The Girl in the Spider's Web: Is it OK to resurrect a dead author's fiction?

Stieg Larsson's best-selling Millennium trilogy is being given new life by a new author, but is it about the story or the money?

Money, author's intent both key when publishers continue series after author's death

Stieg Larsson's books have become an international sensation since his death in 2004. Is it right for the series to be taken over by another writer? (Britt-Marie Trensmar)

Dead men do tell tales​.

Stieg Larsson, author of the Millennium trilogy that includes airport favourite The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, died before any of his three books were published. And now he's back again, sort of, his name on the cover of a fourth book, The Girl in the Spider's Web, this one written by fellow Swede David Lagercrantz more than 10 years after Larsson died of a heart attack.

Published by Norstedts in Sweden, the book was released in Europe Thursday and will be in North American book stores on Sept. 1.

Larsson's widow, Eva Gabrielsson, thinks the fourth book is nothing more than a money grab, but his father and brother, who control his vast estate, say the new book will bolster his legacy. 

It raises the question, should fiction have life after death? And is the decision to resurrect a well-loved character or a familiar world more about the art or the money?

For Lagercrantz, continuing a series that has sold 80 million copies worldwide (including 2.5 million copies in Canada) can only lead to good things for everybody.

The Girl in the Spider's Web is a new, fourth book after the late Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy. (Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty)

"I don't believe, I know: This is good for Stieg Larssen's authorship," he told CBC Radio's q. "Now his old books are finding new readers in a new generation. We are again discovering his great life's work fighting racism, fighting [the] extreme right, fighting for women's rights."

Lagercratnz says he has the "deepest sympathy" for Gabrielsson, but that he's insulted anyone would suggest he wrote the book for the money.

"I have enough," he says, noting he's already done well as ghostwriter of the 2011 soccer biography I am Zlatan Ibrahimović. "I'm not dreaming of Ferraris. This was a passion for me, a passion and a challenge. If I had said no to this book, I would have regretted [it] my whole life."

'Always about money'

Canadian author Linwood Barclay, whose thrillers have sold more than five million copies, says anybody who thinks money isn't a factor in the decision to bring a series back from the dead is wrong.

​"Publishing is always about money first. You bring back a character written by someone else because you can sell it."

I think somebody writing a sequel to James Joyce's Ulysses would be highly suspect.- Sean Wilson, Ottawa International Writers Festival

Barclay says he'd be OK with it if his creations had a second life, so long as he'd signed off on it. If he didn't, Canadian copyright law would protect his work for 50 years following his death.

"Part of me figures I'm dead," he says. "I don't really care, and the other thing is my heirs can make some money out of it."

Barclay says some instances of resurrected series have had artistic success.

Some of the many James Bond novels written since creator Ian Fleming's death have been well done, he says. And Barclay believes the volumes written by Ace Atkins in the Spenser detective novels are better than some of the originals by the late series creator Robert B. Parker.

Barclay says in the end it comes down to what readers want.

"If the readers like it and it works, then I think it's a good idea," he says.

Sean Wilson, artistic director of the Ottawa International Writers Festival, says the desire of readers to return to worlds they're familiar with can be seen in other media, including long-form television series and top-grossing movies replete with sequels, prequels and spinoffs.

Dead Sherlock Holmes?

In fiction, mystery writers in particular are often bringing characters back, he says, noting that Arthur Conan Doyle would have just as soon ditched Sherlock Holmes. "He killed him and they had to bring him back. This is not a new phenomenon."

Like Barclay, he believes the author's intent is key. 

Spider-Man and Superman were meant to be written by other people, Wilson says, but "I think somebody writing a sequel to James Joyce's Ulysses would be highly suspect, for instance."

David Lagercrantz was contracted by publisher Norstedts to continue the deceased author Stieg Larsson's blockbuster trilogy. (Magnus Liam Karlsson)

Some fans will never be happy with anyone other than the original author writing, he says.

Wilson says he was at an event with Brian Herbert, who has continued contributing to the Dune novels started by his late father, Frank.

"Even there I heard, 'Oh, it should just never be allowed,' but they're still very successful books, so clearly it's a very small minority that's upset."

As for The Girl in the Spider's Web, Globe and Mail books editor Mark Medley believes it's one of the most interesting releases of the year because of its unique pedigree. 

"You have one of the best-selling series of the millennium and yet we're going to find out if that's because of Stieg Larsson or if that's because of the characters."

His guess is the book will sell millions of copies around the world.

"In this case, I think what they're hoping [is] every few years you're going to get a new Stieg Larsson kind of book ... written by a different person."

Penguin Random House on Dragon Tattoo sequel

7 years ago
Duration 1:29
Nicole Winstanley, VP of Penguin Random House Canada, on The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz


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