Stieg Larsson and ‘the girl who inherited nothing’

Stieg Larsson

The Swedish journalist who wrote the hugely popular Millennium crime trilogy never wrote a will. The result is a legal mess

BY Nigel Horne LAST UPDATED AT 17:28 ON Mon 18 May 2009

One of the most uplifting publishing stories of recent times - the posthumous publication of a trilogy of crime novels by the Swedish writer Stieg Larsson, with titles like The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo - has taken a sour turn.

Larson's Millennium mysteries, featuring investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist and his computer-hacking 'goth' sidekick Lisbeth Salander, have sold 12 million copies around the world since his death in 2004. Larsson (pictured above in 1987) would have made something like £10 million if he had not smoked 60 a day and died at the age of 50; publishers around the world, including Britain, have made a packet.

The twist is that Larsson, himself a journalist, never married his partner of 30 years, Eva Gabrielsson, an architectural historian who helped him with research on the three novels and for many years supported him while he was earning little from journalism.

And Larsson neglected to write a will. As a result, Swedish law dictates - just as it would in Britain - that his close family should inherit everything. In Larsson's case, this means his father Erland and brother Joakim - even though he was estranged from them both.

The two men also inherited Larsson's half of the Stockholm flat he shared with Eva. Not long after his death, they offered to swap their share of the apartment for Larsson's laptop computer, after learning that he had completed 200 pages of a manuscript for a fourth novel. "My legal adviser called it extortion," said Eva. "I refused to hand over the computer."

Which is where matters remain - except that Eva's legal fight to have a say in the handling of her long-time partner's literary estate has brought a huge public response in Sweden, where at least one in three people have read one of Larsson's books. Some fans have launched a "support Eva" internet campaign to raise money to help pay her legal bills.

Meanwhile, a film of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, already a smash hit in Sweden, has just opened in France. It stars the Danish actress Noomi Rapace as Salander and Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist as Blomkvist. Rapace has been in Cannes, where she told reporters: "I think it's incredibly nasty what money does to people, especially in inheritance disputes."

In Britain, the publication of the first two novels - Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire - has helped revive the fortunes of the former Harvill Press publisher Christopher Maclehose. He is due to put out the third - The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest - later this year. · 

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