I loved Stieg Larsson’s books, but I was afraid another writer wouldn’t be able to do justice to the original series. I’m sad to report I was right.
Larsson’s books were so well written, although the trouble with reading translated literature is that it’s hard to tell how much credit should go to the writer and how much should go to the translator. I looked it up because I was curious and it turns out the books also had different translators. Larsson’s books were translated into English by Reg Keeland (a.k.a. Steven T. Murray) and they were so good! They were fun and fast-paced and full of great characters I couldn’t help rooting for.
This book was slow, badly written by David Lagercrantz, and badly translated by George Goulding. It had weak characters and its treatment of autism was just wrong.
Goulding kept using “which” when he should have used “that,” which as an English major and professional writer, just really irritated me. Did no one bother to edit this book at all before publishing it? When you know it’s going to make millions, shouldn’t that be more of an incentive to invest resources in making sure it’s a quality book? I want my money back, A. A. Knopf!
Lagercrantz’s writing wasn’t any better. It took forever for him to get to the inciting incident and I didn’t care about any of the characters (even the ones I had loved in prequels). The last scene has an exchange between Mikael and Lisbeth that’s almost cute, but then Lagercrantz ruins by adding a completely pointless line: “A star fell outside in the night sky.”
What? Is that his idea of being profound? It’s inane! Ingemar Karlsson should be fired for leaving that stupid line in the book instead of blacking it out with so many layers of black sharpie that it would never again see the light of day.
The plot revolves around the murder of Frans Balder, who was killed because he had managed to create some technology that, in the wrong hands, could do a whole lot of damage. His eight-year-old son, August, who witnessed the murder, is so severely autistic that he can’t even speak, although he has shown great promise as an artist. The murderer isn’t expecting August to be there, but his father manages to convey that he’s mentally ill and harmless right before the bullet enters his brain. The killer (who is also a father) decides to let what’s left of his conscience take over and he leaves August alive, having determined he’s not a threat.
Of course, August immediately goes into protective custody, but the police are idiots, so Lisbeth Salander, who has been following the whole thing for reasons of her own, has to figure out on her own just how much danger August is in and rush in at the very last second to save his life, taking a bullet for him in the process. It’s only a flesh wound, but it bleeds a lot in a car she manages to hijack because it was nearest to them at the time of the shooting.
Because of Lisbeth’s own history with the police, in addition to this most recent incident, she doesn’t trust them as far as she can throw them, so she decides she’ll keep August safe, take him to a safe house and make sure only Mikael knows where they are. So now Lisbeth Salander is the only person in charge of a severely autistic young boy. If you think this sounds like a recipe for disaster, you’d be right – except not because Lagercrantz has no idea how autism actually works. August and Lisbeth get along just fine and she even manages to get him to draw his father’s murderer by telling him to buck up and do what needs to be done. The implication is that they understand each other because Lisbeth is also on the autism spectrum.
I would actually believe that Lisbeth has Asperger’s, but that is not the same as debilitating autism and lumping Asperger’s in with autism is a big part of the extremely harmful misunderstandings surrounding both of them. And suggesting that telling someone who is as autistic as August is supposed to be, to just buck up and do what needs to be done would actually be effective shows a gross misunderstanding mental illness, and promoting such a misunderstanding through the medium of popular culture has the potential to do a whole lot of harm.
Also, this book did not have nearly enough Lisbeth Salander. She was always my favorite part of the original trilogy, but she only shows up every few chapters in this book and I just wanted more of her. Mostly, I wanted more of her not interacting inappropriately with a mentally disabled child.
We did get more of Lisbeth’s history, which was fascinating. Turns out she had a sister who helped get Lisbeth locked up in a mental facility way back when, while managing to get herself placed in a nice, comfy home. But her sister appears to be more like their father than their mother and she is seriously scary and she is coming for Lisbeth! It’s amazing and I would love to see this family reunion, but I’m not sure it’s worth it to suffer through the terrible writing.
I think another problem this book suffered from was that it was trying to do too much at once. It spent way too much time on Frans’s motivations as a father, and honestly, I just don’t care and it’s not important to the plot. The murder was ordered because he was creating dangerous technology, which got into this whole international conspiracy theory. Then there’s Lisbeth’s sister, who has it in for Lisbeth, but is also going after this new technology and is part of this huge underground organization of cybercriminals – even though Lisbeth has always been the computer genius in their family. Even though it’s all tied together, I think this book would have done better to focus on just the family aspect or just the cybercriminal aspect and wait until the other books to introduce other sides of the story and weave it all together.
What do you think? Should I give the next book in the series a chance? Is the story good enough to make it worth my while to suffer through the awful writing (and translating)? I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve read this one and/or the next book in the series.