As the author of three dark and violent crime novels, Steig Larsson was at home in a dysfunctional landscape of simmering resentments and rancorous family secrets. But the Swedish writer cannot have foreseen how, almost five years to the day after his death, the novels' success would lead to bitterness and paranoia in his own family.
In one of the most spectacular and unlikely ascents in recent literary history, Larsson, largely unknown before his sudden death at 50, has become one of the most successful writers in the world. Some 20 million of his books, the first of which was published in Britain as THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, have been sold to date in Europe alone. Last year he was the world's second best selling author after Khaled Hosseini, author of THE KITE RUNNER, and his estate is thought to be worth more than £20m.
But because he and the architect Eva Gabrielsson, his partner of 32 years, never married and he died without making a will, the proceeds have defaulted to his blood relations, provoking controversy in Sweden and displeasure from Gabrielsson.
In the latest episode of the acrimonious saga, Erland and Joakim Larsson, the author's father and brother, made Gabrielsson a public offer of £1.75m to settle the dispute, telling the Swedish paper Svenka Dagbladet, "We have to move on." Gabrielsson's response was curt: "You don't solve these things via media. It is so low. My lawyer will have to answer any further questions."
She has previously accused the Larsson family of seeking to "make money from someone who can't defend himself", saying it would make her partner "absolutely furious", and accusing Erland and Joakim of not being part of Steig's life while he was alive.
But Erland Larsson said it was he who had insisted that his son write "something commercial", and that the Millennium trilogy, the third title of which was published in Britain last month as THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET'S NEST, was the result. Gabrielsson, he said, had resisted moves to come to a settlement.
The acrimony over Larsson's estate surfaced a few months after his death from a heart attack in November 2004 while working as a dogged but comparatively obscure journalist, editing a Trotskyist periodical and an anti-fascist magazine, Expo, which he had funded. He had, it emerged, left the completed manuscripts for a series of three crime novels, the first of which was published the following year.
The surprise success of the novel has led, almost inevitably, to feverish interest from Hollywood, with rumours that George Clooney, Johnny Depp, Quentin Taratino and Martin Scorsese are among those interested in bringing the character of investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist to the screen.
Gabrielsson says she and Larsson never married because he had believed his anti-fascist work could have put her life at risk if there was a paper trail linking them legally or financially, but that he would have been dismayed to see anyone other than her in control of the estate.
Expo says that Larsson had wanted the proceeds of the Millennium Trilogy to go to anti-fascist and domestic violence charities. A will dating from 1977, which was unwitnessed and therefore non-binding, expressed a wish for his assets to be left to a local branch of the Communist Workers League.
Most intriguing remains Larsson's laptop computer, which according to Gabrielsson contains a sequel to the trilogy. In 2005 she refused an offer by the family to hand over the computer in exchange for the author's half of the flat they shared. There is speculation that sketched out-lines for six further novels are also contained in the laptop.
SOURCE: An edited article from the Guardian newspaper, for the unedited version, press HERE.
Please Note the second book in the Millennium trilogy is THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE.