STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The girl with the dragon tattoo is back. She is Lisbeth Salander, the central character in a series of books by Stieg Larsson. The author died before his books, known as the Millennium Series, were published, and now his hugely popular series has been extended with a new book by a new author. The publication has generated excitement and dismay. NPR's Lynn Neary reports.
LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: It's not the first time that a new writer has been brought in to continue a popular series after an author has died. New books by writers with best-selling franchises, like Tom Clancy and Robert Ludlum, often continued to be published long after their deaths. Sonny Mehta, editor-in-chief and president of Knopf, which publishes the Millennium books in this country, says there's a very good reason to continue the series that Stieg Larsson began.
SONNY MEHTA: Lisbeth Salander is one of the heroins, I think, of the 21st century, and a most unlikely heroine. She's brave. She's intrepid. She's unfrightenable. She's got a moral core. And I hope people will just welcome the return of this extremely unlikely pair of Salander and this crusading journalist.
NEARY: The man chosen to write the new book "The Girl In The Spider's Web" is David Lagercrantz. He's written several biographies and a novel based on the life of the British mathematician Alan Turing. But he is best known for ghostwriting an autobiography of a popular Swedish football player which was a huge bestseller in Sweden.
DAVID LAGERCRANTZ: I write best when I sort of collide myself with another man. So I think - I hope that a combination of me and Stieg Larsson will create something good.
NEARY: Lagercrantz says when the idea of writing a fourth book in the Millennium series was first proposed, he thought it was crazy. But the more he considered it, the more convinced he became that he could do it.
LAGERCRANTZ: But then I just took my fist, and I said, I'm born to do it. I'm born to do it. I've been prepared all my life to write about Lisbeth Salander because all the characters that I've written about have similarities to her. I mean, they're geniuses, badly treated. The world have treated them badly.
NEARY: Lagercrantz says he became obsessed with writing the novel. He reread Stieg Larsson's books several times, but then he had to stop.
LAGERCRANTZ: Because I had to trust myself. I had to go a little bit wild. I mean, I can't start to wonder how would Stieg Larsson have written this 'cause then I had this character in my blood system. So if you are afraid, I mean, you're not a good writer. I have to just go berserk in a way, you know, as you should in a good thriller.
NEARY: In "The Girl In The Spider's Web," Lisbeth Salander and investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist are reunited when an autistic child with an extraordinary talent for drawing and a photographic memory witnesses a murder. The plot stretches from the Silicon Valley to the coast of Sweden and pulls in both the NSA and the Swedish security police. Leaders are reintroduced to Lisbeth Salander this way.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Reading) Her enemies were hiding behind smokescreens, and this could be the reason why Salander had been unusually difficult and awkward of late. It was as if a new darkness emanated from her. Apart from a large, loudmouth boxing coach called Openza (ph) and two or three lovers of both sexes, she saw hardly anyone. More than ever, she looked like trouble. Her hair was straggly. Her eyes - threatening. And even though she sometimes made an effort, she had not become more fluent at small talk. She spoke the truth or said nothing at all.
NEARY: The release of "The Girl In The Spider's Web" is expected to be one of the biggest book launches of the year, but there's at least one person who plans to ignore it altogether.
EVA GABRIELSSON: I read original writers, not people who copy other people's books, so to say, so I won't read it.
NEARY: Eva Gabrielsson lived with Stieg Larsson for more than 30 years. But because they never married and Larsson left no will, his estate went to his father and brother. At one point, they offered Gabrielsson a settlement of more than $3 million, but she turned them down.
GABRIELSSON: These millions weren't exactly a present. They were linked to numerous demands - a spider web of them.
NEARY: Larsson's brother and father have full control over Larsson's literary legacy, and they approved hiring David Lagercrantz to write "The Girl In The Spider's Web." Their literary agent says they will donate the profits to the magazine that Larsson founded. But Gabrielsson scoffs at that, saying the publisher needs the money. She believes there is no writer who can do justice to Larson's vision.
GABRIELSSON: I mean, Stieg had a life. He had ideas. He had his own voice. He pulled that life and himself into books, and because they are so personal and so original, that's why they became such a success. You can't take that away from him by hijacking the characters and letting them continue.
NEARY: Gabrielsson's criticism is not lost on Lagercrantz.
LAGERCRANTZ: And I have the deepest respect for Eva Gabrielsson and all that she has gone through. But I also know that I make maybe her sad, and I'm sad about that, but I make so many other people happy. I've never met so much love - I mean, for fans longing for this book - in my whole life.
NEARY: Ultimately, says Gabrielsson, it is the fans who will decide the fate of this book and perhaps future ones.
GABRIELSSON: The final verdict will have to be the readers. They are smart people, and if this were to be actually worth reading or having something to say, that would be a first 'cause none of these continuations of other people's works have ever met the standard of the original writer - not once.
NEARY: But many of those books are well-received by fans. David Lagercrantz says he has worried a lot about how readers would react to his book. But now he's feeling pretty confident about "The Girl In The Spider's Web," and he welcomes any discussion it provokes. If anyone doesn't like it, well, he says, they have another option.
LAGERCRANTZ: If, God forbid, I have written a bad book, I mean, you can go back to Stieg Larsson. And what makes me so happy - that people is reading again now because the fourth book is coming out, and he is really a writer who deserves to be read again.
NEARY: In the end, Lagercrantz says, he has done all he could to capture the universe Stieg Larsson created and the genius of this unforgettable character Lisbeth Salander. Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.
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