The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye, by David Lagercrantz

This is another entertaining thriller from the author who took up the mantle of Stieg Larsson. It is again about Lisbeth Salander, the computer hacker, and Mikael Blomkvist, the journalist committed to social justice. In this case, it is about their tense confrontations with villains who claim they are legitimate scientists. These scientists have been conducting a study of twins, a study intended to prove how differently twins evolve when brought up in different environments. But Lisbeth and Michael learn it is also a study that cares little about the harmful effect of this study on the twins.

Since Lisbeth is a twin herself, and was brought up apart from her twin sister, this study interests her. Especially when she discovers the harm it has done to various twins, and the desperate efforts of the scientists to hide those harmful effects. However, when we encounter her, she is in prison for a fabricated crime that is not made clear. And the initial tension of the novel rises in that prison between a fellow prisoner, Faria Kazi, and another female prisoner, Benito. Faria belongs to an Islam family whose sons are zealously guarding the family “honor,” after their sister Faria falls in love with a boy outside their clan. And Faria, is in jail after her revenge against one brother who tried to preserve the family honor by ordering the death of her fiancé.

In other words, there are various stories going on here. One is about Lisbeth’s prison life and the evil Benito, a woman prisoner who runs the jail because of an ineffective, cowardly administration. Another is about Lisbeth’s former guardian, Holmer Palmgren who visits her with news of the twins study. And still another is about the Islam family and the conflict between their daughter and her brothers. Finally, considerable space is spent with two of the twins in the study, Leo Mannheimer and Dan Brody, both prodigies, one a financier and the other a musician. They live opposite lives, of wealth and poverty, and then discover each other and want to expose what has happened to them. Another is about a dying woman scientist, Rakel Greitz, who does not hesitate at murder in order to conceal the cruelty and illegality of the twins study. While still another story follows police inspector Jan Bublanski, whom Lisbeth and Mikael rely on to help them expose and arrest the villains.

Because she is in prison for much of the novel, Lisbeth does not dominate the action here, not as she has done so in past novels. Her partner in the series, Mikael plays a more significant role. A famous journalist, he is a defender of social justice, and he seeks to expose the study of twins for his magazine, Millennium. It is he and Bublanski who control the final action, but considerable time is spent, in the meantime, with the twins Leo and Dan as they seek to adjust to an incompatible world, then discover one another and maneuver desperately to survive the evil scientist, Grietz, who does not wish the study to be exposed. And who, moreover, enlists Faria’s family to help protect the secret. Which also results in Lisbeth being kidnapped. Thus is built the reader’s concern that Mikael and Bublanski thwart the villains, that Lisbeth be rescued, and that Faria and Dan be saved.

What also increases the suspense of this novel is a narrative technique employed by author Lagercrantz. Through much of the novel he constantly switches the action from one confrontation to another, or from one moment in time to another. The result is that we continually leave a crisis faced by one character and go to one faced by another. Thus he moves back and forth from Lisbeth to Benito to Faria Kazi, or from Dan Brody to Leo to Greitz, or from Mikael to Bubanski to Lisbeth. For some critics, this switching of viewpoints is too much, but for me it does work to heighten the novel’s suspense.

One drawback to this novel that critics have cited is that there is too much going on. There are too many plots: the prison violence, the murders involving the twins study, one in the past and one in the present, the turmoil in the Moslem family, the kidnapping of Lisbeth, and the back story of Leo and Dan, also both in the past and in the present. And that as a result the novel has no textual depth. There is certainly a legitimacy to this complaint. But what these various plots do is keep the narrative moving and intensify the suspense up and .

But my major complaint is that the novel ends too neatly. There is a final dramatic confrontation or two, but the good guys win and the bad guys lose somewhat matter-of-factly. There are no dramatic revelations, no unexpected ironies, no changes in the reader’s understanding of the characters or their motivation. There is no punch at the end.

Another matter I did not grasp was the title. Not that any title in this series could not be exchanged with one of the others. All present Lisbeth as the main protagonist. But the revenge suggested by this title is not evident, and Lisbeth certainly does not play the prominent role that she does in the other novels.

I will be interested in more adventures of Lisbeth and Mikael as they appear in further novels by Lagercrantz. But, in retrospect, I do agree with the critics above, and I would hope this new author concentrates on a more simple line of action, rather then the complexity he offers here. So that he can probe more deeply into either his characters or into those matters of social and political justice that Mikael writes about. And that so fascinated Larsson in his original novels. (September, 2018)