'I feel sad and troubled by how angry Larsson's partner is ... I'd like to meet her'
David Lagercrantz has found himself in the middle of controversy by writing the continuation of the late Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series. Hannah Stephenson discovers the tensions surrounding his latest books
When writer and former reporter David Lagercrantz agreed to write a continuation of Stieg Larsson's blockbuster Millennium trilogy with the blessing of Larsson's family, he didn't realise he'd be entering the dragon's den.
Not since Harry Potter has a book been kept under such tight wraps. There were no review copies of The Girl In The Spider's Web until it was published last week, Lagercrantz wrote it on a computer with no internet connection and only two people at the publishers were allowed to see the first draft.
Meanwhile, Larsson's partner of 32 years, Eva Gabrielsson, dismissed Lagercrantz as "a totally idiotic choice" to write a continuation.
"They say heroes are supposed to live forever. That's a load of crap, this is about money," she said.
Larsson died in 2004, before The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was published, without making a will. Under Swedish law, unmarried partners have no right of inheritance. Control of the author's literary estate passed to Larsson's father, Erland, and brother Joakim.
Gabrielsson claims to have a draft of a fourth novel, half-written, on Larsson's laptop but has refused to hand it over, so the family has found an alternative author to keep the characters alive.
You get the impression that Swedish Lagercrantz (52), best known as the ghostwriter of the footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic's autobiography, has unwittingly become enveloped in this feud and feels like a rabbit caught in the headlights.
He met Larsson's brother Joakim - with whom Gabrielsson was said to have had a difficult relationship - before writing the book.
"The whole story about Eva Gabrielsson is so sad. I know that he (Joakim) had a bad reputation, but he is really a kind man and he has tried so many times to reach some kind of settlement, but she is saying no.
"I have the deepest sympathy for Eva Gabrielsson as well, of course. This has been the most passionate project in my life, but the only thing that makes me sad and troubles me is that she is so angry.
"She can say anything bad about me and I will always have the deepest sympathy for what she has gone through."
He says he hasn't tried to contact her. "I don't know how to reach her and by what I can see in the papers, I don't think she would want me to. I would love to meet her and talk to her and maybe understand. I welcome the discussion."
Without taking sides, neither party in the dispute has come out looking particularly good. Gabrielsson has repeatedly turned down settlement offers from Erland and Joakim, but the two men are said not to have been close to Larsson in the years leading up to his death, yet still didn't turn down the money when they could have done.
"What I know for sure is that this (his new book) is good for Stieg Larsson's authorship, because now we are reading his books again. A new generation has found his books and we are discussing his life work," says Lagercrantz diplomatically.
He says that Gabrielsson's attitude did not put him off writing a stand-alone sequel.
"In all my life I've said, 'Follow the fire'. I know I would have regretted it my whole life if I had said no to this. If someone really wants to insult me, they'll say I was just doing it for money, but for me, it was passion. No money in the world can compensate for writing a bad book."
The Girl In The Spider's Web was released on the 10th anniversary of the publication of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo in 27 countries worldwide.
The storyline is set in the present day and sees Salander and Blomkvist joining forces to protect a Swedish scientist, his eight-year-old autistic son and the scientist's life work in artificial intelligence. Salander targets the National Security Agency and comes under attack by "ruthless cyber gangsters" known as the Spiders.
Lagercrantz seems strangely naive not anticipating the interest the book would generate.
"It's really surprised me. We've seen James Bond (written by other authors) and there's not that much fuss. With my book, the world has gone crazy."
He laughs at the suggestion that writing a continuation of such a mammoth bestselling series is a huge pressure, but you can't help feeling that his light-hearted manner belies a real fear.
"My brain is burning. I have interviews and big TV shows (lined up). Some days I'm happy and I think this is going to be fantastic, but then the night comes."
"Of course, I am worried about how the book is going to be received," he continues. "I'm having sleepless nights, but I'm confident that I did all I can and worked harder than I ever have."
Larsson - whose Millennium series has sold 80 million copies worldwide and whose first book, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, was made into two films, one in Sweden, the other in Hollywood - reportedly had ideas for around 10 books in his head.
"If he had written more books, there were a lot of questions he would have answered, for example, why is Lisbeth Salander such a good hacker and what really happened in her childhood?"
But Lagercrantz has no idea if his first Salander book will be his last.
"Maybe I'll write another book, maybe I won't, but I've found my own writing. I won't be Stieg Larsson my whole life."
The son of an eminent intellectual writer of literary biographies in Sweden, Lagercrantz recalls his initial "snobbish" attitude towards commercial fiction, when he was first introduced to the Millennium series.
"I'm sorry about my snobbish attitude, but I read Stieg Larsson's books and I re-read them and especially liked Lisbeth Salander. I started to love this universe. Mikael Blomkvist is the guy that I at least want to be - nice, correct, with sound values, fighting for the weak, but passionate when he writes a story."
Before publication, he could be found pounding the gym near his home in Stockholm to expend his pent-up energy and release those tensions.
But now he's on a worldwide tour facing a barrage of interviews, Press conferences and book signings. His wife, a TV executive, is accompanying him for some of the tour, while his younger children, aged seven and 10 (he also has an older child in their 20s), will be looked after by relatives and other helpers.
While he would love literary success, Lagercrantz is not relishing the thought of the spotlight.
"I'm just longing to have a normal routine of writing again."
The Girl In The Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz, published by MacLeHose, £19.99