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By Nicholas Vinocur
STOCKHOLM (Reuters Life!) - Former colleagues of best-selling crime fiction author Stieg Larsson have caused a furor in Sweden by questioning his talent as a writer and casting public doubt on whether he penned his books alone.
Larsson has gained mythical status since his sudden death six years ago. His "Millennium" trilogy of novels, a dark tale which exposes the underbelly of Sweden's industrial elite, became a global phenomenon and sold more than 12 million copies.
Lately, however, most talk of Larsson's work in Sweden has centered on public criticism of his reporting methods, his talent as a writer, as well as allegations that his life partner of 32 years could actually have written much of Millennium.
"I am definitely not out to defame Larsson -- I had a great deal of respect for him," Anders Hellberg, a former colleague of Larsson's at the Swedish TT newswire, told Reuters.
"But a person can't be good at everything, and writing wasn't his strong point. He simply didn't write well."
The Larsson debate became front-page news and took Sweden's literary world by storm in January after the publication of a critical portrait by Kurdo Baksi, who worked with the author at the magazine Expo.
Baksi's book, in which he criticizes Larsson's reporting methods -- saying he sometimes used himself as a source for articles -- prompted a quick rebuke from the author's boss at TT, as well as accusations of "character assassination" from Larsson's partner Eva Gabrielsson.
But it also brought forward other skeptics.
Hellberg, now a journalist for Sweden's top-selling morning paper, wrote in a front-page article that while Larsson was a masterful researcher -- "the human form of Wikipedia" -- he was an awkward writer who had probably called on Gabrielsson to do much of the writing for Millennium.
Eva Gedin, Larsson's editor at Norstedt's, has not responded to requests for comment. In a newspaper article published earlier this month, she called questions over the authorship of the trilogy "meaningless speculation".
"Clearly Larsson was the one writing," she wrote.
As the debate has grown louder and divided opinions in Sweden, many commentators have rallied to defend Larsson in editorials.
Some have accused Baksi and Hellberg of seeking attention at the expense of a deceased author. Larsson's mystique, they say, has made him easy prey.
But Gabrielsson has done little to quiet speculation about her role in writing the trilogy, which consists of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo", "The Girl Who Played With Fire", and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest".
While Gabrielsson has fired back against anything resembling criticism of Larsson's professional character, there has been no denial or clarification of just how much she may have contributed to the final work.
"I have trouble seeing what's exclusively mine and what's exclusively Stieg's in Millennium's language, content, and so forth," she told Politiken, a Danish newspaper, in an email.
The intense scrutiny of how Millennium was written is partly explained by the fact that, when Larsson died at 50 in 2004, he did not leave a will. His estate is currently shared by his brother and father, while Gabrielsson was left without any claim to the proceeds of his work.
Attempts to reach Gabrielsson for comment were unsuccessful. She is preparing a book about her life with Stieg Larsson.
Editing by Paul Casciato