Stieg Larsson's Longtime Partner on Rumored Fourth Book

In exclusive interview, Eva Gabrielsson talks about Steig Larsson.

Aug. 6, 2010 — -- Lisbeth Salander is the bisexual, butt-kicking hacker at the center of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo."

Heard of it? Read it? Obsessed by it? Chances are the answer is yes.

Swedish author Stieg Larsson's so-called Millennium trilogy -- "Dragon Tattoo" is the first book in the series -- has sold over 40 million copies worldwide. Last week in the United States alone, the series sold nearly a book a second. Daniel Craig is set to star in the Hollywood film adaptation next year.

In the books, Larsson peels away Sweden's idyllic exterior, exposing corruption and the abuse of women. But he died before the first page was published. His estate is worth an estimated $40 million and counting.

Larsson's books leave behind an unlikely heroine whom fans adore. Lisbeth Salander is both victim and savior, fighting for her rights and for justice.

In real life there is another drama here in Sweden, as full of anger and accusations as anything the author might have written. At its heart, a woman who was a very real part of the author's life. Like Lisbeth Salander, she is also fighting for what she says are her rights.

Eva Gabrielsson met Stieg Larsson when she was just 18. Both were passionate and politically active. They lived together for 32 years, until suddenly he was gone.

"It was a horrible time," said Gabrielsson. "Even small daily things like making a pot of coffee, you can't even make a pot of coffee anymore because someone is missing to drink the other half. I was in deep shock."

That shock would deepen when Gabrielsson realized that, because the couple never married and Larsson did not leave a will, she would inherit nothing under Swedish law. No money, and more importantly, she says, no control over his literary estate.

Stieg Larsson: Feud Worthy of Fiction

Everything Larsson had went to his brother, Joakim Larsson, and his father, Erland Larsson. Gabrielsson said they were not close.

"There was not much of a connection," said Gabrielsson. "Not with the brother, especially not with the brother."

Thus a feud worthy of Stieg Larsson's fiction began.

"You can view them as this family he wasn't particularly close to, didn't have much in common with, taking his money," said James Savage, editor of The Local, an English-language publication based in Sweden. "On the other hand you've got these people who say they were close to Stieg, doing what they think is right. Like [with] any infected family feud, taking sides is a very dangerous thing to do."

So why didn't the couple marry? In the 1980s and '90s, the national extremism movement in Sweden turned violent. Larsson, a liberal journalist, often spoke out against it. That made him a target of death threats.

In Sweden, public records relating to where you live and work are easily accessible. Getting married could potentially have put both of their lives in greater danger.

Even so, early on, the couple almost risked it.

Gabrielsson said he proposed in 1983, and they bought two rings, engraved with "Stieg" and "Eva."

But in the end they decided it was safer not to marry to maintain a lower profile.

They left his name off nearly everything they shared, Gabrielsson said. "All phone bills, gas bills, electricity bills, everything was in my name," she said.

When he did die there was nothing sinister about it. The elevator at Expo, the magazine Larsson founded, was broken. A chain smoker with a terrible diet, he climbed seven flights of stairs and collapsed at the top. He died of a massive heart attack at the hospital.

When the Millennium series, as it's known, became a success, Gabrielsson said at first the family supported her.

"You were his wife, it is not our inheritance -- it's yours," Gabrielsson said the family told her. "But something changed them. Something changed then, and I ended up in the position where all Swedish inhabitants are, with nothing."

Stieg Larsson: Who Wrote Books?

The Larssons have argued the law is the law. They offered Gabrielsson about $2.6 million and a seat on their board. She flatly refused.

They live in a small university town in northern Sweden. There are no reports of glaring displays of their new wealth. They have made significant contributions to the organizations Stieg Larsson supported, but they declined our request for an interview.

Both sides have said hurtful things. On Swedish television in 2008, Joakim Larsson described Gabrielsson as unwell, perhaps unfit to manage Stieg Larsson's work.

Gabrielsson said she knows how Stieg would have felt.

"Extremely furious that his legacy is being handled like a sack of potatoes, chopped up into chips that are sellable, he would have been furious and he would have gone to a great extent to exact revenge," she said.

There is yet another twist in this tale: speculation -- practically a Swedish parlor game -- that Stieg Larsson did not write the books alone. Some say Gabrielsson was a key participant.

A colleague of Larsson's from the 1970s and 80s, Anders Hellberg, who now works for Sweden's major daily newspaper, Dagens Nhyeter, described Larsson's writing as childish.

"His writing was no good, syntax, sentences, spelling," Hellberg said. "In my view he couldn't have written it."

For others, the novels with Larsson's name on them came as no surprise.

"He was almost a nerd when it came to crime novels," said Daniel Phool, editor of Expo. "Stieg was a storyteller, he loved to tell stories and he told them very well."

But did he do it alone? Gabrielsson, a published writer in her own right, defends the man she loved but leaves the door open.

"I cannot see in the books what was originally Stieg's things and what was originally my things," she said. "Being together with someone for 30 years, large chunks of it become ours. ... He sort of held the pen, but just being able to be an efficient writer doesn't create any books. You have to be able, to have thoughts, the rest as well."

We asked Gabrielsson if she was part of those thoughts.

"Yes, that's how he saw it, yes," Gabrielsson said.

In another instance of life imitating art, Gabrielsson may have a final card to play.

In the book, a character suddenly dies. The protagonist discovers an unfinished -- and highly valuable -- book on his laptop.

In real life, reports have emerged that Larsson left at least part of a fourth book on his own laptop -- and whispers have circulated that Gabrielsson has it.

Millions of fans may hope so. Gabrielsson said she has not read a fourth book, but she knows what might happen. She will admit that she and Larsson talked about it and specifically what the future might hold for Lisbeth Salander in a fourth book. Could she write it?

"I could probably do it, I am sure I could do it, but it's not my business, I have no powers," Gabrielsson said. "I am happy with the life, that's really what matters for me. I had a good life with that man."

A man who left millions in suspense ... and one woman who may hold the key to what happens next.