The story behind Stieg Larsson’s Swedish crime series is as fascinating and mystifying as the bestselling novels themselves.
Rumors had swirled for years that Larsson penned a fourth book in the outrageously popular "Millennium" series before he died in 2004. Those rumors were recently confirmed when Larsson’s brother Joakim and father Erland told CBS they held the unpublished manuscript “for a couple of seconds.”
Joakim Larsson said his brother e-mailed him just 10 days before his death, telling him about the almost-finished manuscript. Larsson planned to write 10 books in the "Millennium" series, and the manuscript he wrote before he died was to have been book No. 5 (not No. 4) “because he thought that was more fun to write,” Joakim told CBS.
But Larsson's longtime partner Eva Gabrielsson questions both the motives of Joakim and Erland and the veracity of their account.
Gabrielsson and the Larssons are locked in a legal feud. Under Swedish law, control of Larsson’s estate, including rights to his books, worth around $20 million, went to his family, not to Gabrielsson, his longtime partner. The Larssons says that Gabrielsson has Stieg's laptop and that the laptop contains the manuscript.
But Gabrielsson told CBC News yesterday that the Larssons' claim that they saw and held a manuscript cannot be true. She acknowledges the existence of part of an unfinished book (although she never actually confirms that it exists on the laptop in question). She also raises doubts about the wisdom of publishing it, saying that an incomplete book might simply dilute the message Stieg intended to convey in writing the "Millennium" books. (Already, she says, damage has been done to his legacy by changing the title of the English translation of the first book in the series from "The Man Who Hated Women" to "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.")
According to Gabrielsson, the Larssons have used the issue of the laptop – which Gabrielsson says contains confidential information about his journalistic sources – as a form of "ransom." She says they offered to allow her to keep the home that she and Larsson lived in – half of which they inherited at this death – if she gave them the laptop.
The prize being disputed is a rich one, indeed. The first three books of Larsson’s "Millennium" series – “The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo,” “The Girl Who Played with Fire,” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” – have become an international phenomenon. More than 46 million copies have sold worldwide, the book has been translated into 44 languages, and in the two years since Americans discovered the novels, publishers have had to go back to press 197 times to keep up with demand.
But Gabrielsson says her concern is not money. She says that she would be happy to allow the Larssons to keep the bulk of the earnings from the books if she could be the one to maintain control over Stieg's literary legacy.
The bottom line: It is not clear that Book 4 of the "Millenium" series will ever see the light of day.
Sweden-language movie versions of Larsson’s books have already been released and Hollywood will soon follow suit with movies of its own starring Daniel Craig.
Larsson, a Swedish journalist and first-time novelist, never lived to see the success of his books, dying before his story about Lisbeth Salander took the world by storm.
Husna Haq is a frequent Monitor contributor.