When Stieg Larsson’s father and brother decided to continue the late author’s best-selling Millennium series, they found a brilliant successor in Swedish crime journalist David Lagercrantz. EW sat down with the fascinating, gregarious author to talk about The Girl in the Spider’s Web, and the challenges of continuing someone else’s legacy.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Taking over this series must have been daunting. How did you approach the project?
DAVID LAGERCRANTZ: First of all, I reread the books. I had read them when they came out, [but this time] I took notes. When I started writing, I was scared to death. Could I live up? Would I be a disgrace? When we announced I would write the book, all the papers sent out news flashes, as if it were some government crisis. But I think that feeling of danger drove me to write better.
Where did you get the idea for the book’s plot?
I was nervous about the plot, because one of the great things about Stieg Larsson is that his plots are so complex. One day, I remembered that I had done a story about an autistic savant—a Rain Man character. I remembered speaking to parents who had a deaf, autistic kid who didn’t speak. One day they drove past a streetlight, and the next day, without knowing anything about perspective or how to draw, he drew the streetlight exactly. I had an idea of a character like this witnessing something horrible—a murder, for example—and Lisbeth has to save him. I couldn’t write a conventional story.
Rumor has it Larsson left some outlines behind. Did you use them?
No, the only notes I used were the ones I took reading the first three books. I’m kind of a Larsson nerd, so I found lots of threads that I’m sure he would have developed. Then, of course, there are questions about the mythology of Lisbeth Salander. She’s such an extraordinary character. Her childhood: her evil father beating and raping her mother, Lisbeth fighting back. There are so many questions we haven’t had an answer for yet. Why is she such a good hacker, for example? Things like that.
She seems like a bit of a savant herself.
Yeah! So I have a character that sort of mirrors her. I think that was important.
Do you think Lisbeth Salander is a feminist heroine?
Oh yes, of course — a new kind of female heroine. I think she’s actually changed crime fiction. We don’t have any innocent, female victims anymore. She really has her own morals. She’s a crusader: A girl refusing to be a victim.
But she does have a little weakness when it comes to Mikael Blomkvist, right?
I think it’s important that you have something to contradict. She can’t just be hard, can she? She’s a tough girl, [but] she must have some weakness with Blomkvist — and Blomkvist certainly has some weakness for Lisbeth.
How did your years as a crime reporter help with the book?
I learned the importance of details. I remember when I wrote about a horrible murder, there was this Finnish guy, and he told [his victims] to get down on their knees and beg for mercy. I wrote about the crime a number of times, but it didn’t really get into me. Then I read in the police report that one of his victims hadn’t tied his shoelaces because he ran so fast from his house as he tried to get away. It was a small detail that got me to understand the horror of the moment.
What kind of crime fiction do you like to read for inspiration?
Stieg Larsson, I think, was the best.
Aside from Stieg Larsson!
Dennis Lehane, of course — I mean, he’s absolutely brilliant. And I must return to The Name of the Rose by Umberto Ecco: That’s sort of the role model for me. Brilliant, but with a lot of wisdom and knowledge. You learn something.
Does your loyalty lie more with Larsson or Lisbeth?
Both, of course. I can’t violate Lisbeth Salander, you know. She can’t have three kids and a Volvo. But I also have to develop the book in some way. I have to put something of myself in it; otherwise it wouldn’t be any good.
A version of this story originally appeared in the Sept. 4, 2015 issue of Entertainment Weekly. Pick it up on stands today, or subscribe digitally at ew.com/allaccess..