the larsson phenomenon


It’s an authentic phenomenon. As “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” the last of three posthumous thrillers by the Swedish writer Stieg Larsson, goes on sale this week in the United States, his books have already sold 40 million copies worldwide in a mere five years, while the modestly mounted movie version of his first title has already grossed something like $100 million, with talk of remaking these Swedish productions in Hollywood versions. There is simply no precedent for figures of that magnitude, especially in the mystery-thriller category, where authors become brand names only after they have patiently added many titles to their bodies of work. It’s possible, of course, that Larsson’s own rather dramatic story is helping to fuel the phenomenon. The writer was well-known as a crusading anti-fascist journalist and as a genial, rather careless man whose addiction to cigarettes and junk food might have hastened his premature demise (at age 50, of a heart attack), not long after delivering his three manuscripts to his publisher. The fact that he also left behind a widely reported controversy is also a good story. Larsson died without a will, meaning his fortune in royalties went to his family, a father and brother with whom he was not close, instead of to his helpmate of 30-odd years, whom he never married but whom everyone (except the lawyers) thinks deserves more than a grass widow’s mite of his earnings. But none of that quite explains the mystery that lies beneath the phenomenon.

more from Richard Schickel at the LAT here.