhat by the Batman movies which just kept adding to the caped crusader's mythology.

"Asking why is a good thing. There should always be a mystery in some way. It is good to deepen it and answer some of the mysteries."

Lisbeth was sent to prison in Spider's Web (for saving a child) and stays there until almost halfway through Eye for an Eye.

Explaining his rationale for leaving her incarcerated, Lagercrantz said: "Prison was a good surrounding for a girl like her. She is a natural hero, and an underdog like Lisbeth Salander needs tough surroundings, she needs trouble.

"The prison angle also provided an interesting story about how Lisbeth decides to help a bullied inmate who has a contract put out on her by her brothers."

On Lisbeth and Mikael's relationship, Lagercrantz said: "They are such good partners because they need each other.

"We don't really know what kind of relationship they have. They are attracted to each other but they are also friends.

"They also have a bit of a father-daughter, mother-son relationship. That is part of the excitement and you don't know what is really going on between them. …

"I think we should just keep wondering.Maybe, Lisbeth and Mikael will come together but they will certainly not settle down and have kids. That would not be Lisbeth Salander."

Lagercrantz is happy that his two books have been well received, believing that it was his passion with the story and characters that had won over those who doubted his capabilities.

"I thought it was a challenge and I was always scared of living up to his great work. To me, it was pure passion."

Now, a new generation of readers are going back to Larsson's first three books and learning more about him.

"I will always be humbled and privileged to work on Stieg Larsson's creation," said Lagercrantz. "There will always be something extraordinary about his books."