The man behind "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" is almost as much of a mystery as the bestselling novels he created. The author, Stieg Larsson, never lived to see his novels in print. Erin Moriarty of "48 Hours" takes us to Sweden where he lived and wrote - and where his stories are set:
Every week, dozens of tourists from all over the world flock to this quaint neighborhood in Stockholm, to participate in the "Millennium Tour."
"The Millennium phenomenon is huge," said the tour guide. "The first international tourists to come were the Italians; they were first. Then I think the French. Then the Spaniards. And this summer, a bit later, it's the Americans."
Strangers - bound by a singular obsession for a girl with a Dragon Tattoo. Never mind that the girl, Lisbeth Salander, is an imaginary character.
For American Sharon Svensson, even foot surgery couldn't keep her from making the pilgrimage to Salander's world:
"I said, "Oh my gosh, I'm going back to California the day after tomorrow. I have to go on this tour!'" Svensson told Moriarty.
Salander and the world she inhabits - filled with political intrigue, violence and sex - are the creations of Stieg Larsson, a Swedish journalist and first-time novelist who didn't live to see the phenomenon his books would become, selling more than 46 million copies worldwide.
Eva Gedin, the editor of what is now known as the Millennium Trilogy, said, "I don't think you can compare this with anything else, actually."
"When you first read these, did you have any idea that they would become as popular as they have?" Moriarty asked.
"No. I mean, how could anyone know what we know today?" replied Gedin.
"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," "The Girl Who Played With Fire," and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" have been translated into 44 languages.
"Dragon Tattoo" is THE bestselling E-book of all time.
And in the two years since Americans discovered Larsson's novels, the publishers have had to go back to press 197 times to keep up with demand.
Not to mention the Swedish movie versions already in theaters. Hollywood will soon follow suit with movies of its own, starring Daniel Craig.
All this for a man who, when he first met Eva Gedin in the spring of 2004, was an unpublished novelist with big dreams . . .
"He wanted to do something new, something else, something that didn't look like other Swedish crime writing," said Gedin.
Larsson's protagonist is something new, all right. A 24-year old tattooed, bisexual, maybe even autistic woman who takes on the world of organized crime, dishonest bankers and neo-Nazis, played in the recent Swedish film version by actress Noomi Rapace.
Her partner in fighting crime is Mikail Blomkvist, a journalist, who (like Larsson himself) runs a magazine.
In the books, the magazine is Millennium. In real life: Expo
Daniel Poohl, the 29-year-old editor of Expo, the magazine founded by Stieg Larsson in 1995, told Moriarty the book's fictional magazine is "a fantasy."
"We had a small room where we used to smoke," Poohl said. "Sitting in that room, smoking cigarettes, I listened to Stieg's stories, because he was a great storyteller, a really great storyteller."
Larsson used his magazine Expo, and later his crime novels, to battle against what he saw as the rise of racist and anti-Semitic extremist groups.
"He saw the dark sides of Sweden," said Poohl. "He saw racism, he saw discrimination, he saw violence against women. He saw many things that he wanted to change."
Although he shunned the limelight, Larsson did appear occasionally on Swedish television to speak about his work.
He lived modestly with a woman he met when he was only 18, Eva Gabrielsson.
. . . Until November 9, 2004, just three months after Stieg Larsson turned 50, and five months before his first book was published.
Joakim Larsson, Stieg's younger brother, recalled, "I come home from work and my dad phones and said Stieg had collapsed" - after walking up the seven flights of stairs to his office.
His father Erland rushed from the northern town of Umea to Stockholm to see his oldest son. He was too late.
"My knees weakened. It can't be possible," Erland said. "You know, children shouldn't die before parents."
Almost immediately, there were rumors Stieg Larsson had been poisoned . . . murdered by the extremists he had railed against.
"The fact that there is actually conspiracy theories around Stieg's death is, to me, both absurd and in another way, very ironic," said Poohl, "because Stieg, he loved conspiracy theories."
But Larsson was a coffee-drinking, chain-smoking workaholic who, by most accounts, didn't take care of his health.
He had a fatal heart attack, dying before his books took the literary world by storm.
"We can't do anything about it, that Stieg is today so famous, his book so popular that we can't spend energy trying to clear all these questions," said Poohl. "What we can do is try to explain who Stieg was. And I guess for most of the people who liked his book, that's enough."
But questions and controversies surrounding Larsson and his books continue, even today, nearly six years after his death - especially those concerning his long-time girlfriend, Eva Gabrielsson.
"I really don't understand it," said Erland Larsson. "We find out that we inherited everything and Eva just stopped talking to us."
Larsson and Gabrielsson lived together for 32 years, but because Sweden does not recognize common law marriages and Larsson died without a will, his brother and father inherited everything: the rights to his books AND his estate, estimated to be worth around $20 million.
"This is the reality," said Joakim Larsson. "We want to work with Eva. She says 'No.' We tried for nearly six years to get an agreement with her of some sort in any way. But she turned us down all the time for some reason. You have to speak with her about that."
Gabrielsson declined our request for an interview. But she has spoken out publicly against the Larssons.
"She said that she knows more what Stieg wanted to do with his legacy, with this money, than either of you," Moriarty said.
"Yeah. Well, maybe so, but someone have to take care of this," said Joachim. "She don't want to work with us. So that's her choice."
There's another mystery that Eva Gabrielsson refuses to clear up: Whether Stieg Larsson wrote another book before he died. Larsson told friends one did exist, but none of them had seen it.
Well, we can now confirm: There is an unpublished manuscript!
When asked if he'd read it, Erland Larsson said, "I hold it for a couple of seconds."
Joakim said the book was not completed: "I got the e-mail from Stieg ten days before he died where he wrote 'Book number four is nearly finished.'"
But according to brother Joakim, it really isn't the FOURTH book of the 10 volumes Stieg hoped to write in the series.
"To make it more complicated, this book number four, that's book number five, because he thought that was more fun to write than book number four."
"So actually, the book we all keep calling four," Moriarty said, "you think is actually -"
"Book number five."
"The fifth in his series?"
"Yeah," said Joakim.
Erland Larsson last saw the manuscript just days after his son died. Now it's in the hands of Eva Gabrielsson.
And the two sides are now at a stalemate.
The Larssons say they won't publish the book even if it surfaces.
All this real-life family drama seems to have only fueled sales of Larsson's books, as fanatic readers take sides.
"What do you think Stieg would think of the conflict that has occurred between the woman he loved and lived with and his father and brother?" Moriarty asked.
"Well of course, it's a tragedy," said Poohl. "And Stieg would have looked at it the same way. Stieg never cared for money, so I guess he wouldn't have understood the situation."
Steig Larsson, who in life never made more than $30,000 a year, has achieved in death what most authors only dream of. He is now a world famous writer . . . who's left his readers desperate for more.
More on Stieg Larsson:
Stockholm Tour For Stieg Larsson Fans
Stieg Larsson's 4th Novel Clouded In Mystery
Big E-sales For Larsson's Millennium Trilogy
For more info:
Trilogy Website From Knopf
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