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The summer of Stieg Larsson Add to ...

The numbers are almost too astronomic to believe. Worldwide sales this week are reported to be in the 35-million-to-40-million range, but it's impossible to be more accurate since the copies sell too fast to count.

Penguin Canada's sales hit one million on Thursday - 1,0002,746 to be exact, for all three titles of the bestselling trilogy, in all formats. Penguin initially ordered 70,000 copies of the final book, but in the first 10 weeks sales hit 195,000 - the highest number for a hardcover in Penguin Canada history.

In the United States, news broke on Wednesday that the author has become the first one to sell more than one million ebooks on Amazon, beating out top sellers Stephenie Meyer ( Twilight) and James Patterson ( Kiss the Girls and other bestsellers).

Noomi Rapace plays Lisbeth Salander in the films.

In Europe, analyses of 2009 book sales put the author at No. 1 among fiction writers, ahead of Ms. Meyer and Dan Brown ( The Da Vinci Code).

It takes one's breath away to think that there could ever be a blockbuster like Harry Potter again.

But such are the cold, hard facts about this summer's beach and cottage drug of choice: Theroughly 2,100-page Millennium series by Stieg Larsson, who died soon after delivering the trilogy in 2004. Since then, the giant tomes - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest - have proliferated like mould throughout the world's bedrooms, airport lounges and public-transit systems. This summer, the presence was amped by the release of the DVD of the movie based on the first book coinciding with the opening of the movie based on the second book and the publication of the third book in hardcover.

In urban settings, you can't get on a bus without negotiating the aisles around the monster books (or maxi-pads of e-readers) of 1, 2 or 3. The only conversation that lights up a room is when one trots out the two words "Stieg Larsson," or for those in the know... "Lisbeth Salander."

Men are becoming girl-with-tattoo widowers, because their wives only want to get cozy with the book at night.

And this is a trilogy that was launched five years ago. No matter what readers' tastes are, highbrow or lowbrow, they are all diving in to the super-salacious mystery riddled with mysterious state "guardians" who viciously exploit the young heroine, a superhacker who bides her time before wreaking revenge. There is even a peculiar Darth Vader-like twist. Despite the passages of endless quotidian detail, there is no end of appetite for the trilogy, two of which sit at first and second place on the New York Times paperback trade fiction bestseller list.

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. Megan Boler, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education

"If you see it everywhere, you go, 'Oh wow. Let's see what it is.' This is a phenom," says author and cultural critic Varda Burstyn, based in Peterborough, who is herself onto the third book.

Ms. Burstyn says powerful promotion and compelling substance generate mass appeal on this scale.

"Things don't go viral like that unless there's good marketing," she says, adding that "rabid word of mouth" is part of that process.

Beyond simple characters and "a lot of sex and violence," the hordes have got hooked because the material is an adrenal cocktail.

The aura of mystery surrounding the trilogy is as much a part of the phenomenon as anything.

Like his Millennium protagonist, Stieg Larsson was a crusading investigative journalist.

Mr. Larsson, like his hero Mikael Blomkvist, was a left-wing crusader and investigative journalist who attracted controversy and death threats with his exposés on corruption in Swedish business and politics. After years of chain smoking and a predominantly junk-food diet, he climbed seven floors to his office on Nov. 9, 2004, had a heart attack and died intestate before any of his Millennium books were published. Or did he? Was he, hmm, killed by right-wing conspiracists?

Further, there is wrangling over his estate, inherited by his father and brother, which is now worth an estimated $32.3-million. His common-law wife, Eva Gabrielsson, was left with nothing, by law, peculiar for a social democrat country. Does Ms. Gabrielsson really have a laptop that contains a chunk of the fourth book Mr. Larsson was writing for the planned 10-book series? Did she even write the books herself?

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