Stieg Larsson, the PLR, and Money-Grab Books in General (Book Review: The Girl in the Spider’s Web)

The Girl in the Spider's Web (Millennium, #4)The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Girl in the Spider’s Web is another book I hesitated over reading. With this and with Go Set a Watchman, the biggest issue at the outset was my own curiosity. More books from writers of the caliber of Harper Lee and Stieg Larsson! But I’d read of the controversies, and I didn’t want to put any money into the pockets of the unscrupulous. I figured I’d just borrow them from the library. Problem solved.

Go Set a Watchman was absolutely no To Kill a Mockingbird, but I could at least tell that it had been written by Harper Lee. I could also tell it was not a finished product. Whether she really did want it published or was taken advantage of my money-hungry people newly in charge of her affairs, we’ll probably never know.

Moving on to The Girl in the Spider’s Web. Taking the novel on its own merits, it’s not bad. It’s decently written and decently plotted, and it kept me entertained and turning pages. It was no The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but even Stieg Larsson couldn’t pull that off twice. The problem is that Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist are Stieg Larsson’s characters, not David Lagercrantz’s. Lagercrantz does not have the intricate knowledge, the feel, the love for Blomkvist and Salander that their creator did. That’s not his fault. I’m not bashing Lagercrantz as a writer, and I have not read any of his original work, but in this book, it feels like Larsson’s style is being imitated. It is not exact, which is of course impossible, because this isn’t Larsson’s writing. It’s just his characters and his world.

So although I didn’t completely adore either book, I was still feeling a bit smug about satisfying my curiosity without ringing up any sales for the unethical. Then I remembered my disc jockeying days. Way back when, artists and record companies sent their singles to radio stations for free, to promote their music and generate public interest and sales, and DJ’s could play whatever they wanted. I even used to take in my records from home, to complete a particular set I thought would sound good. Many years later, back at work for the same station, I learned that now royalties are paid based on an estimated number of times a song would be played given a computer-generated rotation, and for that reason we couldn’t take requests, couldn’t come up with our own playlists, certainly couldn’t bring records from home. So much for the artistry of the radio disc jockey. Yes, I understand the principle of intellectual property. But still. If you want to know why broadcast music radio sucks these days, that’s one of the reasons right there.

That made me wonder if authors collect royalties on their books in library collections, so I Googled it. I learned about the PLR, or Public Lending Right, that provides for royalty payments to authors in several countries, including Scandinavia and the United States, for books owned by libraries for public borrowing. Sometimes it’s a flat fee per book, sometimes it’s a pittance every time the book is checked out, but either way it’s capped at not very damn much, certainly not compared to actual book sales and possible movie rights. It’s still something though.

Yes, it is perfectly possible to continue a series after the creator’s death. With the Wheel of Time books, Robert Jordan knew he was dying and might not live to finish writing the series. He had enough drafted and outlined that another writer could finish them, and that was his express wish. Brandon Sanderson is not Robert Jordan, and he didn’t try to be. I appreciated that. He had a tall order to fill and he did an admirable job, bringing a satisfying close to a series I loved and that its creator wanted his readers to have.

I’ve seen nothing about what V.C. Andrews’ wishes might have been about her heirs hiring a ghostwriter to write under her name after her death, but it’s very unsavory that the ghostwriting was kept more or less secret until that whole nasty tax evasion thing put it into the public eye. The nature of the Internet makes it pretty much impossible to trick the reading public into buying another Stieg Larsson book because they don’t know he died, and it’s widely known that Larsson’s estranged father and brother commissioned Lagercrantz to write this book. It was written from scratch, with no access to Larsson’s notes, and — this is where I finally get angry — very likely against what Larsson’s wishes would have been.

And that’s the only way I can look at these now, with both Harper Lee and Stieg Larsson, that these new books are about nothing more than cashing in. Making money. Not art. Money.

I now apologize to both Harper Lee and Stieg Larsson. No more money-grab books for me. They leave a bad taste that has nothing to do with the writing.

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