Stieg Larsson's Controversial Legacy

As a journalist, the real Stieg Larsson was not a great writer. He was saddled with the reputation of not being able to write at all, and it was the blemish of his life. He worked in layout at a press agency for 20 years. He added graphics, sidebars and similar secondary material to articles others had written. On the side, he also wrote selected reviews of new crime novels or new science fiction books, but that was the exception. When he wanted to switch jobs and become one of the editors at the agency, his boss turned him down, saying that writing just wasn't his thing.

Later on, he became one of the founders of Expo, a small leftist publication devoted to the fight against right-wing extremism. Larsson's strength was in research, and his knowledge about neo-Nazis in Scandinavia was encyclopedic. And this was the Stieg Larsson who was supposed to have written the multilayered, sensationally successful trilogy?

When he was dead and his books became successful, a few of Larsson's friends gave interviews and others wrote books, all claiming that they had no knowledge of Larsson's literary skills and wondering who the real author was. Some suspected it was Gabrielsson. She had co-authored a number of books about urban planning and was considered the more intellectual of the two.

Soon she too was giving interviews that attracted attention. She never claimed directly that she had written the books or even played a major role in co-writing them, but she did drop elaborate hints that her part in the books had not been insignificant at all. It sounded as if she had been Larsson's ghostwriter.

These interviews are embarrassing to Gabrielsson today. She says that she constantly discussed the progress of the book project with Stieg. In fact, she says, they were so close that there were times when she didn't know which of them had expressed a new thought. After Larsson's death, says Gabrielsson, she found notes for other projects that she believed were his, but with her name at the bottom.

A Fourth Book?

Gabrielsson finds the struggle over interpretation difficult, because it is also a struggle to survive. "When I lost him, a huge part of me was lost with him," she writes in her book.

She fought against despair with a ritual that she describes in her book. She found it in the "Edda," an ancient Norse collection of epics. It describes a curse, a "Nid," against one's enemies. A stake with the head of a horse impaled on it is rammed into the ground, with the head pointing in the direction of the mortal enemy.

On a New Year's Eve night, Gabrielsson went with a group of friends to the tip of Stockholm's Reimersholme island, where, in the torchlight, she read a long Nid she had written for the "Evil, sly, (and) cowardly": "You who think yourselves above others/You who lead them to misfortune and death."

Larsson planned to write 10 books about Salander's adventures. When he collapsed in his office, he was carrying his laptop in his backpack. There are still many rumors on that laptop, which has become famous because the hard drive allegedly contains the almost complete fourth volume, which Larsson had been working on during the last few weeks of his life. The laptop went with him to the hospital, where Gabrielsson allegedly had it in her hands.

And where is it now? Gabrielsson says that she doesn't want to talk about it.

In her book, she writes that the fourth volume will be called "The Vengeance of God," in which Salander will free herself of her enemies and demons. According to Gabrielsson, Larsson had already written 200 pages. She also writes that she is capable of finishing the book.

But will she?

Oh no, says Gabrielsson, she has changed her mind about that. "Stieg is dead. There are three books. We should leave it at that."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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