Kate Ward
July 24, 2009 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Author Stieg Larsson was a muckraking leftist journalist who spent his days dodging death threats from right-wing radicals and his nights composing a crime series he called the Millennium trilogy. But in 2004, just before the publication of his first book, the 50-year-old writer died suddenly from a heart attack. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo nonetheless blew up into a huge phenomenon, hitting best-seller lists in Sweden and, eventually, the rest of the world. Forty countries have rights to the book, and Tattoo sold more than 200,000 copies in America alone. ”No one could have foreseen that it would become such a success,” says Magdalena Hedlund, rights director at Norstedts, the publisher that discovered Larsson’s trilogy. ”But you cannot let go of them. There is something about them that drags you into the story.”

When Larsson died, he left behind two Tattoo sequels and an unfinished manuscript for another. Only one thing was missing — a will. That means that under Swedish law, Larsson’s longtime partner, Eva Gabrielsson, has gotten none of his estimated $30 million estate. While the money sits in the hands of Larsson’s father and brother, Gabrielsson is trying to change the law so unmarried partners can pursue an inheritance in court. ”I have heard…that new proposals about this law may be expected this autumn,” Gabrielsson tells EW in an e-mail. (Larsson’s brother, Joakim, did not respond to an interview request.)

Larsson’s estate could soon get a whole lot bigger. Knopf has already ordered three printings of the American edition of Tattoo‘s first sequel, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and plans to publish the final volume, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, next summer. Tattoo has also been adapted into a successful feature film in Sweden, and though a U.S. distributor has not yet been secured, a sales agent says there is interest in bringing the film Stateside. And that incomplete fourth installment? The author’s blood relatives, who currently own the rights, reportedly don’t want to see it published, and Gabrielsson won’t comment. She plans to weigh in on that — and many other things — in a memoir she’s writing about her ordeal.

When her book comes out, it will only add to the fascination with Larsson, whose name has gotten 1.8 million Google hits — a number that’s more than doubled since September. ”People still whisper about the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death,” says Knopf publicist Paul Bogaards, referring to conspiracy theories that have circulated since Larsson passed away. ”We know that [foul play] is not the case, but it adds to the drama and mystery of who he was and what he did: the juggernaut that is now the Millennium trilogy.”

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