Ghostwriter for a dead person: Lisbeth Salander novels by Larsson are bloody, but they don’t die. A new episode written by Karin Smirnoff.
Lisbeth Salander in a film adaptation of the first Millennium novels by Stieg Larsson Photo: Columbia Pictures/Zuma Press/imago
It must be incredibly well paid. This is probably the best explanation for why a few years ago the author David Lagercrantz and now also Karin Smirnoff were persuaded to act as ghostwriters for a dead person whose consent could no longer be asked, and Stieg Larsson’s so-called “Millennium” continue the series. Stieg Larsson died in 2004 at the age of only fifty and only became famous posthumously with the three Lisbeth Salander thrillers that were found in his estate.
There is still good money to be made from his name; on the cover of the latest Lisbeth Salander novel it is printed almost as large as the name of the actual author. This in turn is a thousand times better catch for all publishers involved than its ghostwriter predecessor; Because unlike him, Smirnoff is internationally well-established as a novelist, especially on the German market – the main market for crime novels from Scandinavia.
In addition, her topics are in principle well connected to the Lisbeth Salander cosmos: it’s about male violence, toxic relationships, child abuse and neglect, selfishness and giftedness. Stylistically, however, the difference could hardly be greater. While Smirnoff is undoubtedly a “literary” author who can usually be judged by high formal standards in her writing, Larsson pursued other goals with his suspense novels. So does that even fit?
The short answer is: well. Smirnoff adapts.
Karin Smirnoff: “Doom.” Translated from Swedish by Leena Flegler. Heyne Verlag, Munich 2023, 464 pages, 24 euros
Apparently the task was to take over a large part of Larsson’s well-established cast of characters and, if possible, expand them in the spirit of the original. It’s not really plausible if Lisbeth Salander, Mikael Blomkvist, the bad murder rockers from Svavelsjö MC and even the unpopular policeman Hans Faste were all in the same Norwegian backwater, 700 kilometers from Stockholm, at the same time, and for different reasons. show up – but okay.
New places, sudden deaths
A change of location never hurts. There are lots of new characters around: Lisbeth now has a niece, 13-year-old Svala, who, like her aunt, has special abilities and who is suddenly alone because her mother has disappeared and her grandmother is with her after a visit to the Svavelsjö MC died suddenly at home.
And in Mikael Blomkvist’s life, his grandson has recently been playing a big role, the son of his daughter, who is supposed to get married in the town of Gasskas, a local bigot who is playing an unpleasant role in the establishment of a new wind farm in the community.
Writing with demands and the cosmos surrounding violence and giftedness: does that even fit together?
When asked in an interview beforehand what would be different in her novel than Larsson herself, the author answered dryly that it would be bloodier. She sticks to this program, but not with the intensity with which she started.
The first two scenes are incredibly cruel and sadistically well written: Smirnoff describes the existence of a professional killer with meticulous attention to detail; and after a change of scene, the young Svala is introduced, who defends herself smartly and brutally against the death rockers’ pursuit.
Maybe an AI wrote that?
But just when you think you can’t stand this for an entire novel, it seems as if Smirnoff has put down the pen and, instead of pushing us further through shockwaves in her own dense style, has instead created an artificial intelligence lined with writing instructions.
According to the deus ex machina principle, characters come and go like little devils out of a box, improbable coincidences accumulate, and corpses appear on the side of the road as if it were just the way it should be. A certain level of tension is maintained. But you no longer have to take it all seriously, which also has advantages.