I decided to re-read my Kindle collection of the Millennium Series after a conversation with my son, Thomas, who was all praise for the original Swedish movie series with Noomi Rapace as the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. He described the series as very ‘taut’. The Millenium trilogy consists of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. They were written by Karl Stig-Erland “Stieg” Larsson, a Swedish writer, journalist, and activist and published posthumously. These are adventures where a crusader-journalist and a computer hacker team up to reveal the dark side of Sweden: crimes, scandals, corrupt politics and murder. Critics have hailed Salander in her adventures as a unique, complex character in her quest for revenge. Amazon site claims that By 2019, the series had sold more than 100 million copies worldwide.
With the passing of Larsson, David Lagercrantz, continued the series, though raising considerable controversy. He wrote “The Girl in the Spider’s Web, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest and The Girl Who Lived Twice” proving that authors need not worry whether the popular characters they created would survive their death. After Robert Ludlum breathed his last, Eric Van Lustbader stepped in to continue the Jason Bourne adventures. Frank Herbert’s Dune series has six books. Following his death, his son Brian Herbert collaborated with Kevin Anderson to create 17 more books set on the desert planet. In many cases, the continuation is almost automatic, without a decent interval of lamenting the departed author’s memory.
Lagercrantz’s stories are rather dreary, with long, condescending passages about genetics and social research. The plot is slow moving and there is an attempt to create tension artificially by interruptions and delays. Despite having all the resources of the Millennium series at his disposal, Laegercrantz does not appear to deliver. Thankfully, he has declined to continue the series beyond the sixth.
The latest book in the series, The Girl in the Eagle’s Talons is written by Karen Smirnoff, a best-selling Swedish author whose books are said to have sold close to a million copies. Karin Smirnoff had a journalistic background before writing her debut novel, My Brother, which was nominated for the prestigious August Prize. In 2020 her trilogy featuring Jana Kippo became a bestseller in Sweden. In 2021, she was anointed as the new writer to continue the Millennium series.
The development of natural resources on a large scale is often an invitation to capitalist exploitation in which criminal elements get embroiled. The story happens in Gasskas, a fictional town in northern Sweden, where journalist Mikael Blomkvist has come to visit and participate in his estranged daughter’s wedding to the town commissioner, Henry Salo. Millennium, his news magazine, has stopped publication and its creators are planning to bring it out as podcasts, much to the disgust of Mikael. Ever since the closure of the magazine, he has been kind of lost and purposeless. Blomkvist’s sister and brother-in-law are implicated in some evil goings-on and he is compelled to go north to reclaim their innocence.
Coincidentally, Lisbeth Salander is also at Gasskas because her sister-in-law has vanished along with access to $400 million in Bitcoin, leaving her daughter Svala an orphan. The prematurely mature Svala is an interesting addition to the Millennium Zoo of odd characters. She possesses many of her aunt’s characteristics, a high-level IQ and a determination to ensure the bad guys get their comeuppance. Despite her dislike of relationships, Lisbeth is bent on protecting her niece and searching for her mother. Svala is fiercely independent and joins Lisbeth to figure out what’s happening and save her mother.
Salo, a businessman, has been focused on attracting companies to set up wind farms in the vast forests around town. The prime obstruction to his business plan is his mother, who lives in a remote cabin in the woods and refuses to vacate her property. Another hurdle is a group of people herding reindeer for whom the development means the potential shutting down of grazing land.
The villain is Marcus Branco, a thalidomide victim bent upon winning the energy deal in Gassdas. He has acquired huge tracts of Swedish land, including a huge underground Swedish military establishment. Marcus Branco, the evil sexual predator, is behind the happenings. Lisbeth and Blomkvist once again team up to set everything right.
A third evil element is Svalelsjö, Sweden’s criminal biker gang. Salander and Blomkvist have had previous encounters with these people. Their relocation from Stockholm is in the hope of profiting from the ongoing criminal activities.
Smirnoff has brought the protagonists back to life after their fading away in the three books which followed the millennium series. The plot is eventful and tightly knit. It is reported that the response to the book has been excellent and it is good news to Salander fans that more books are planned in the series. Fast-paced, with sudden twists and diversions, and with a large cast of characters, the reader will race through the four hundred-odd pages without realizing it.
Here, Lisbeth is conspicuously warmer than her depiction as a fiercely self-contained person as depicted in the past. She remembers her childhood and her sister Camilla. The similarities in the lives of Svala and Lisbeth are brought to our attention. Both had abusive fathers and ineffective and helpless mothers. Lisbeth has great empathy for Svala and realises the need for her to be strong to survive. On Svala’s maturity, Lisbeth comments that there’s “…a preachy old lady living inside that kid.” We should watch how Smirnoff would develop Svala in the future sequels.
Larsson was obsessed with themes like Swedish racist organisations with extreme right-wing manifestos, human trafficking, domestic and child abuse, and environmental threats. Smirnoff’s journalistic experience and background are evident, as shown by her informed and detailed comments on green energy and climate change.
The seventh book in the Millennium series offers us a happy return to the strong Millennium writing. The story is propelled along by exceptionally skilful narration. Smirnoff is a welcome addition to plan the Salander saga into future adventures.
Smirnoff’s writing style is unique with terse, staccato sentences she employs skillfully to keep readers in suspense. She is also an expert in the expansive descriptions of her settings. The unique perspective she brings to the writing is characterised by complex plotting interspersed with dramatic action, all mixed with social commentary. The writing has a distinct literary flavour with a concentrated drop of humour noir.