The publisher who played with fire: the battle for control of Larsson's £30m legacy

Boyd Tonkin talks to Eva Gabrielsson,  who is horrified by plans to cash in on her dead partner’s ‘Millennium’ trilogy

“Cultural work is not factory work,” Eva Gabrielsson insisted this week. Gabrielsson, an architect and the late Stieg Larsson’s partner for 32 years, was outlining her fierce opposition to the plan for a fourth book in the Swedish author’s “Millennium” series of crime novels. She objects to the dilution, for profit, of an existing body of work. “This is also why there are no managers of any artist’s legacy who permit plagiarism of that person’s works: no new paintings ‘in the image of’ Picasso, no new plays using Bertholt Brecht’s characters.”

Larsson’s publishers have said that David Lagercrantz, best known so far for ghosting the memoirs of Swedish football superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic, will write a fourth Millennium novel.

Due for publication in late 2015, the sequel will resurrect Larsson’s world-conquering double-act – feminist avenger, Lisbeth Salander, and investigative-journalist sidekick, Mikael Blomkvist – for a coda to the trilogy.

In Stockholm, Eva Gedin of Norstedts Forlag is “proud and excited” that Lagercrantz has taken on “the challenging task of providing Blomkvist and Salander a second life”. In London, Christopher MacLehose of MacLehose Press – who snapped up the trilogy – feels confident that he “will keep a very great storyteller’s flame alive”. Lagercrantz himself has found the work so far “insanely fun”.

But Gabrielsson sees the sequel differently: “In my view, the purpose of the Immaterial Rights Law should be upheld … the artist’s original work may not be subject to changes, additions… which would trample upon the original artist’s intentions.”

The Millennium books, with their addictive alloy of breakneck action sequences, murky conspiracies and searing political critique, have sold more than 75 million copies. They have inspired one Swedish trio of spin-off movies and – so far – one Hollywood re-make of the first volume, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, with US-produced versions of the other two in development.

So the contract for a sequel sounds like a one-way ticket to riches and renown. Yet the Larsson legacy (believed to be worth £30m) has given rise to almost as much intrigue as any plot devised by the radical reporter and editor who never saw the cult of his novels spread like a summer bushfire.

He died, aged 50, in November 2004 while climbing the stairs to his office at Expo magazine in Stockholm. Larsson had never married Gabrielsson because he feared that she might become a target for the neo-Nazi groups and other secretive vested interests that he regularly unmasked in Expo.

Eva Gabrielsson, longtime partner of Swedish late writer Stieg Larsson, opposes the idea of a fourth book written by another author Eva Gabrielsson, longtime partner of Swedish late writer Stieg Larsson, opposes the idea of a fourth book written by another author (AFP)
Shortly after his death, as her 2011 memoir revealed, she laid an ancient Viking curse on all those who had harmed Stieg in his lifetime. She broke a ceramic horse and, uttering imprecations against the “evil ones… who plotted, spied and stirred up prejudice”, threw it into a lake. The original curse specifies a live animal. Nevertheless, the Norse gods seem to have taken note. As Gabrielsson told the Hay Festival last year: “I asked that people would lose their careers, I asked that they would become sick, and that’s what happened. Some even died. It’s horrible.”

Gabrielsson later became embroiled in a long-running dispute over control of the estate of her “soulmate”. A widow in fact but not in law, Gabrielsson could inherit nothing. Sweden’s legal system grants no rights to the unmarried. All revenues from the estate passed to Stieg’s father, Erland, and brother, Joakim.

They set up a company to manage rights and royalties, as the books moved from local splash to global storm. Father and son have said that they offered Gabrielsson £1.75m and a seat on the firm’s board but she – with much of Swedish public opinion behind her – has railed against her formal exclusion from the inheritance.

Contact between the two feuding sides broke down long ago. Gabrielsson summed up the message of the Millennium novels to me by stating that: “The books have a human approach, and clearly state that individual people do matter and may not be abused, lied to, misled or deceived.” Forcefully, she has argued that the estate has not lived up to these ideals.

From the Larsson aficionado’s point of view, the quarrel matters because the writer – who planned 10 books in all – left a 200-page fragment of a fourth Millennium volume behind at his death. Preserved on a laptop, the unfinished narrative takes place in northern Canada. It was intended to deepen Salander’s back-story, and would have been called God’s Revenge. Thanks to the breakdown in relations between Gabrielsson and the estate, this material has never come to light, so it can form no part of Lagercrantz’s sequel.

Previously, Gabrielsson had recalled how outrage at Swedish society’s post-1980s move away from inclusive social democracy fuelled the anger behind the Millennium books. Larsson observed with dismay the rise of “greed, bonus systems, golden parachutes and corruption beyond imagination – all in all a total disrespect for the traditional Swedish values of honesty, equality and the common good”. Now, she sees in the deal for a lucrative sequel another blow to the “open, trusting and respectful” relationships that her partner cherished.

Arts and Entertainment
Loading individual letters on to an original Heidelberg printing press
books
Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'