Taking over a saga like Steig Larsson's Millennium series following the death of its creator seems like a big ask, but David Lagercrantz has managed it. The writer has created a gripping story in his own literary voice but capturing the best of Larsson's style. The Girl in the Spider's Web (published by Columna as El que no et mata et fa més fort) is the fourth entry in series and tells a tale of espionage, artificial intelligence and mathematics in which the strange Lisbeth Salander and journalist Michael Blomkvist meet once more.
What did you think when the Nostedts publisher offered you the fourth part?
That it was a joke, but when I realised it was for real, I became completely taken with the idea because I loved the books and the characters. I was also scared and at first I couldn't write a thing because I felt the pressure of all the fans and critics, it was if he was breathing down my neck. One reasons I decided to go for it was because I saw that Larsson and I shared a lot of things: we were both journalists from the same generation.
Was it difficult to take on Larsson's voice?
Yes, but I told myself that the reader had to feel at home in the Millennium universe. At the start it was hard to find the code that Larsson had created: the changes of perspective and his narrative, but I did not want to copy him entirely because I could never pretend to be him, so I had to make it mine and express myself on the page. What's more, by reading the first three books I was able to see certain indications of where he wanted to take it and where he wanted to focus Lisbeth's story.
What do you think he would think?
When he died, most people did not know who he was. In fact, although both us were journalists, I didn't know who he was either. Now, since his death, he has become famous, like Kafka or Van Gogh. I do not know what he would think of my book, but if he were to see who he has become, it would make him happy.
Larsson created the two main characters. Was it hard to write about them without knowing the person who thought them up?
No really, because in a way I already knew them. It is always difficult to make up new characters, which you as a writer feel are real. For this I had to research two things: the real and fictional life of Larsson's world. While he was the genius who created them, once I had uncovered his code I began to feel that characters were also mine.
Which of the two were most difficult to portray?
Salander was the hardest because she has quite a complex structure. Meanwhile he is the boy I want to be: a brilliant journalist who fights for his stories. So, it was easier to get inside him, because I identified with him. However, with Lisbeth I had to learn to understand her so that I could portray her.
Salander is cold but also very strong. Do you feel readers identify with her?
I think at least for women because only a few years ago the classic heroines were all princess types, sitting in castles waiting for their white knights. Lisbeth is very different and everything designed to weaken her makes her stronger. She is a new type of feminist heroine that challenges the cliché.
The book starts with a case of spying reminiscent of the Snowden case. Was that an inspiration?
Of course, Snowden is a hero who has educated us and shown us how things really work and that they are watching us. Salander needs challenges, so I could not resist turning her into a hacker.
What do you think about the controversial issue of hackers?
In most cases I think that the hacking is illegal and unethical, but if the United States hack us, maybe we need people who can do it back to them, don't you think? In the writing I learnt that there are three types of hackers: black, grey and white, and not all of them are bad. While I was researching the novel, I contacted some hackers to learn about the issue and they told me a lot about it.
The saga deals with contemporary issues. Is that one of the keys of its success?
Yes, their moral struggles are important. They are not just entertainment but deal with real causes, which make you furious, and that has driven the success.
How did the writing process and creating the characters go?
There was a period when I was getting up at four in the morning because when the publisher proposed continuing the Millenium saga they also demanded a good plot. So I spent a lot of time until I found a good one. One positive thing was that I live in an area close to the places that appear in the other books, so I would visit them to get inspiration. To come up with the new characters I took elements from literature and from real life, and put a bit of myself into them. The professor, for example, is inspired by Alan Turing.
Do you think the rise of the crime novel is because itreflect real life cases?
Yes, reading crime novels is like therapy because they have heroes who solve problems and, usually, there is a happy ending. Perhaps noir fiction plays the role of addressing our concerns about injustices.