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The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz

Swedish journalist, David Lagercrantz, has taken over the Lisbeth Salander series that appeared to be ended with the passing of Stieg Larsson.  I have been fascenated by the series since the very first novel and Lagercrantz is, for the most part, living up to the legend.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web” carries the Salander story forward a couple years after the last Larsson novel.  Lisbeth is back in Sweden after lengthy stays in the Caribbean and other parts of the world and she has become even more famous within the hacker community under the handle “the Wasp.”  The story revolves around a famous computer scientist, Frans Balder, who leaves his Silicon Valley job developing an artificial intelligence program for a supercomputer in order to return to his native Sweden in order to take care of his mentally disabled but savant son, August, and to get his son removed from the home of his former wife and her abusive boyfriend.  Balder is murdered for his scientific discoveries and August is targeted for death because he witnessed the murder and has a gift for drawing and mathematics and might be able to identify the killer even without language skills.

Lisbeth Salander is asked by her journalist friend, Mikael Blomkvist, to look into the murder of Balder and to locate his missing computer files.  In the process she saves the boy and hides him from the perpetrators, a rogue cyber spies led by her estranged sister, Camilla, called the Spiders.  Lisbeth also dodges an arrest and extradition by the NSA for having hacked their computers. The fact that Camilla escapes most likely sets up the next installment in the series.

The writing of the Salander series is not as elegant as it was coming from Larsson and there are sections toward the middle of the book that drag whereas every page of the Larsson novels was a page-turner.  Still, the plot is intricate and interesting, and Lagercrantz does a lot to humanize Salander far beyond anything in the earlier books.  It turns out Salander can actually be a caring person who has the capacity to show compassion for and the patience to take care of a young boy.  She also takes the time to observe the extraordinary gifts of young August and to see to it that they are developed by arranging to fund his education.  I like the direction of this new Salander novel, “The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” and look forward to reading many more installments of Salander’s story.

Liz Nichols


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Red Devil 4 by Eric C Leuthardt

Red Devil 4” is the brain child of neurosurgeon and biomedical engineer, Eric C. Leuthardt who in real life heads the Center for Innovation in Neuroscience and Technology at Washington University School of Medicine.  Dr. Leuthardt has written of a world where almost everyone has a computer chip implanted to instantly compute and find information, set environments, music and entertainment selections, control mood, and essentially control the lives of the people living in 2053.  Of course, what people give up in order to have instant information, communication, environmental comforts and other conveniences, is the ability to think and act independently–or at least that is the danger in artificial intelligence when it becomes mind control.   It is the perfect environment for “big brother” to control or for a mistake in the technological model to endanger many lives.  There is much of an ethics nature to consider with the age of artificial intelligence at our door step.

The plot of the book is a series of murders in St. Louis that may be blamed on programming within the implanted chips in some of the area’s most prominent citizens. It appears that a prominent person is behind these murders and the risk exists that the flaw is in the chip not the killer himself.  Will more people go haywire and begin to commit heinous murders?  That is a question detective Edwin Krantz and his ex-Navy SEAL partner, Tara Denzer, are tasked to determine when they go after the serial murderer.  They need to discover answers fast in order to avert a technological mistake that may lead to millions of deaths.

I must admit that the topic is not something I enjoy reading about and I did not complete the book.  However, the book is well-written and chock-full of insights that will keep many a book club discussion going.  “Red Devil 4” is a worthy contribution to the science-fiction and technological thriller genres with a theme that could quickly become technological fact.

Liz Nichols

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Death Never Sleeps by E.J. Simon

Death Never Sleeps” is a really unique exploration of how far artificial intelligence can go in continuing life (of sorts) after death wrapped up in a mystery surrounding the murder of a millionaire loan shark, Alex Nicholas.  This is the first novel for E. J. Simon, the former CEO of GMAC Relocation Services and a consultant to many private equity companies.  The protagonist in “Death Never Sleeps,” Michael Nicholas, seems to be fashioned somewhat after Simon’s life and experiences.  Nicholas is the type of complex and mufti-faceted character who should stand up to a number of sequels.

Alex Nicholas is cut down gangland style by an assassin who is clearly hired by someone either out to take over some aspect of Nicholas’ loan shark business, get money from his estate, be saved from paying a debt, or to take revenge for some perceived wrong.  Alex secretly has poured lots of money into an artificial intelligence program that  replicates his thought process, memories, and likeness on a computer so that after he dies he is in a sense still be able to converse and “think” like his old self whenever his brother, Michael, chooses to consult the computer program.  Michael, who has always led a squeaky-clean corporate life, decides to lead a double life taking care of his brother’s mostly illegal business ventures while continuing as the CEO of an insurance giant.  He discovers how seductive his brother’s line of work really is, despite the danger to himself and his family.  A large part of the appeal is that he is able to share a “relationship” with his brother through the computer AI program that he never had in real life.  His dead brother is also able to provide many key clues that help Michael solve the mystery of who is behind Alex’s death and who is also trying to kill Michael and his family.

Simon’s writing style is straight-forward and clear.  The story is compelling.  The book is hard to put down.  The ethics of AI, the business world in general and loan sharking in particular are thought-provoking.

I recommend “Death Never Sleeps” and look forward to Simon’s next installment.

Reviewed from a supplied copy.

Liz Nichols



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