In the seventh instalment of the Millenium Series (also known as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series), a woman has taken up the pen, which is an unexpected development considering the series’ emphasis on a strong female protagonist.
The latest novel, The Girl in the Eagle’s Talons, is Karin Smirnoff’s continuation of the series begun by Steig Larson and continued after his death by David Lagercrantz.
In Eagle’s Talon, Smirnoff relocates the story from Stockholm to a northern Swedish rural town that is struggling against the icy economics of big business’ attempts to exploit the area’s natural riches.
There is strain on our main characters, as there was in the first six Dragon Tattoo novels. Despite having never been one to embrace the typical domestic life, Lisbeth Salander, the Girl with the Tattoo, finds herself in in loco parentis mode when she has to take care of her 13-year-old niece, Svala.
Salander, an introvert by nature, resists taking on the surrogate mother role at first, but soon realises that her niece, like her, has more hidden talents and skills than meets the eye. Salander and Svala share a similar outlook on what is ethically and legally required to survive, but they arrive at this conclusion in different ways.
Salander’s former partner in crime, Mikael Blomkvist, also happens to be in the neighbourhood at the same time, mulling over his own family issues in light of his daughter’s imminent marriage. But his journalistic instincts tell him there’s more to his potential son-in-law’s history than first appear. It’s evident that life in rural Sweden is just as challenging as in the darkest reaches of Stockholm, thanks to local crime syndicates; monsters who think nothing of murdering and raping to further their commercial operations.
Smirnoff interweaves these two interrelated family arcs with broader themes of environmental degradation, political corruption, and gang violence. There are several story threads in Eagle’s Talons, and not all of them are resolved, which makes it feel like a setup for the other nine books in the series.
In particular, the introduction of Svala seems to set the stage for future sequels, maybe out of an acknowledgment that it would be difficult for any author, or even three in this case, to keep two major characters interesting over the course of 10 novels.
There’s plenty of nods to previous incarnations of the series by both Larsson and Largercrantz and there’s no flinching away from graphic violence and the disturbing themes that have shaped previous Millenium novels.
Smirnoff does a better job of fleshing out Salander’s persona in this work but may have sketched Blomkvist less convincingly. There are several characters’ points of view contending for the reader’s attention, as well as several story arcs and themes, and the book at times reads more like a notepad of unfinished ideas than a complete work. This is a return to form for the series, as it features the kind of thoughtful societal criticism that was present in Larsson’s first trilogy but absent in Largercrantz’s second. Having formed a new voice, Lagercrantz’s and Smirnoff have given us the opportunity to learn more about Larsson’s flawed but eminently human characters.
Smirnoff’s foray into the world of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo isn’t perfect, but readers will find enough to keep them interested in novels 8, 9, and 10 and a thrilling build up to how the story mays end.