Swedish thriller poised for blockbuster U.S. debutBy Walker Simon Walker Simon – Tue May 25, 4:00 pm ET
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Many Americans picked up their newspapers this week to find the opening pages of “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” part of a powerful campaign for a series of books by a deceased Swedish mystery writer who has had near unparalleled popularity in the United States.
“Hornet’s Nest,” the third and final installment of the trilogy by Stieg Larsson, who died before any of his novels reached print, shot to the top of the bestseller list on Amazon.com, the world’s largest online bookseller, before it reached U.S. bookshelves on Tuesday.
Ranking third on Amazon’s list was “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” which kicked off the Larsson series, while the middle book “The Girl Who Played with Fire” ranked fifth.
The showing is extraordinary, given that books in translation rarely become bestsellers, much less runaway hits, in the United States. The books experienced blockbuster sales in Europe in the last few years.
“Larsson is the biggest U.S. phenomenon of an author in translation since Umberto Eco’s novel ‘The Name of the Rose,'” said Jim Milliot, Publishers Weekly’s editorial co-editor. Eco’s hit book was published in the United States in 1983.
The Larsson trilogy, published by Alfred A. Knopf, has sold 27 million copies worldwide and been translated into 44 languages.
The hard-to-miss publicity campaign features excerpts of “Hornet’s Nest” on cover advertisements of New York, Boston and Philadelphia newspapers and a look-alike contest promoted through Facebook and Flickr social media sites for the book’s central character, Lisbeth Salander.
Knopf, which has printed 800,000 copies of “Hornet’s Nest,” declined to say how much the market campaign has cost, nor how much the books have earned. Knopf is part of Random House Inc, which is owned by Bertelsmann AG.
Top U.S. book chain Barnes & Noble said it expects the latest book to be its top fiction seller this week.
The mysteries feature Salander, a driven and emotionally scarred computer hacker, and investigative reporter Mikael Blomkvist who together expose corruption and exact justice.
“People love to live vicariously through Salander; she’s an avenger,” said U.S. film producer Scott Rudin, who has bought the U.S. rights to the trilogy.
The character of Blomkvist, a reporter for the fictional investigative magazine Millennium, appears modeled on Larsson’s real-life magazine Expo. Larsson died in 2004 at age 50.
This fall, Rudin, who shared a 2008 Academy Award for “No Country for Old Men,” starts shooting “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” due for release at the end of next year. A Swedish film adaptation of the book was released in the United States earlier this year.
“A SEAMY SIDE”
Outside Hollywood, booksellers say Larsson is at the leading edge of a U.S. readership boomlet in Scandinavian detective novels.
“Scandinavia has a squeaky clean image,” said R.J. Julia Booksellers’ buyer Karen Corvello in Madison, Connecticut. “People find it interesting that there is a seamy side to countries like Sweden, with financial and political corruption.”
Another thriller, “The Man from Beijing,” by Swedish writer Henning Mankell, did well after its February U.S. launch, said Patricia Bostelman, Barnes & Noble’s marketing vice president.
“There is a satisfying darkness” in the books, she said.
“Hornet’s Nest” involves a cover-up of a shadowy unit of the Swedish secret service, responsible for locking up Salander as a teenager in a mental hospital.
“People identify with someone who is characterized as an underdog or misfit,” said Barnes & Noble’s Bostelman. “The way she exacts justice using cutting-edge computer technology is very satisfying to contemporary readers.
“She’s the perfect anti-heroine of the 21st century.”