From Larsson to Lagercrantz to Smirnoff: The unconventional evolution of the Millennium series continues

As fans eagerly awaited the publication of The Girl In The Eagle’s Talons, Karin Smirnoff’s takeover of Steig Larsson’s Millennium Series, the genesis of the books is just as complex as the plot twists contained within the book’s pages.

An author spends years working on a series of ten books, writing two of a planned trilogy and most of the third before even finding a publisher. Securing a publisher, the author dies suddenly from a heart attack before the books are printed, let alone published.

It sounds like a starting point for its own Nordic noir novel, but as has been said many times before, life is often more bizarre than art.

Stieg Larsson’s Millennium (informally the Dragon Tattoo) series has become one of the most recognised brands in the Scandi Noir franchise, helped in no small part by Hollywood adaptations, and far from the death of Larsson in 2004, nearly 20 years later, book number seven is about to be published, penned by Karin Smirnoff, the third author to pen books in the series.

Though often described as a trilogy, comprising The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest, Larsson had also completed around three-quarters of a fourth novel in the series at the time of his death, with plans for a further six books to complete a ten book series. Legal arguments around ownership of the Larsson estate means that unfinished book remains, yet, unpublished, but the series didn’t end there.

2009, four years after Larsson’s death, saw a joint Swedish and Danish production for the film of the trilogy. The success of the release in Scandinavia saw Sony Pictures produce an English adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, directed by David Fincher, in 2011 starring Daniel Craig.

The film adaptations and the renewed appetite to discover the original novels inspired publishers to look at other routes to continue Larsson’s vision of an epic sweep of novels. Ten years after the original publication, Swedish journalist and author David Lagercrantz’s fourth instalment of the series, The Girl In The Spider’s Web, was published. Lagercrantz didn’t have access to the material Larsson had already begun the work, and to this day, that unfinished manuscript remains unpublished.

Spider’s Web did, though, reignite interest in the work with a new English-language film, based on Lagercrantz’s work released in 2019. Worldwide takings of $35million against production costs of $43 million saw future releases shelved, and, while critics praised Clare Foy’s performance, reviews were poor.

Book sales, on the other hand, flourished; Larsson’s original three books continuing to be top sellers and, thanks to being a staple of many an airport book shop, an almost guaranteed spotted read aboard any flight. The original three books alone have sold over 82 million copies worldwide. Lagercrantz’s sequel has clocked up over 6 million sales to date. With such positive sales, publishers would look to continue the run of success, commissioning Lagercrantz to write two further sequels, The Girl Who Takes and Eye For An Eye (2017) and The Girl Who Lived Twice (2018).

When Lagercrantz announced in 2019 that The Girl Who Lived Twice would be his final contribution to the series, many thought that this twisting literary journey had come to an end. Fans were begging Lagercrantz to continue, a far cry from the uproar, especially among Swedish media, when, it was announced pre-Lagencrantz’s novels that the Larsson stories would be continued by a new writer.

Largencrantz always said he saw his three novels as his own works, using Larsson’s books and characters as a foundation using his own voice rather than trying to mimic Larsson. Now, for the seventh book in the series, a third voice enters the frame, that of Swedish author and journalist Karin Smirnoff. Many saw Smirnoff as a strange choice to pick up the baton, though the same had also been said of Largencrantz, though on paper the choice is a natural fit. Sharing Larsson’s journalistic background, Smirnoff had already earned her Nordic crime novel stripes with the successful Jan Kippo trilogy.

While Lagerncrantz may have added his own voice to the series, he followed closely Larsson’s structure. Smirnoff has taken a more radical move, relocating the characters from around Stockholm to northern Sweden, a sparsely populated area for the characters to roam. She’s also taken a wider view of plot, taking what have been tightly constructed plots into a more expansive meandering story arc. Reviews of the Swedish 2020 release (Havsörnens Skrik – The Cry of the Sea Eagle) were mixed, with reviewers praising the plot twists but suggesting Smirnoff may have tried to stamp her own style too strongly on an already established structure.

Fans, though. have proved more receptive, welcoming the change to continue Lisbeth Salander’s story. Perhaps Smirnoff is setting the scene – the open-ended nature of The Girl in the Eagle’s Talons sets the reader up for books eight and nine, for which Smirnoff has already signed a contract to write.

UK readers can make their own mind up when the book is released on 29 August. Given that Smirnoff is contracted to take the series to nine books, and Larsson’s grand plan originally ran to 10 novels, perhaps the biggest yet unresolved mystery in the Salander story is: who will pen book 10?    

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