Stieg Larsson ostensibly popularised the Scandi crime genre with his freakishly successful Millennium series. Authors such as the excellent Jo Nesbo, who published before Larsson (1997), and the wildly successful Henning Mankell, who was already a respected writer in Sweden since the late 1980s, found worldwide fame with their twisted crime heroes in the later 2000s. They benefited, and continue to benefit (by virtue of being alive) from Larsson's legacy.

But this crop of bestselling Nordic authors come from a longer tradition of noir that, outside literature, that may even be traced to Munch and his famous painting, The Scream. It is clear that contemporary crime writers are united by their bewilderment at the increasing racism and xenophobia in countries known for even-handedness: whether it is the redistribution of wealth or its stance on world and European affairs, civil liberties or privacy laws.

These were matters which preoccupied Larsson, too, who was an authority on anti-democratic, rightwing extremist and Nazi organisations. Now, in fact a large part of the earnings from the Larsson estate go to Expo, the anti rightwing magazine Larsson ran in his lifetime.

Lisbeth has risen

It was as if after creating Salander, and then unexpectedly dying, Larsson had set his hacker heroine's dark and determined ghost free. She, like the author would have been irreversibly dead were it not for this advantage that literature provides – the possibility of resurrection. So, it was not out of character for her to disappear for a bit into her hiding places – the Net, her apartment, her fantasies of revenge – to return as seamlessly deranged and dangerous as before in The Girl in the Spider’s Web.

The fourth addition to Larsson's oeuvre is nearly as good as the debut in the series, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and vastly better written than any of the books before it, though The Guardian reported that the English translation is heavily edited. Regardless, the book is about to be translated to 40 languages, and 2.5 million copies are already pre-ordered. Which goes to say that Scandi Noir has a permanent place in our hearts now, and its lure is not dimmed because of its often shallow, contrived dialogue, sometimes lumpy plot and an abundant cast of characters with bit roles, which can be confusing and laborious for reads that are best devoured quickly.

But with gratitude, we return to the melancholia of the ice-bitten streets of Stockholm. Like its predecessors, the book is relievingly full of the usual fare of leakers, saviours, warriors and spies who spy on spies, and a cornucopia of freaks: several abusive or absent parents; women at the mercy of disruptive, rapist boyfriends; orphaned or feral or gifted children. On the emotional plane there are awkward, if convenient, polyamorous arrangement and casual sex that finds its way in and out of otherwise platonic relationships like water. All this comes as a package deal in a country where almost no one is poor, though many are seemingly suicidal, or on the verge of something fatal.

And Swedish freaks, at least the fictional ones, are seriously the best. Especially when they are part Russian, as they frequently are in Spider's Web. One, for instance, a sniper, helplessly spouted Stalin when asked to repent on his deathbed for being a childkiller before his derisive daughter. Lisbeth, too, is half Russian. Her tartar intractability sure made an impression when, shot in two places, she dug herself out of her own grave with an empty cigarette pack for a scoop to launch an axe into her father Zalachenko's jaw in the last book.

Freaks and crackpots

We become better acquainted with her diabolical twin sister and arch enemy, Camilla, who has taken after their full-blooded beastly Russian gangster dad and is out to kill, kill, kill and maim – she has a kink for cutting people for fun. She has inherited a small chunk of the vast criminal network in Europe left behind by Zalachenko, who made his billions with a crew of other dangerous, crackpot Russians. She is ridiculously beautiful and turns men to putty with just her gaze. But her ambition is astronomic and her memory for revenge, just as long as her arch enemy sister’s.

On the less exciting end of things, the book is cluttered with well-adjusted, if slightly dull, powerful women characters, too, in suits, who are necessary to carry the story forward.

We meet a brilliant scientist, Professor Balder who created a function of artificial intelligence for players to communicate in computer games about war strategy without knowing whether it's a real person or a digital creation they are talking to. This technology is stolen and sold on to rivals in Russia. The leak terrifies the scientist in the extreme not because of what he lost as a result of highly organised industrial espionage, but because of an even more explosive AI program he has created, which like the atomic bomb may be used for good or evil purposes.

Early in the novel, he leaves his life's work and returns from Silicon Valley to free his autistic son, August, from his long-suffering burnout actress ex-wife and her good for nothing TV actor drunk boyfriend in icy Stockholm. His son is autistic and can reproduce scenes like a maestro on paper with nothing but his child grade crayons. Like Salander, he has a photographic memory and a gift for mathematics, too, though he can also draw – savants who excel at two things are rare.

He is preternaturally pretty and fascinating with tousled blonde hair and blue intense eyes which turned a killer away from him. A series of circumstances lead our heroine to rescue August from people who would like him dead. Here the book takes an almost touching turn with a grudging Salander softening towards the child as they keep each other mutually engaged with riddles and puzzles.

This, however isn't the only softening that happens in the course of the book. Blomkvist is rethinking his “arrangement” with Erika Berger, his on and off lover/editor who does not hide her relationship from her husband, Gregery. Whie he accepts that Erika and Blomkvist fornicate “as friends”, Blomkvist is privately beginning to wonder if the arrangement does not favour Erika alone, with Gregery being forced to play along.

David Lagercrantz, inevitably, stayed up nights and became bipolar while trying to write the fourth book of the millennium series which the late author unleashed upon the world in 2004 to unforeseen publishing success. And he has not done a half bad job.