Interview with VG, Norway (A crude English translation)
But only halfway through the book series, Riley fell ill. And on 11 June last year , she died of esophageal cancer , aged 55.
The fans were in shock and grief, and many wrote to the bereaved on social media - both to express their condolences, but also to hear about what now happened with the book mystery.
'The start felt a bit overwhelming, since we had just been hit so hard. But it wasn't me who managed my mother's social media, it was my stepsister Olivia', says Harry Whittaker when VG meets him in Oslo.
Little did Whittaker know in June 2021 that his stepsister would also be abruptly and brutally taken away less than a year later. 41-year-old Olivia Riley and her three dogs were hit and killed in May this year.
'Queen Elizabeth referred to 1992 as her "annus horribilis", her terrible year. But this has been my annus horribilis', says Whittaker about the time after last summer.
'Just before my stepsister died, I also lost my grandmother, to whom I was closely connected. I've had a hard time.'
The 29-year-old asks for respect because he does not want to elaborate on his stepsister's dramatic death. But he is determined to tell about the last time with his mother.
'Mum was my very best friend. It was a tremendous shock when she died. I felt both emptiness and anger. The world was a much better place when she was here.'
- When did you and the family realise that your mother would not survive the disease?
- Never. We never realised it. We neither thought about it nor talked about it. Mum didn't think she was going to die either. Remember that she wrote four books while she was ill,' the son explains. 'Mum was a bit magical. Although she was very unwell, she always recovered. Both she and I thought she would get better. All the time she was strong for the rest of us. She was brave and kept her spirits up and her bright mind to the end.'
Made a promise
The two had a very special conversation at Christmas 2018.
'We sat and talked for six or seven hours about what I should do if the worst were to happen. I promised my mother that I would finish "The Seven Sisters" for her. But at the same time I told her not to worry, because she wasn't going to die,' says Whittaker. 'And then we never spoke about it again.'
Three weeks ago he put the finishing touches on the work. The latest book, "Altas: The Story of Pa Salt" , will be released worldwide on 11 May.
'Mum has been so close to me during the writing process, even though she hasn't been here physically. She is with me in my heart, and it has been a blessing for me to write the book,' says Whittaker. 'I can reveal that some of the action takes place in Norway,' he says and smiles.
Whittaker knows that millions of people are waiting for the answer to the mystery . But he is not nervous. It is not the readers he has had in mind along the way.
'This is something I do for my mother, my great heroine, and it is an honor and a joy. But if it has been difficult ? Yes, I can sign for that,' he says with a laugh about unraveling all the details and threads in the books. 'But I managed it. Now all the pieces of the puzzle fit, says Whittaker, who is an award-winning radio host for BBC York and an actor in an improv theatre troupe.
In a candid interview with VG in 2019 , Riley talked about the cancer. It was the only time she allowed herself to be interviewed about the disease.
'Death does not scare me. It has never done that. But I'm afraid of relapse, because the chemotherapy and radiation treatment destroyed me', said Riley, who then hoped and believed that she was on the road to recovery.
The son describes both his mother and himself as spiritual people, with no connection to a particular religion. He does not believe in a "tall man with a beard in the sky", but rather in a universal force.
'Both mum and I have experienced so many important things in life, which it would be silly to dismiss as coincidences. And I would rather live with the hope that there is something more than to accept that death is the end. Because I don't think it is, and neither did my mother.'
Riley's fans will be happy to hear that there will be more books than this last in the series. There are five more books that she wrote in the 90s, then under the name Lucinda Edmonds.
'They will be relaunched in turn, so mum will be with us for a long time to come,' says a satisfied Whittaker.
He also hints at TV plans. VG already wrote in 2016 that Hollywood had secured the rights to the sister series.
'We are talking about a giant company, so I am afraid of saying something wrong. But there will be a big announcement in 2023,' reveals Riley's son.
Also in England, where Riley and the family have had their base for many years, there are TV plans.
Whittaker says a major British channel has shown interest in The Fleet House Murders , Riley's stand-alone crime novel published after her death.
'We intend to provide the rights to develop this universe and create an independent series. Perhaps I'll write more books about the main character as well,' reveals Whittaker.
The visit to Norway is Whittaker's first. At the weekend he was at the literature festival in Skudeneshavn and even took a November swim in the sea.
'It was magical!' he says, laughing out loud. 'For me, it has been wonderful to meet my mother's loyal readers. They loved her as a person, not just as a writer. Mum taught us in the family that we must enjoy every second of life, even the difficult moments, because they are part of the whole picture. The only thing we know for sure is that nothing is certain. Mom told us to love life, and I intend to do that,' says Whittaker.