It’s a crowded couple of weeks in August during which “The Girl Who Lived Twice” unfolds. The thriller is the sixth Lisbeth Salander novel in what has come to be known as The Millennium Series, begun by Swedish author Steig Larsson a decade-and-a-half ago.
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” available in America in 2008, was the first of the original trilogy of novels delivered by Larsson to his publisher shortly before the author’s death in 2004.
The novels that make up the original trilogy are centered on a truly odd couple: a middle–aged financial journalist who is part-owner of a struggling magazine and a then-24-year-old computer expert with Asperger syndrome. The tattoos that adorn her body are more an unconscious defense against the outside world than they are an attempt to make a statement.
Mikael Blomkvist’s conviction on libel charges has left him with a short jail sentence, a large fine and money troubles at Millennium, the financial magazine he has nurtured from its infancy. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” turns out to be, for the most part, one taut thriller.
Along with that book, “The Girl Who Played with Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” became blockbusters.
In 2013, David Lagercrantz was chosen to continue the series with “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” and “The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye.”
Lagercrantz certainly doesn’t stint on the expected Salander-novel thrills in “The Girl Who Lived Twice.” In fact, he sets the stage from the very first: Blomkvist remembers asking Salander after their last adventure: “What are you going to do now?” Salander’s response: “I will be the hunter and not the hunted.”
Then the novel manages to turn its two primary characters into secondary ones.
Not that the book isn’t often rousing. Blomkvist’s phone number is in the pocket of an old street beggar found dead beneath a tree. “I know something about Johannes Forsell,” the beggar would babble to anyone who’d listen, Forsell being the current Swedish minister of defense.
Blomkvist’s investigations discover that the beggar was a Sherpa, one who had been part of a number of expeditions to the top of Mount Everest, especially the expedition that included Forsell. It is a time in the minister of defense’s life that still haunts him.
It is then that this latest Salander novel steadfastly replicates the structure of the first Salander novel — or is it the structure of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None”?
The mystery of what really happened on that Everest expedition doggedly remains front and center as Salander and Blomkvist are rather much forgotten.
We might be reminded that Millennium is still a struggling magazine, that Blomkvist still misses Salander, that Salander still favors black jeans and hoodies and sneakers on occasion (though she has removed all those piercings), that her past (especially her sister Camilla) still haunts her, but the pair linger in the background until the book’s fiery finale. (Says Salander — with very little nuance — about her life: “People have always been out to get me.”)
Lagercrantz can even include the requisite politics — this time it’s Russian disinformation networks, organized crime and counterintelligence. He can even include the requisite violence — there’s a horrifying scene involving a raging industrial furnace. But our focus keeps shifting back to the mystery of what happened on Everest. Blomkvist and Salander remain static and basically peripheral to the central plot.
All of this might not matter to fans of The Millennium Series. Yet there is that nagging sense that “The Girl Who Lived Twice” is essentially just an icy (despite that fiery furnace), British-style, locked-room mystery, with its “detectives” — this time out — painted with very broad strokes.
Steven Whitton is a retired Professor of English.