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The summer of Stieg Larsson Add to ...

These questions are all perfect grist for fan fantasies in the absence of another Salander-Blomkvist fix.

Mr. Larsson's death and the subsequent family fight over his estate have added to the mass hysteria swirling around the books, says Megan Boler, a professor in theory and policy studies at the University of Toronto's Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

"The fact that he died during this and the fact that there's some mystery involved with who actually wrote the book, people who hadn't even read the books had heard of this," Prof. Boler said.

She believes even those narratives are part of the promotional push. "I would call this a very successful marketing campaign at a very good time. A number of things came together to make this work."

The season is a big part of it: "The timing worked very well for a dry summer of Hollywood films. This one in particular had a lot of sleepers. A decent mystery film works well, as does the timing of these books being on the bestseller lists."

The Swedish title of his first book was Men Who Hate Women (publishers made him change it). Ms. Gabrielsson says he was an early feminist after witnessing a gang rape when he was 14. There's very little information about his mother. And how about that father - Mr. Larsson, after being farmed out as a baby to his grandparents, didn't know his family until he was 9, and Ms. Gabrielsson says he was never close to them - could he be the model for Salander's monstrous arch-enemy Zalachenko?

THE MYSTERY OF THE MYSTERY

Heavy-handed. Dark. Swedish. Why are these so popular? That is the $64-million question. Especially when there are so many reasons the trilogy shouldn't work.

Yet... an unadulterated hit costs about 35 bucks. Supposed to be addictive, but you can handle it, you'll just have a taste. Suddenly you're mainlining. Bedtime comes and goes. Just a little bit more, you tell yourself, and then you'll go to sleep, you swear! The next day, you're wrecked. Even if you can drag yourself into work, all you can think about is your next fix.

Worst of all? There are only three dosages per customer - so you know it's going to end badly. But maybe you didn't expect the withdrawal pains to be this intense.

"If we take a look at the biochemistry that is produced by this text, it's a very intoxicating read in terms of style, and sex and violence. We know the kinds of jolts these things produce," Ms. Burstyn said.

"I found that my heart beat was affected. It's just one declarative sentence after another, it's like a drumbeat - the pacing and the forcefulness."

Here we deconstruct the phenomenon of the hottest series on the planet.

NO SELF-RESPECTING READER SHOULD LIKE THESE BOOKS

Brand-name-itis: Nobody in Mr. Larsson's books spend a night at home or a hotel, have breakfast, a quick cigarette, then jump in their car and go to work. No, they pay 800 kronor to stay at the Grand Hotel, bolt down a Billys Pan Pizza from 7-11, light up a Lucky Strike, get into a Saab or a Volvo, perhaps while making a call on their Sony-Ericsson, or tapping on their Palm Tungsten T3. As Beth in Atlanta complained in a stieglarsson.com discussion on product placement: "I'm not even halfway through The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and he's mentioned the Apple iBook NINE times already."

The coffee tic: In The Thin Man movies, whenever anyone got hurt - be it a metaphorical broken heart or a bullet to the left ventricle - they were invariably offered a cigarette. Rep audiences erupt with affectionate laughter every time this happens. In Mr. Larsson's books, the all-purpose go-to remedy for social awkwardness, brutal assault or the breakdown of trust in our democratic institutions is java, java and more java. And nobody ever laughs.

Endless descriptions of disgusting food: Sandwiches (sometimes closed, often open), frozen food, toast, beet salad. Make no mistake, this series is not set in Paris, or indeed in any cultural setting that sees food as anything other than lumps of calories to fuel the next stage of the investigation.

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