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Stieg Larsson: The Man Who Wrote 'The Girl Who...'

If there were a list of books most likely to be in the hands of your neighbor on the train, plane or beach blanket this summer, No. 1 would most likely be Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest -- the third installment of his posthumously published Millennium trilogy.

Hornet's Nest came out in May and debuted at the top of The New York Times best-sellers -- but it's a success the author himself never got to enjoy. Larsson died of a heart attack in 2004, not long after he turned his manuscripts over to Eva Gedin of Nordstedt, his Swedish publisher.

Gedin tells NPR's Robert Siegel how impressed she was when she first met Larsson, a journalist who reported on Sweden's right-wing extremist movements.

"He delivered two full manuscripts," she says, "and when we met the first time, he said that he was nearly finished with the third -- quite amazing, actually, because normally a first-time author, when he finishes the first book he immediately runs to a publishing house to see if he can get it published -- but he just went on writing."

Gedin thinks that's because the three novels really tell one cohesive story -- the story of Lisbeth Salander, the pierced and tattooed hacker girl who sits at the center of Larsson's trilogy.

"When I get the question about how come these books are so successful the very short answer is Lisbeth Salander," Gedin says. "She is a fantastic character."

According to Gedin, Larsson's idea for Salander actually began with children's book character Pippi Longstocking and what she would be like when she grew up. "She sort of makes up her own rules and is quite a loner," Gedin says. "[Larsson] said from the beginning that he had created a girl who was some kind of an oddball that we haven't seen in stories like this before -- and he was quite right."

He was so right, in fact, that the books were a smashing success in Sweden -- where he has become a household name -- and around the world. That's saying a lot considering Larsson wasn't around to promote the book on TV or on book tours.

"It sort of points out the strength in these books and these stories and characters," Gedin says. "They could survive without the author behind them."

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