The Mystery of the Dragon Tattoo: Stieg Larsson, the World's Bestselling — and Most Enigmatic — Author

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As Larsson struggled to establish himself as a journalist, his obsession with the extreme right grew increasingly rabid. He collected every journal, pamphlet and piece of correspondence from extremists he could find. The idea for an archive came to him after reading Frederick Forysth's thriller The Odessa File — an investigative journalist uncovers an archive of information about a secret international Nazi organization, which he attempts to infiltrate as an undercover agent. Larsson became a correspondent for the British anti-racism journal Searchlight. Then, in 1991, he had his first real break: Extremhögern ("The Extreme Right"), an exhaustive history he co-wrote tracing the rise of far-right groups, surpassed all sales expectations. Over 10 years, it sold some 6,000 copies.

But Larsson was still frustrated. He was pushing 40, and his journalism career was faltering. He had moved on from his typist duties at TT — he now designed the graphics that ran alongside articles — but editors still weren't giving him the writing assignments he craved. It wasn't because of any lack of intensity, however. When he would go out for drinks after work, he had little patience for small talk, trying to steer the conversation to issues of substance. If someone discussed a subject he didn't know about — flowers commonly found in Uppsala, say, or Amazon warriors — he would go home that night and research it online, then show up the next morning at his colleague's desk, reciting facts that demonstrated his knowledge. Did they know that the Latin name for the white, heatherlike flower was Leptospermum rubinette? Or that the Greeks coined the term "Amazon"?

"He was an autodidact and had an extreme sense of knowledge about all kinds of different subjects," says Robert Aschberg, a television host and columnist who serves as Expo's publisher. "Information was like a drug for him: He had to know everything."

Yet Larsson couldn't bring himself to leave TT. He took pride in working for the news agency — and he needed the salary. He rarely used banks, keeping all of his money in his wallet and paying bills with cash at the post office. His father urged him to start thinking of himself: "Write something commercial," Erland would tell him in his loud, stentorian voice. Remembering his son's passion for Astrid Lindgren, he suggested that Stieg try his hand at children's literature.

In a way, Larsson already had. For some time, he had worked on his own version of Sivar Ahlrud's Tvillingdetektiverna books, in which the boy detectives were now adults and had to solve serious crimes. But it didn't work, and he threw it away. The only way forward, he concluded, was to start his own publication, as he had done in Umeå with his fanzines. There was no question about what its subject would be. By the early Nineties, neo-Nazi groups were holding protests in the street, in full regalia, and Stockholm's immigrant population was being terrorized by a serial killer known as the Laser Man. The subject of Larsson's arcane obsession — a splintered right-wing extremist movement in a country that had been ruled for most of the century by a leftist government — had suddenly become the major story of his time.

The debut issue of Expo appeared in August 1995, with the stated goal of studying and surveying "anti-democratic, right-wing extremist and racist tendencies in Swedish society." The first issues didn't attract much attention. But the magazine was noticed by the only constituency that mattered: Nazis. The printer's office was vandalized, and newsstands carrying the magazine had their windows smashed and their walls spray-painted with the message: Don't Print Expo!

It was the best thing that could have happened to a fledgling investigative magazine. The violence attracted major attention in the press — it became known as "the Expo affair" — and Sweden's two largest evening newspapers jointly published a special edition of Expo. The magazine never had more than 1,000 subscribers in Larsson's lifetime and always lost money, but its voice was heard.

Even before the launch of Expo, Larsson worried about the threats against him. He had installed a vaultlike fireproof door in his home and changed his routine daily — going to and from work at odd hours and taking different routes home. His friends didn't know what to make of his increasing vigilance. Were the threats against him legitimate? Or was it part of his self-dramatizing act as an investigative journalist?

Then something happened that justified Larsson's most paranoid theories. One afternoon the phone rang at his desk at TT. The caller's voice was oddly cheerful.

"Someone will kill you today," he said. Then the line went dead.

Larsson went to the window. On a bench across the street sat a man with a large bag. He was watching the building's entrance, as if he was waiting for someone.

Larsson knew the police wouldn't believe his story and that they would have no grounds to pick up a man sitting peacefully on a bench. Larsson could leave by the back door, but the man might return the next day, and the one after that.

He called the police.

"There will be a bank robbery this afternoon," Larsson told them. "The robber is currently sitting on a bench in front of Kungsholmstorg 5."

"Who is this? Where are you calling from?" Larsson hung up.

Minutes later, a police car pulled up in front of the office. The man was apprehended, his bag was checked. It contained several guns. Larsson took the back door out and ran home.

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