I don’t shave for Sherlock Holmes. Or anyone else.

“Are you going to shave for the wedding?”

This is something I’ve been asked quite a lot recently. Sometimes repeatedly by the same person, which is a little annoying. One of my friends is not a fan of the face fuzz and clearly feels that I would look better clean shaven on the big day. This is fine, but as I’ve stated that my opinion opposes this the matter should be laid to rest now, right?

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Me in the classic “look at my ring” pose

This is the first time I’ve really grown a beard properly. Prior to this I just used to occasionally let it grow for a while because I was too lazy to shave regularly. I am terrible at shaving, and would emerge smooth faced and bleeding like a character in an ’80s slasher movie.

As a student nurse I had to keep myself tidy while on placement, mainly because of the constant whining of my mentor. However, since I decided nursing wasn’t for me, I’ve not shaved in about a year and a half.

I’m not sure I should share that as it highlights just how patchy and crap my facial hair growth is. Seriously, look at the above photo. There’s enough hair there for me to rock a decent moustache and chin beard, but it’s all spread out across my face, meaning that my beard isn’t the best. I wish it was like one of those old magnet and iron filings things where I could just move the hairs around my face until I had a decent full beard.

I’d love to boast a full on Grizzly Adams beard, but alas, my hair grows in a stupid pattern. At least it now looks like an intentional beard, for a while it just looked like laziness.

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Brian Blessed- Beard goals.

This is a downside of having a beard at the moment. I get the sense that people see it as me following the current trend for hirsute men. This isn’t true, it’s just a coincidence that beards are “in” while I’ve grown mine.

The reasons for my beard? Simple really;

  1. My hatred of shaving
  2. Laziness. It’s one less thing to do during my early morning zombie state.
  3. MWF likes the hairy look, so making her happy is an additional perk.
  4. The last time I did shave, for a job interview, I looked really young. And stupid. So, I’ll stick with mature and stupid for the foreseeable future.

I’ll give the beard a trim before the wedding, so that I look a little smarter than normal, but I don’t think shaving it off would do much.

Besides, it doesn’t matter how tidy I look at the start of the day, sooner or later I’ll spill food or drink down myself and shatter the illusion of being a smartly dressed grown up.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Commitment by Didier Drogba

Cards on the table time, I’m not a massive Didier Drogba fan. This is probably because despite being a skilled footballer I felt he was too prone to diving and he played for Chelsea during an era when I severely disliked the team (mainly because of the tag team of tools that was Ashley Cole and John Terry).

But I received this book as a Christmas present from my big sis, who likes Drogba a lot because of his Christian beliefs and charity work. To be fair to the guy, he does seem to do a lot of good work and has donated a lot of his sponsorship cash to worthy causes. 

This book details some of this work, and the reasons behind his charitable work as well as his personal life. Born in Ivory Coast he moved to France as a young boy where he moved frequently as he lived with his journeyman footballer uncle. A lover of the beautiful game from a young age he wished to follow in his uncle’s footsteps.

Missing out on academy football he was late in making it compared to his peers, but soon made up for this with a knack for scoring goals. This is what most of the book is devoted to, with the story divided by specific sections of his career.

For non football fans it might be a bit of a struggle as it’s mainly about how he did every year, the goals, injuries, triumphs and failures along the way. The sections about family and charity are separate, and feel tacked on.

Drogba comes across well enough and it does give a little bit of background to the dressing room atmosphere and his explosions on the field. But the insights are rather limited and the writing is thoroughly pedestrian. 

Maybe it’s because of the language barrier, but there’s a genuine lack of humour or depth. It’s an easy read, but uninspiring. But as I used it to help pass time on night shifts this actually turned out to be a positive- just about interesting to keep you going and easy enough for a sleep deprived mind.

An okay read if you’re a huge Chelsea or Drogba fan, but for others might be a bore.

Verdict: It passes the time, but is rather dull and lacks the humour, scandal or insight to make it a great autobiography. 5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Conclave by Robert Harris

Whenever a Pope does the process for choosing his successor is the same; Cardinals from all over the world travel to the Vatican where they are locked in until a new Pope is chosen. This is the conclave. There have been two during my lifetime, and I’m fascinated by the whole thing.

The idea is that through prayer and meditation the Holy Spirit guides the Cardinals to the new leader. But a cynical view is that the lock in is essentially where the politics of the papacy plays out. Either way, the whole system is shrouded in mystery.

Clearly the idea intrigues Robert Harris too and he has written a smart, involving thriller which follows the Cardinals within the walls.

When the current, unnamed Pope passes away, the ball is in motion and as Dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Lomeli is in charge of the show. There are several contenders and as the voting begins factions are forming.

Lomeli, aging and experiencing a crisis of faith, watches as the political machinations start up. Secrets and scandals bubble to the surface, and ambition muddies the water. Lomeli becomes increasingly suspicious of some of the frontrunners and investigates rumours and whispers. He wants to maintain the church’s reputation and avoid scandal, but it becomes apparent that there are lots of skeletons in the closets.

Does Lomeli have the strength of will to see it through? And as he does expose the corruption is he unwillingly moving himself up the pecking order? Leaving others questioning his motives.

This is a cracking read, with the twists and turns playing out in a well paced and involving manner. Lomeli is a decent hero, riddled with doubts and fear, but ultimately commited to doing the right thing. As the process wears on he becomes more proactive in ensuring the best man gets the big job.

Harris layers in the intrigue and uses the claustrophobic setting to his advantage, the isolated cardinals are sealed off from the outside world, meaning that Lomeli’s investigations are hindered and some information is revealed too late in a surprise ending which is impossible to see coming.

A fantastic read which hooked me in early and entertained me throughout.

Verdict: A very well written and involving thriller, Harris has a great knack for letting the story unfold at a decent pace and slowly allowing his characters to reveal themselves. There’s not much action but the political schemes are gripping. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Six Nations 2017: No complaints

I worked the first week of the championship and so missed Wales get off to a winning start against Italy. And for our second game against England I was actually across the border and attending a marriage preparation day (more on that at a later date). So I missed the Irish thumping the Italians and only caught the Wales match from just before half time.

Just in time to see Liam Williams go over and Wales to lead 13-8 at the break after Leigh Halfpenny converted. 

The second half was a cracker with the action swinging both ways, each side attacking well but meeting stiff resistance. While I wouldn’t have complained had Wales romped home with a massive gap in scores, there’s something a lot more entertaining about an evenly matched affair. 

The teams traded penalties with Owen Farrell bagging two for the visitors and Leigh Halfpenny responding with one. Into the final ten Wales held a slim 16-14 lead, and every missed chance and silly error replayed in my head. Wales had been sloppy in places and could have had more points on the board, and were soon on the back foot.

Halfpenny kicked straight to a white shirt and England surged. As the Welsh defence scrambled across the park winger Elliot Daly got past Alex Cuthbert, who did himself no favours with his many critics.

The conversion was tight, but Owen Farrell doesn’t miss many and added the two, leaving Wales needing a try to get a result. With the clock quickly ticking down, Wales’ attempts grew more desperate in the face of a solid English defence.

The final whistle was no doubt a relief for the visitors, who for the second week in a row had left it late. And despondence for the hosts.

It was a tough loss but England just about deserved it, Wales had too many slip ups and can’t complain that England seized their chance when it appeared. 

There are three games left and if Wales can tighten their game and get rid of the sloppier aspects (and maybe Cuthbert?) we could do alright. The championship might be a stretch and depend on other matches going our way, but it’s not off the table completely.

I think part of the reason I took this defeat so well is because the current England team is decidedly villain free, with only Joe Marler and Farrell being players I genuinely dislike. Also, I haven’t seen the obnoxious Saeson I know, which means their arrogant posturing hasn’t riled me up.

The only real reason to actively hope it all falls apart for the English (other than not wanting more gloating and self congratulating nonsense) this year is their coach, Eddie Jones, who is nothing short of an utter bellend. Prone to being gobby at interviews and following last year’s comments about the Joe Marler racism incident, he’s claimed a special place on my hate list.

In a way he’s necessary to the tournament, as every story needs a villain and he’s embraced the role with gusto.

In the final match of the round Scotland, carrying the momentum from their victory over Ireland came back to earth with a bump. Camille Lopez knocked over two penalties in the last ten movies to hand the French a 22-16 victory. Scotland are definitely improving but appeared to take their foot of the gas.

It didn’t help that Finn Russell took the worst conversion appempt I’ve ever seen, managing to knock it under the bar from the easiest angle you’ll get. Their tournament isn’t over, but it means their Grand Slam drought extends to 26 years.

Round 3 predictions: 

Scotland vs Wales

Ireland vs France

England vs Italy

Current score: 4/6.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Fat Boy on a Diet: Tormenting the Chubsters

I don’t think it was deliberate. I don’t think a child that small is capable of such casual meanness but unknowingly the five year old was trolling every single member of Chub Club.

As we queued nervously to be weighed or flicked through our books realising treats would have to be sacrificed this little girl danced happily in the centre. The focus of all the group’s envy.

Firstly, she was happy and comfortable in a way that had abandoned her elders present. Her dancing was untempered by self consciousness, boundless enthusiasm making up for any ability or music. But more than this, and the real reason for the jealousy was that she happily are a Cadbury’s Wispa without any remorse.

I’m not saying nobody else present has eaten chocolate recently, but I doubt any have done without a twinge of guilt or lack of thought.

I’d eaten a pack of M&Ms with the Superbowl and had regretted it. As I queued for the scales I felt distinctly pessimistic about how I had done this week. The M&Ms had followed a pepperoni pizza and been followed by a small stack of ginger nuts. 

It was barely a drop in the excess of Superbowl weekend globally, but it was still a mistake and a moment of greedy weakness, under the flimsy excuse that it was a special occasion.

So I wasn’t feeling confident.

I paid my membership and then emptied my pockets, removed my shoes and hoodie and rechecked my pockets. I neared the front of the line, the scales looming and my spirits low.

I’d followed the new regime, but there had been a few wobbles and there was nowhere to hide. I hadn’t given my all and I was about to reap the consequences on the display.

Stepping into the scales I watched the number climb. And climb and then stop. 

I gaped in surprise.

 I had lost 4.5 lbs. 

I was pleased with my slightly undeserved success and decided that I needed to steady myself. The wobbles must stop and I had to fully commit. Stock to the rules and not go over my treat allowance.

I prepped a salad and healthy snack for my shift the next day and watched TV. 

But as I lay in bed awaiting sleep the voice of greed started to whisper.

“I could murder a Wispa right now.”

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Superbowl LI: Meh.

I’ve not long woken up and am feeling incredibly bleurgh, so forgive me if I ramble. This is because I stayed up far too late watching the Superbowl last night. And it wasn’t worth it.

Don’t worry I’m not going to trot out the usual stupid British criticisms of “Rugby players don’t need those pads” or “why is it called football when they use their hands so much”.

No, the reason I fear it wasn’t worth it was because I didn’t really care that much about the outcome. I decided to watch because I like the sport, and because of the occasion. 

Even non football fans have to admit that the Superbowl is one hell of a spectacle. It’s like the mutant baby of the the FA Cup final (or at least what it used to be) and Wrestlemania, with enough fireworks to open and close an Olympics.

But I had no strong feelings for either side. The Atlanta Falcons were a nonentity to me and while I have picked the New England Patriots to back in the past (I forget why) I’m hardly a fan. And it’s not the kind of sport where you can develop a feel for a team midway. In other games it’s easy to pick a team- you can be won over by skill, character or an individual player or turn against a team because of cheating, attitude or a specific player.

It’s for this reason that this season just gone my only real cares concerned three teams- the New York Jets, San Francisco’s 49rs and the Oakland Raiders. 

The Raiders are probably as close to having a team as I get, and this is built on shaky foundations. They have the coolest logo and colour scheme and were the favourite of nineties rappers.

The Jets are the team supported by a friend, so I like when they do well as he seems chuffed for them. 

And the 49rs? Well that’s because of one man Colin Kaepernick. I admired his quiet protest against the violence and oppression of minorities in America and felt he carried himself with dignity amongst the backlash. For that reason, I wanted him and his teammates to do well.

Beyond that I find it hard to really get behind US sports teams because I don’t have connections with any particular state or city, and many don’t have an identity that shines through to an outsider. 

Take football here in the UK. I’m a Swansea fan, but over the years have built up a whole heap of feelings for other teams. I have teams I have soft spots for (Bristol Rovers, Wimbledon, West Ham, Middlesborough, Crystal Palace) and teams I dislike to various degrees (Cardiff, Leeds, Arsenal, Chelsea). There are managers and players I like and dislike, and years of following the sport has built up these biases.

Maybe US sports fans have the same, but as a distant and infrequent observer, I’m oblivious to these quirks and the history of the teams. 

But I watched the whole first half with no real connection to either. Some were pulling for Atlanta as part of a heavy handed resistance versus Trump angle, but I wasn’t feeling it. It’s not the Patriot players fault Trump is on friendly terms with Tom Brady and the higher ups. And there are probably lots of Pats fans who hate Cheeto Mussolini. 
So, who should I pick. I could have been a glory boy and start pulling for the Falcons as they took a dominating lead in the second quarter, but I remained kind of neutral.

In fact I was more excited about the approaching half time show featuring Lady Gaga, as there was plenty of build up. Would there be guest stars? Would it be an attack on the new President? 

It turned out to be a belter, with Gaga starting off atop the stadium with an obvious dig at Trump and a call for unity. She then leapt down and descended by wire to the centre where she blazed through a series of her hits. As for guest appearances? Nope, she didn’t need any.

In the second half I continued to not care.

The Patriots closed the gap, but it still looked like the trophy was heading to Georgia. I could have gone to bed then as with Gaga done, I didn’t care.

And then in the last quarter the Patriots staged a massive comeback. They added nineteen points without any response from Arizona, leaving scores tied at 28-28. 

Still, I didn’t care. Part of me was hoping Atlanta could score as it would be a cruel twist for their fans to lose so late in the day. But on the flip side you couldn’t help but admire the Patriots for getting back into it, and does a team that throws away such a big lead deserve the win.

As it was the Patriots got the overtime winner and claimed the title. It was a dramatic finish but by this stage I was watching because I’d gone too far and it seemed silly to leave before seeing it through.

So, yeah, next year I might give the Superbowl a miss and just enjoy a good night’s sleep, and just watch the halftime show online the next day.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Medic! By Ben Sherman

Since my teens I’ve been fascinated by the Vietnam War and have read several books about it. This one, a memoir of one man’s war is unique in that it deals with a man who was drafted but refused to carry a weapon.

Sherman requested to be listed as a conscientious objector, as his personal beliefs meant that while he was happy to serve his country he wasn’t willing to kill for it. His objections are overruled and he is sent to basic training, where he refuses to pick up a rifle. After a brief spell as a military prisoner he is transferred to become a medic and ships out to the war.


I admire Sherman for his courage in sticking with his beliefs and also for the honesty in his writing. He describes simply but effectively the horrors he witnesses and his emotions throughout. He repeatedly opens up about his fears and doubts.

His war is slightly shorter than the average tour but not without incident. Originally placed at the morgue he then moves on to his posting where he medics rotate through three jobs- surgery aboard a ship, combat medic on the ground with the troops and then on helicopters for medevac missions.

During one mission and under fire, he falls from the chopper and is listed KIA. Dazed, wounded and alone, Sherman is haunted by ghosts of dead friends and drifts in anspd out of consciousness, terrified of what might be hiding in the jungle. It turns out he isn’t alone, his only companion being a deranged officer. Nicknamed Captain Buttshot because he has been shot three times by his own men, he makes poor company and Sherman worries for his safety.

Luckily a fellow medic comes out to rescue him, and he returns to base where he discovers that his colleague Smitty has been looking out for him for longer than he thought and hides him from the front until he recovers.

It’s a short book but well written and engaging, with Sherman being a no frills writer who delves into his memories of his time in Vietnam. As a medic he saw the horrors of war up close and experienced the tension of waiting for attack and the terror of combat. 

It’s refreshingly low key and as a conscientious objector he isn’t going hi but admits to not having been one of the protestors. In a way he highlights the middle ground, the disinterested youth who were sucked into this war. And his return to the world means he discovers what has been going on and how divisive the war is.

Sherman provides a unique and atypical war story, and it’s admirable that he doesn’t try to avoid service but stays true to his belief. His war shows the odd mix of bureaucracy and chaos that was his life in the army. The impression is one of young men thrown into a mad, confused conflict with only ten days of medic training to help him deal with the carnage he would be faced with.

Verdict: An interesting and well done memoir of one man’s war and principles. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


My Favourite Films #42: Serenity

In the early ’00s there was a horrible affliction that devastated the geek community. Like a vampire, the infected would be unable to stop themselves from passing it on and forcing others to endure their curse. And, to mix my monsters, like zombies it was often the ones you loved that you hurt. You’d resist, but finally the curse would out and you’d pass it on with one simple sentence:

“Have you seen this show, Firefly? It’s amazing!”

And you’d hand over your box set and see them fall as you had. But what’s worse than a fall?
A fall from a great height.

And so the show would raise them up, lifting them with the cool space western vibe. Higher as they embraced the charming, likeable characters and still higher through the witty, exciting writing.

BANG!

Fourteen episodes and you crash back down. Mid season. Mid story. Plot lines left dangling unfinished, questions unanswered. The most persistent nagging at you: What happens next?

Online complaining, love one and petitions alerted Fox that there was a market. DVD sales climbed.

And so Joss Whedon got a second chance. Serenity would fly again.

But would a standalone movie really satisfy the fans. Would it work? Could it avoid being a disappointment?
You bet your ass it could.

Picking up sometime after the show we find roguish smuggler Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) leading his small crew on the outer reaches of space aboard the eponymous ship. 

Mal during a job

The young, frazzled genius River (Summer Glau) still struggles with the effects of government experimentation and her brother Simon (Sean Maher) tries to find a way to help her and work out what they did to her.
After a close call with the savage, mindless Reavers, Simon decides it’s time for them to leave. Mal agrees despite the protestations of some of his crew, particularly Kaylee (Jewel Staite), the engineer smitten with Simon. However, their plan to drop her off is abandoned after something triggers River to become a ruthless, skilled fighter. The only clue is that she uttered the word “Miranda” before her rampage.

Meanwhile, a shadowy government Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is hunting for River who carries important secrets in her damaged mind. He seeks out Inara (Morena Baccarin), the “companion” who previously travelled aboard Serenity. He uses her to send a message to Mal and set a trap. Mal, despite knowing it to be a trap goes in anyway and they narrowly escape after a fight with the Operative.

Using the few clues they have the group set off to work out what River knows. On the way they find out more about what was done to her and discover the dark origins of the Reavers.

I remember going into this movie with nervous excitement and being reassured very early on as it nails the tone of the show. As a fan of the show I don’t know how it would play to newcomers to the world, but I think it fills in the gaps quite quickly and deftly. And I think the writing, which is sharp and witty would win people over and engage them with an involving plot.

Of course, some of it works more for fans. When two characters but the farm it’s bound to hit harder to those who’ve known them longer. One in particular, the sudden, shocking demise of slacker pilot Wash (Alan Tudyk) was a gut blow for me and several friends who had loved the show, and the character.

The death comes out of nowhere and leaves you reeling, and the impact it has on the other characters is keenly felt. In a later scene where his devastated widow Zoe (Gina Torres) rushes into battle and is injured left me with a sinking feeling we were headed for Dirty Dozen/Magnificent Seven territory where the bodies would pile up and only a couple would make it.

This last stand against the Reavers is wonderfully tense and well done, with Whedon injecting little character moments into the build up (Zoe’s devastation and loss of hope, Simon and Kaylee expressing their feelings for each other) and there’s a laugh when Zoe talks to the brutish Jayne (Adam Baldwin) about strategy.

Jayne: Can’t be thinking on revenge if we’re gonna get through this.

Zoe: Do you really think any of us are going to get through this?

Jayne: (slightly nervous)…I might.

The returning cast slip into their old roles with ease and for fans it’s a comforting and satisfying end to the story (although if they want to do more I wouldn’t complain).

It’s massively entertaining and I loved it.

And of course it gave Nathan Fillion a chance to pull on his old Browncoat again. No actor seems to have loved a project more than Fillion who complained about the cancellation and still seems sore about it. 

It’s easy to see why, Mal is a great role and a perfect fit for Fillion’s easy charisma. He gets to play the big damn hero who has a softer, less confident side underneath the swagger. Mal’s like Han Solo’s geekier little brother, someone who’s not quite as cool as they’d like to be and often caught off balance, but managing to make it through due to luck, skill and determination.

Smarter than he makes out, kinder than he wishes and quietly noble Mal is the heart of the film and a great hero. He can handle himself in a fight, but knows when to run, and keeps going against the odds to do what’s right. Fillion’s charisma, humour and enthusiasm shines through making him a supremely likeable protagonist.

Hands down one of the most entertaining sci-fi movies of the 21st century.
Gorram it, I’m gonna watch the series again.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Chrises on Infinite Earths 

“What if…?”

Those two words can drag you right down the rabbit hole. You think about how things might have played out differently, chances missed and roads not taken. 

Of course, it’s all pointless. Any science fiction fan knows that one slight change can create a whole parallel world. 

Given a time machine and the chance to do things over would I, knowing it risked what I have now?

My life isn’t perfect, and there are things I’d change but for the most part I’m happy. I’m marrying a fantastic woman later this year and am relatively healthy. Who knows what altering something I did might do?

Let’s say I went back and worked harder in uni the first time, actively pursued a writing career and became a writer for real. Read by thousands, not just whatever schmucks stumble across my blog. In some alternate world I might be their version of Hunter S. Thompson or Norman Mailer.

But without the winding, unplanned path I’ve taken the past decade I wouldn’t have wound up trying to be a nurse. I wouldn’t have met MWF and wouldn’t be sat in our house, our cat dozing on my lap, writing this. I might be sat lonely in some flash flat, or dating someone I don’t love. I could be divorced. I could be dead.

That’s the scary thing about the whole alternate reality thing. Sure, there are infinite possibilities of where your life has taken you but there are millions of universes where your story already finished. Or never even began. 

Worlds where your mum and dad never met because some minor event went a different way earlier on. And the whole thing just expands to mind bending proportions. The fact that it’s you reading this is a result of thousands of years of things going a certain way, and that one tiny bump might have meant it didn’t happen.

Hell, a chromosome either way and you’d be a different gender.

It’s the kind of thing that starts to mess you up when you think about it. When you realise just how close you’ve come to having a different life. The whole thing is an exercise in wishful thinking, you wonder about how you could have done stuff right and been better off, but the fact is at a certain point you’d have stopped being you. 

Our experiences are what shapes us, I am who I am because of the mistakes and failures along the way as much as my wins. I’ve learnt and grown because of things which have hurt me or been difficult, and if I had a smoother road I might have developed in a different way. And the fact is, while I know there are parts I could improve, for the most part, I like who I am today.

I may not have the job I want, but in the world where I played for Wales or became a superhero I might have lost out on the stuff I do have.

So why torture myself with what if questions? I should just appreciate the good that I have in my life, and work to change the parts I don’t like. 

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz

It’s been over four years since I read the final novel by Stieg Larsson, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, but the trilogy about the tough, mesmerising Lisbeth Salander stuck with me. There was talk that Larsson had begun work on a fourth before his death in 2004, but it appears that this is a separate story following a bitter argument between those Larsson left behind. Those who hold the rights chose David Lagercrantz to continue the series.

It picks up around a year after the events of the last book where Lisbeth Salander, the tattooed, vicious hacker brought down her father’s criminal empire and the government figures who protected him. In this she was aided by investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist, who wrote about it in his magazine Millennium earning great praise, but since the magazine, and Blomkvist, have struggled and the two have lost contact.
Salander continues to chase down and break the ruins of her father’s empire which leads her to hack the NSA, searching for information on the criminals she wants. This group named the Spider Society have been hard at work in the areas of industrial espionage and computer genius Frans Balder has discovered they stole some of his work and are after his pioneering AI work. He leaves Silicon Valley and returns to Sweden where he takes custody of his autistic son, August.

The Swedish government are trying to protect him while Balder debates what to do next. Meanwhile, the NSA are trying to find out who hacked them. Blomkvist is approached by an associate of Balder who tips him off to what may be an interesting story, but Blomkvist is unsure, but Balder contacts him personally and he goes to visit the scientist. Unfortunately, the Spider Society have decided to make their move and Balder is killed, the assassin sparing August, who he dismissed as “a retard”.

Blomkvist starts to dig deeper and discovers the Spiders are quite ruthless and vicious, headed by a mysterious figure nicknamed Thanos after the Marvel Comics character. When August’s gift of photographic memory is discovered he could provide a clue to the killer’s identity.

The Spiders decide to get rid of him, but Salander works out their plan and rushes to his aid, managing to get him to a safe place thanks to Blomkvist and his colleagues. As Salander hides out with the boy she tries to get him to draw what he saw and attempts to crack the NSA file she stole.

Meanwhile, Blomkvist and the police investigate. Blomkvist makes big strides and discovers a link between Salander and Thanos, which surprised him and explains the hostility between them.

What secrets were the NSA hiding and can Salander uncover them? Will Blomkvist be able to save his magazine by working out this story? And can Salander really protect the boy from an intelligent and skilled criminal gang?

I must say I really enjoyed this book, which while being gritty and filled with unsavoury characters softens the brutal, sometimes overdone darkness of Larsson’s writing. Lagercrantz manages to nail a similar style, but gives more humanity to the supporting players.

Salander and Blomkvist remain a decent central pair, the uncompromising, aggressive hacker and the world weary, more personable writer. They are separated for much of the work, but communicate through computer messages, and Lagercrantz shows their respect and affection through their responses to hearing from the other.

The plot unfolds at a good pace and there are some tense, gripping moments. It’s a well handled thriller and introduces a new, and interesting villain. It doesn’t quite match the first book in the series but it’s a solid continuation and an entertaining read.

Verdict: Lagercrantz seems to hold a less bleak worldview than Larsson which results in an exciting thriller which avoids the nastiness of the previous installments. An engaging, entertaining thriller. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.