Seeing Stieg Larsson’s photo (right) on a book for the first time was a real shock to me. His first book had only just been released in England posthumously when I stumbled across it in a bookshop, unaware that it had been published in English yet.
When Stieg died at the age of 50, in November 2004, it was a great shock to everyone who knew him. There was no prolonged illness, he just died suddenly of a massive heart attack.
I soon got used to seeing Stieg’s face because you could hardly get on the tube or the train without seeing someone reading a copy of one of his books from the Millennium trilogy. This isn’t surprising; over 45 million copies of his books have been sold worldwide.
Stieg is internationally famous as a fiction writer, but I knew him as an anti-fascist. Portrayals of him in the media bear no resemblance to the man that I knew. I first met him in the mid-1980s when he was visiting England and came to the Searchlight offices, which in those days were housed on a grim industrial estate in East London.
Stieg was a Swedish investigative journalist who, like us at Searchlight, had focussed his work on the far-right. He was also, a decade later, the driving force behind Expo, a Swedish anti-fascist magazine similar to Searchlight.
When Searchlight began to really work on building an international anti-fascist network, with international editor Graeme Atkinson at the helm, Stieg was a major player. Stieg was always a key person at the network conferences held in rural locations that we dubbed “Animal Farm”.
Stieg was a bright man with a good sense of humour working in one of the most dangerous countries in Europe to be exposing the far-right. In Sweden, serious opposition to the fascists was likely to get you murdered.
Stieg had never married his partner Eva Gabrielsson, as it would have meant his address would have been publicly available. All utility bills were in her name so that he couldn’t be tracked down by the people who he had spent his life opposing.
When Stieg passed away his father and brother laid claim to his estate, which was soon to become a multi-million pound affair as a result of his book sales. Because Eva and Stieg were not married, and there was no current will, she was cut out of her partner’s financial and literary legacy.
Also, because control of publication of the books was not in Eva’s hands, as it ought to have been, Stieg’s political legacy also became sanitised. Like most socialists, Stieg was an internationalist – a supporter of Maurice Bishop in Grenada – as well as being a campaigner against fascism. Stieg came from a Marxist background and woven into the fabric of the trilogy is an outcry against misogyny and the status quo.
It has been said by journalists elsewhere that the battle over Stieg’s legacy would be worthy of a crime novel itself. Without a doubt it is a crime. You can show your support for Stieg’s partner, Eva here.