Publisher Christopher MacLehose, Erland Larsson, publicist Nicci Praça, and Joakim Larsson in London
Even before those folks at UK publishing house Quercus/MacLehose Press began celebrating the fact that one of their books, Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2008), was named last night as Crime Thriller of the Year at the Galaxy British Book Awards, a lucky cadre of Larsson fans had the opportunity to toast the novel during an informal, private celebration on Thursday.
Those festivities were hosted by legendary publisher Christopher MacLehose and his charming wife at their house in North West London. And they offered attendees the welcome chance to meet not only the late author’s father, Erland Larsson, but Stieg’s younger brother, Joakim, as well.
Shots editor Mike Stotter and I are both longtime Larsson fans; we’d met Erland Larsson before, during last October’s ITV3 Awards ceremony, and I had in fact interviewed Erland Larsson that same evening. So we were pretty sure we’d be invited to MacLehose’s fête, but we didn’t know who else would be attending.
In preparation for the party, I headed into London, planning to rendezvous with Stotter at a local hostelry. I was surprised to find my colleague in such casual attire. What, no tie? No suit? As it turns out, Stotter had been deliberately under-dressed all day long. He works in the City of London--the legendary Square Mile--where demonstrators had been busy protesting the G20 summit, and he’d been instructed, along with his members of his staff, to dress down, as threats had been made against obvious financial district workers.
After catching up a bit over drinks, we headed off to the MacLehose party. The publisher himself answered the front door and ushered us into his home. Quercus publicists Lucy Ramsey and Nicci Praça greeted us with glasses of chilled champagne, and MacLehose’s wife appeared with some remarkable finger nibbles. Also in attendance were critics Louise France from The Observer, Barry Forshaw, Michael Carlson, and Bob Cornwell. It seemed that Quercus/MacLehose Press had chosen the most Larsson-enthusiastic book reviewers for this gathering. I soon got to chatting with Forshaw, who told me that the last time he was in this residence was the time when Swedish novelist Henning Mankell (The Pyramid) was signed by Quercus/MacLehose, and he pointed to the sofa--rather like Inspector Kurt Wallander might--indicating where Mankell sat while Forshaw interviewed him many years ago.
Suddenly, I heard my name shouted--“Karim!”--and I spotted an enthusiastic Erland Larsson entering the room with his second son, who looked like a much younger version of the late Stieg Larsson.
Talking to Erland was like talking to an old friend. He greeted me with a warm embrace and, since this was the night before the Galaxy British Book Awards were handed out, I wished him luck with Dragon Tattoo. I said I had a good feeling about its chances of winning. He just laughed, and then told me about the Swedish film version of his late son’s “Millennium Trilogy.” It seems he’s quite happy with it. I asked about rumors that U.S. film companies are also swarming around Stieg Larsson’s stories. He confirmed such gossip, but added that so far, he’s declined Hollywood’s overtures, because he thinks the producers want to change Stieg’s material too much.
Presently, we were escorted out into the garden, where we found Quercus CEO Mark Smith chatting with MacLehose. I learned that the publisher has decided to move up the release date for Stieg Larsson’s third novel, so it will now come out in October 2009, rather than January 2010. The bad news is that this time, there won’t be any advance proof copies of the book issued. (Which means I won’t get to feel like a drug pusher again, the way I did during last fall’s Bouchercon in Baltimore, when I covertly slipped a handful of proofs to reviewers and editors.) However, selected critics will receive review copies of that third Millennium volume one month before its publication. I was reassured that my name was featured on that exclusive list. And then, to whet my appetite further, MacLehose disappeared into his office and returned bearing the edited and rubber-banded manuscript of Larsson’s third novel. My eyes went wide and it was all I could not to grasp the pages out his hands and run for my car. I did, though, bring out my camera. Quickly, MacLehose returned the manuscript to his bag--but not before I snapped a picture (shown here on the left).
Afterward, Joakim Larsson came over to me and said, “You know, Ali, my brother used your name in the books.” I laughed and said it had to have been a coincidence. Yes, there’s a minor character in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo named Lottie Karim--a fact that got my attention when I first read that book back in December 2007; but surely, that name hadn’t been inspired by me. Joakim wouldn’t let it go. He explained that his older brother was a voracious reader obsessed with crime fiction and the Internet. He added that Stieg followed book reviews and author interviews online, and often visited the British e-zine Shots, for which I’ve been writing for years. And I have often supplied my photographs to crime-fiction publications around the world, including to Sweden after Henning Mankell won the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award in 2001. This certainly wouldn’t be the first time that my name had been adopted by a fictional figure. But still ...
“Remember,” said Joakim, “my brother’s love of crime fiction is evident in the fact that his chief investigator, [Mikael] Blomkvist, reads the works of Sue Grafton, Val McDermid, Elizabeth George, and others. Stieg loved crime fiction--and was reading about its authors, and you’ve just about interviewed them all.” This was all getting to be rather Twilight Zone-like to me. What Joakim Larsson was telling me was that, a Swedish writer I never met had read my reviews and author interviews, and given a minor character in his stories my name as a result. Then, following that writer’s untimely death in late 2004, I had become obsessed with his English-translated work. Now, I’ve encountered some surreal things in my day, but this circle of events sounded positively nutty.
Nice story, I told Joakim, laughing. But he just smiled back and said, “You’re a scientist, so you don’t believe in coincidences?”
Before long it was time to say our farewells to Erland and Joakim Larsson, and the MacLehose and Quercus gang. During my drive home, as I revisited the evening’s events in my mind and pondered the contents of that final Millennium book manuscript MacLehose had shown me, I kept returning to Joakim’s words. “My brother, Stieg, was obsessed with crime fiction as well as the Internet.” That statement could also apply to me, I thought, so perhaps this world is more surreal than even I considered.