On “the mystery of the fourth book,” Part I

In addition to the “mystery of the fourth book,” what additional books might Stieg Larsson have written had he lived? (Parts I, II, III will run over 3 days.)

We were recently asked by a reporter for a major newspaper if we believed that Stieg Larsson, at the time of his death in 2004, had left behind enough material for a fourth novel about Lisbeth Salander—or even for additional books beyond a fourth novel.  Below are excerpts from the answer we gave.

There’s a short and long answer to the question.

First, the short answer:

  • An emphatic yes on “further books” about Salander–in fact Larsson apparently referred to the plots of the future books in direct association with Salander (i.e., he called them “Salander 4,”  “Salander 5,” etc.).
  • A softer yes on “further fiction books” with other characters and plots besides Salander or not focused specifically on Salander.
  • As a journalist who had written several nonfiction books in Sweden over the 15 years prior to his death (including co-editing a book  just before his death on “honor killings” and violence against women), he had notes and ideas for future nonfiction books, and would almost certainly have used his fame and fortune as a writer of thrillers to create additional publication opportunities for his nonfiction, investigative, and political work.

As for the long answer…

Part I: Emphatic yes on “further books” about Salander

Our understanding is there is substantial Larsson manuscript material (perhaps hundreds of pages) for what was supposed to be “Salander 5” in Larsson’s long-term outline of perhaps as many as ten novels. He became more intrigued with the fifth plot and had moved it up to become “Salander 4” instead of the fifth. This is the one that he told John-Henri Holmberg was set on Banks Island in Canada’s northwest. In Chapter 9 of our book, The Tattooed Girl, John-Henri Holmberg summarizes what we know about the state of the manuscript and the possible ideas, characters, locations, and themes of “Salander 4.” (Click here for more details on Holmberg’s summary.)

We can also guess that he might have written a substantial amount of what was supposed to have been the fourth book in order to have made the decision that he preferred to work on the fifth one first, although we can’t know if he made the shift after writing a substantial amount or merely because the spirit moved him to work in a focused way on the plot of the fifth novel because he was particularly attracted to some aspect of it (Canadian locale, dealing with Lisbeth’s sister Camilla, etc.).

Given what we know about his journalistic methods and his lifetime writing habits since he got his first typewriter at the age of 12, Larsson was always making notes, he was always writing paragraphs, openings, fleshing out ideas, etc. It is said that the opening story in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo about an old man getting a flower card every year on his birthday was written as a sketch by Larsson in the late 90s.  He left it untouched and came back to it only in 2001-2, when he resolved to write the first novel in a focused, disciplined way. It is also apparent that the original idea for Lisbeth was cooked up a decade before he started writing the first novel, when he and his friend at the TT news agency started speculating on what Pippi Longstocking might have like grown up.

Considering these examples, it is relatively easy to speculate that Larsson had ideas, outlines, paragraphs, characters, locales, issues, and perhaps manuscript pages for more than one of the novels he contemplated for the rest of the “Salander” series.

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