Driving Ms. Elizabeth: Will the Tattooed Girl arrive in her Ducati…or a sputtering Vespa?

The drumbeat of publicity for the August release of the fourth Stieg Larsson book that is really not the fourth Stieg Larsen book has become louder. Leading the parade is David Lagencrantz, the publisher’s chosen heir to Stieg Larsson’s authorial chair.

In a recent interview with EW, Lagencrantz said he had dug deeply into the soul of our heroine. He struck a Bloomkvist-like pose, trying on the mantle of that character’s own thoughts about Elizabeth Salander: “She still is a riddle…but I’m just crazy about her.”

As for the “fourth book” controversy, Norstedt, its publisher, neatly sidesteps that conundrum by rather slyly promoting the book as “the fourth installment.”

One person who is absolutely, positively guaranteed not to join in the publicity-generated huzzahs is, of course, the clearly still bitter Eva Gabrielsson, Stieg’s long-time companion, who saw both his legacy and his royalties pulled out from under her by the Swedish courts (because they were not legally married). Says she: “This is not about continuing the life of a hero, it’s about a publishing house that needs money, [and] a writer who doesn’t have anything to write so he copies someone else.”

(The long-lingering controversy over the morality of generating sequels written on behalf of a famous author no longer with us was cleverly characterized by a comment posted on the web that sympathized with Gabrielsson: “From what I hear, negotiations have been completed with the Shakespeare family to start a new series of tragedies originally planned by William. Both the publishers and family assure readers that the new writer, David Rosencrantz will be true to the bard.”)

We will all be able to find out whether or not Lagencrantz has met the challenge of capturing the character of Lisbeth Salander and the moral pulse of the crusading journalist Stieg Larsson on September 1st, when The Girl in the Spider’s Web lands in U.S. bookstores. Put us in the skeptic’s column.

As for whether the “fourth installment” will even begin to approach the international sensation that marked the original series, put us in the “no way” column. The Millennium books caught a particular cultural wave, fed by a crusader with deep social and political views who could make them come to life by creating striking characters and stirring plots. Adding to the mix was what many believed to be the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death at an early age on the eve of the publication of the trilogy.

Our best guess: curiosity will drive the book briefly onto the best-seller list, but it will quickly slide off it.

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