Home >Opinion >The Henning Mankell wish

Pulp fiction doesn’t always command much respect—but once you die, your books might just become literary classics: For example the novels Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett wrote in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s have risen in public esteem ever since.

When it comes to Swedish thriller superstar Stieg Larsson, whose Millennium Trilogy has sold more than 75 million copies in 40 languages over the last nine years and been made into blockbuster movies, it appears especially true that his career was fuelled by the curious fact that he died shortly before his first novel was due to be published (Larsson, a heavy smoker, climbed eight floors to his office on a day when the elevator was broken, and promptly had a heart attack).

The rest is history, you might say, except that it isn’t quite over yet: The Larsson saga goes on, I discovered the other day while browsing Swedish newspapers online. In the first few months of this year, he was making headlines again on two separate grounds.

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Stieg Larsson. Photo: Britt-Marie Trensmar/Bloomberg

Even more curiously, Larsson made big news again when it was announced that he had solved the murder of Olof Palme, the Swedish prime minister who was shot by an unknown assassin in 1986. The investigation was repeatedly bungled by the amateurish police force which, at that time, was helmed by a cowboy-style, old-school yahoo with vague ideas about how to conduct analytical forensic work, who preferred to follow some hunch or the other. Although over the years an estimated 130 people have confessed to the crime and several arrests were made, one of the biggest murder investigations in history is yet to yield conclusive results.

This is why Larsson hit the news again, since he had apparently cracked the case within a year and a half of the murder and, in 1987, even handed over a memo that identified the co-conspirators to the police, who promptly managed to not act on the tip-off. Larsson seems to have continued his research until his untimely death in 2004, by which point he had compiled some 15 big cardboard boxes of evidence.

The newspaper that broke this story managed to get an interview with the man pinpointed by Larsson as a primary suspect: a former secret agent and alleged right-wing contract killer now settled on a Mediterranean island that has no extradition treaties with any other nation, and where he lives happily today. He doesn’t, of course, confess to the murder, but interestingly tells the reporter that the Swedish police, who spent gigantic amounts of money on their Palme investigation, had indeed called him up once over the phone but apparently considered it prohibitively expensive, or simply unnecessary, to fly down an investigator to record his statement.

Given that the case remains unsolved to this very day, Larsson’s private research and profound insights into the shady underhand dealings by various espionage and security services naturally made big news. Might there be another book waiting to be ghost-written?

At the same time, curiously enough, the other great Swedish crime novelist Henning Mankell, whose books such as Sidetracked (1995) and Firewall (1998) about the ageing, small-town policeman Kurt Wallander have sold over 40 million copies worldwide, and who, indeed, can be credited with having kicked off the Swedish crime fiction industry (thereby inspiring Larsson to write thrillers), announced his own possible impending death.

It appears that during a health check-up he was diagnosed with cancer, a fact which he with his typical dramatic flair announced to the press. Mankell reveals on his own Web page that, “At a very early stage I decided to try to write about this. I have decided to write just as it is. But I will do it from the perspective of life, not death." So his struggle to come to terms with the illness is going to be serialized in a newspaper.

Let’s hope that Mankell lives on to write many more books, but meanwhile, if you’re keen on following this new work-in-progress by perhaps the greatest Swedish writer alive, parts of it are being reprinted on The Guardian Web page in English translation.

Zac O’Yeah is the author of Once Upon a Time in Scandinavistan and Mr Majestic: The Tout of Bengaluru.

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