The Girl Who Lived Twice by David Lagercrantz
Knopf 368 pp.
By Charlie Gofen
What an opportune moment for the release of the sixth book in the best-selling Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series.
Investigative reporter Mikael Blomkvist returns just in time to shore up beleaguered journalists everywhere who need an indisputable hero after enduring Trump’s war on truth and malicious “enemy of the people” rhetoric. The intrepid Blomkvist, who was once depicted in a Dragon Tattoo movie by Bond actor Daniel Craig, always gets the story he’s seeking and somehow manages to have a lot of sex along the way and survive the occasional kidnapping and torture, too.
Genius hacker Lisbeth Salander is back as well, meting out her unique version of vengeance to men who mistreat women. (The fifth installment in the series was published just before the Harvey Weinstein revelations in late 2017 – and well before the Kavanaugh hearings – so it’s especially exciting to have our favorite #MeToo activist operational again.) Salander, who rises to Hannibal Lecter status as one of the most memorable characters in contemporary fiction, is the main attraction of the Dragon Tattoo books. In addition to her world-class computer skills and photographic memory, she’s a force of nature – wounded, asocial, angry, the victim of a traumatic childhood under a sadistic father who strikes back furiously when she encounters injustice. In the first installment of the series, she turns the tables on her legal guardian after he sexually assaults her, torturing him and then branding him a rapist with a tattoo machine.
The Girl Who Lived Twice delivers a suspenseful story, offering some welcome escapism as the summer comes to a close. Readers who have enjoyed previous books in the series will enjoy this one as well.
Journalist Stieg Larsson created the Swedish crime novel series (also known as the Millennium series, which is the name of Blomkvist’s magazine) and had planned to write 10 books, but he died unexpectedly in 2004 after having written only three of the novels, all of which were published posthumously. Author and journalist David Lagercrantz then took over the series and wrote what are now books four through six, emulating the Larsson formula.
Just as James Bond must at some point sport a tuxedo, order a martini, win a high-stakes card game, bed a beautiful woman, and destroy the sociopathic villain, a Dragon Tattoo book has its own familiar tropes. Lisbeth Salander must do some brilliant computer hacking and also viciously avenge a crime against a women or child. Blomkvist must reveal a scandal reaching into the highest echelons of government. There will be violence, and at least one of our two heroes will be in peril at some point. Often the other will come to the rescue. Both of them will have sex, although not necessarily with one another.
In addition to having the formula down, Lagercrantz offers the distinctive slow rhythms of Nordic crime fiction. (At the same time, he has learned to tighten up the books, which was not Larsson’s forte.)
The Girl Who Lived Twice has two plot lines, one featuring Salander and the other featuring Blomkvist. Predictably, the two stories ultimately merge.
The Blomkvist story starts with the discovery of an unidentified dead beggar who was found in a public park with Blomkvist’s phone number in his pocket. Blomkvist investigates and helps identify the deceased and uncover his ties to a scandal involving a high-ranking government official. In a particularly clever twist, the story arcs back to a tragic Mount Everest expedition reminiscent of the infamous 1996 Everest disaster with socialite Sandy Pittman, guide Anatoli Boukreev, and journalist Jon Krakauer.
The Salander story pits Lisbeth against her evil twin sister Camilla. The sisters had suffered together as children under their abusive father, but they ended up on opposite sides, with Lisbeth defending their mother and Camilla supporting their father (and joining a Russian crime syndicate). Lizbeth and Camilla first battled one another in book four and survived, but it becomes clear early in book six that this is to be the definitive confrontation. (“Neither Lisbeth nor Camilla will give up until one of them is lying dead,” Lagercrantz writes.)
Salander uses her hacking skills – and the assistance of her resourceful colleagues in the Hacker Republic – to track Camilla, but when she has the opportunity to take out her evil sister, she can’t bring herself to do it. “What the hell was her problem?” Lagercrantz writes. “She could burn men with irons. She could tattoo words onto their bellies. She could go completely wild. But she could not shoot her sister – not if her own life depended on it.”
Without giving away too much of the story, Salander ends up helping Blomkvist with his investigation (among other feats, she becomes an instant expert in genome sequencing to help identify the John Doe), and Blomkvist ends up getting sucked into the Lisbeth-Camilla battle.
Lagercrantz has indicated that The Girl Who Lived Twice may be his last book in the series, and his final sentence of the novel – “It felt like it was time for something new” – hints at his plans to move on.
Given that Salander and Blomkvist still have some fight left in them, fans of the series can root for another author to pick up the mantle. It would be fun to see what Taffy Brodesser-Akner would do with Lisbeth Salander.
Charlie Gofen is an investment counselor in Chicago who has taught high school and been a newspaper reporter.