#RivetingReviews: Max Easterman reviews THE GIRL IN THE EAGLE’S TALONS by Karin Smirnoff

There have been three post-Stieg Larsson Millennium novels written by David Lagerkrantz and featuring Lisbeth Salander (‘the girl with the dragon tattoo’) and Mikael Blomkvist, the investigative journalist with Millennium magazine. I reviewed the first of these, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, in 2015 and found it rather bland, less than thrilling, and somewhat over-written. Well, the Spider’s Web has given way to the Eagle’s Talons and those criticisms are not ones I can in any way level at Karin Smirnoff, the new author of this seventh book in the series. Her style is taut, pacy, terse, sprinkled with sparkling witticisms – Memories come raining down like becquerels dropping on Chernobyl and it creates a sense of place that focuses the action perfectly, all smoothly translated by Sarah Death. Smirnoff is undoubtedly a worthy successor to Larsson and has captured the spirit and flavour of his writing without in any way slavishly copying it.

The ’place’ for this story is in the far north of Sweden, in Norrbotten county, in the little town of Gasskas – there is no real Gasskas, though there is a Café Gasskas in Jokkmokk, a real local municipality, which no doubt was its inspiration. Norrbotten borders on Finland where some of the action takes place; but the story is essentially about the exploitation of natural resources – wind power and rare metals – in what is otherwise an unspoiled and underpopulated region of Swedish Lapland. The theme is bang up to date: the drive to provide cheap electricity – clean energy to replace dirty, expensive Russian gas and oil – a highly profitable business for whomever gets in first. 

But this is not why either Salander or Blomqkvist have turned up in this god-forsaken town. With her usual reluctance to do anything dictated by someone else, Salander has been pressured into coming to help a niece Svala, whom she didn’t even know existed (and wishes she didn’t), whose mother is the latest of several women from Gasskas to disappear without trace. Salander views Svala as an unnecessary and burdensome imposition and it’s only the fact that the teenager is both an unnaturally gifted mathematician and is being tailed by the local drugs mafia that persuades her aunt not to head back to Stockholm in short order. 

Mikael Blomkvist, meanwhile, is depressed by the demise of Millennium magazine, in its last print-run and heading for re-invention as a podcast, which will effectively put him out of a job. He has also arrived in Gasskas on family business, to attend his daughter’s wedding to the local council’s chief executive, Henry Salo. Salo’s job is to deliver his political masters’ plans to build a huge windfarm in virgin forest, plans which are not only being fought over by several international corporations determined to make as much as they can: there are also the local people to contend with – mainly Sami, whom Salo is wont to refer to as bloody Lapps – which is an appalling insult. The project will destroy their traditional activity of reindeer herding and at least some Sami are prepared to fight to the death to block it. 

That is, however, only one strand in this complex and gripping thriller: climate change, small-town political corruption, malevolent and unscrupulous commercial interests, child sex abuse, the Bitcoin scandal and even the survival of Swedish democracy – all come together …not in some district in Stockholm, which might have a natural explanation, but in Gasskas. A dump in the remote inland of Norrbotten with a population of 3.4 per square kilometre and nothing else but forest. There must, Lisbeth Salander reflects, be a connection.

Indeed, there is, and once she realises that being an aunt to her – temporarily? – motherless niece is less of a problem than finding the mother, she begins to see that connection and that she faces some very old as well as some entirely new enemies. Blomkvist is also starting to see connections in the windfarm affair: Salo is clearly hiding something and there are rumours he’s ‘on the take’. He is soon out of his depth and his bungling attempts to keep both the Sami and the developers on side come to a devastating climax at his wedding to Blomkvist’s daughter Pernilla.

There is mystery and tension on every page of this contemporary and very relevant story. Smirnoff builds up the intrigue whilst cleverly peeling back layer after layer of local tension and small-town relationships until  Salander and Blomkvist find themselves working together once again in a race against time, as the first snows of Winter fall. The relevance of the ‘eagles’ in the title is not clear until the race is almost over … and in the evil genius who weaves the strands together, Smirnoff has created a truly magnificent character. This is a tough book to put down.

Reviewed by Max Easterman

THE GIRL IN THE EAGLE’S TALONS

Written by Karin Smirnoff

Translated from the Swedish by Sarah Death 

Published by Maclehose Press/Quercus (2023)

December 2023 #RivetingReviews titles are available to buy from bookshop.org.


Max Easterman spent thirty-five years as a BBC broadcaster. He was a lecturer in journalism for seventeen years at Huddersfield University and is today a translator, media trainer with Sounds Right, jazz musician and reviewer.


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