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by Bamber Gascoigne

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Maria Lang (1914-1991) - pseudonym for Dagmar Maria Lange


Prolific Swedish mystery writer. Maria Lang's best known characters, Puck Ekstedt and Christer Wijk, are considered classical figures in Swedish mystery novels. Her own alter ego is the author Almi Graan, who started to appear in her stories from the 1960s. Lang wrote nearly 40 adult mystery novels. She also published children's books and short stories.

" – Det är märkvärdigt, mumlade Einar till sist, hur många hemligheter och hur mucket smutsiga skvaller, som rörs upp när en sån här historia inträffar. Allt möjligt, som egentligen inte har någpt att göra med själva brottet, me son i alla fall bringas i dagen och måste undersökas..." (from Inte flera mord!, 1951)

Maria Lang was born Dagmar Maria Lange in Västerås, the only daughter of Elsa Keijser and Clas Bernard Lange, an editor. Lang's father died when she was only two years old. Her mother never wanted to discuss the surroundings of his death and it remained a taboo subject in the family. After a few years of widowhood, she married Carl Ivar Olson, they had two daughters. Olson was a salesman, 10 years of her senior. Lang had a very good relationship with her stepfather, whose balanced and open Christian view of the world influenced her early development.

From the age of twelve, Lang began to read voraciously. She devoured books by the Brontë sisters, Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, Leo Tolstoy, Mark Twain,  Walter Scott, and  many others of lesser literary reputation. In the evenings Lang had plenty of time because she only needed four hours sleep each night. Later in life, Esaias Tegnér (1782-1846) and Pär Lagerkvist (1891-1974) became for her the most important Swedish writers.

After inheriting money from her grandmother, Lang was able to finish her studies at the gymnasium in Västerås. She first entered the University of  Uppsala but then moved to Stockholm to continue her studies. In 1946 she received her Ph.D. from the University of Stockholm, where she wrote her thesis on the philosopher and writer Pontus Wikner (1837-1888). In between her studies she earned extra income as a substitute teacher. From 1948 to 1974 Lang worked as a teacher and headmaster at a girl's school (Nya elementärskolan later Ahlströmska skolan) in Stockholm. Lang never married, but, as a counterbalance, she had a lively social life.

Lang's first novel, Mördaren ljuger inte ensam, which came out in 1949, introduced Puck Ekstedt. Her pseudonym was invented by the writer Olle Hedberg. This work was an immediate success and marked the beginning of her long career as a mystery writer. Lang published since then steadily one novel in a year. At best, they sold some 40,000 copies per title. In addition to fiction, Lang also wrote opera reviews for the magazine VeckoJournalen from 1964 to 1980.

After retiring Lang moved in 1979 to Nora, a small town in south central Sweden, where she had grown up. In her books Nora went under the name of Skoga, the scene of many of her murders. Maria Lang died on October 9, 1991. Her last novel was Se Skoga och sedan... (1990). Vem är du?: Dagmar Lange eller Maria Lang (1985), Lang's book of memoirs, did not reveal too much of her private life, but focused more on her career as a mystery writer, and her hobbies, relatives, and friends.

Lang, often referred to as  "Sweden's Agatha Christie", was the one of the founders of The Swedish Crime Academy (Svenska Deckarakademin). Her works are rooted more or less in the British tradition of whodunnits, although she took her subjects from hidden family secrets and conflicts, incest, and other sexual traumas. Sex was an essential part of stories in the hard-boiled fiction, but it was not common in cosy mysteries, and Lang's books were considered daring. The  methods of murder are various and ingenuous but relatively bloodless. In the first novel the murderer was a lesbian woman and in the second a young woman  poisons  several men because of her antipathy toward males. Lang's preference of the orthodox puzzle mystery novel over hard-boiled thrillers with social issues led to her clash with Per Wahlöö. When the Swedish Crime Academy awarded in 1973 Walter Neely's The Walter Syndrome (Min vän Walter) the best translated crime novel she resigned from the organization.  

In Finland Lang's mysteries were highly popular. They were published by Gummerus in the Salama series, which included such writers as Erle Stanley Gardner, Quentin Patrick, James Hadley Chase, Ellery Queen, Peter Cheyney, and Mary Roberts Rinehart. As the quality of his work seemed to falter from the late 1960s, Lang's work became a target of criticism. Three of her mysteries, A Wreath for the Bride (1966), No More Murders (1967), and Death Awaits Thee (1967) have been published in English translations. Tragedi på en lantkyrkogård (1954) and Kung liljekonvalje av dungen  (1957) were adapted to the screen under the title När mörkret faller (1960) and Ljuvlig är sommarnatten (1961), respectively. Karl-Arne Holmsten was cast in both films as Christer Wijk.

The Inspector Christer Wijk is not the protagonist in Lang's early novels, but the small, dark, and blue eyed Puck Ekstedt. She is the daughter of a professor from Uppsala. Puck is born in 1925 and Wijk in 1918 or 1919; he is married to 12 years younger world famous Wagner singer Camilla Martin. Wijk's widowed mother Helena is a wise old woman, still full of energy. Almi Graan, who wears thick eyeglasses, is born in 1913 – they all get old during the years. These four characters, Almi Graan, an anagram for Maria Lang, Wijk, Camilla  and  Helena  formed the family Lang did not have. Puck gradually disappeared, when Lang began to feel the first person narrative too constricting.

Usually Lang sets her stories in the small town of Skoga or Bergslagen, some times also in Stockholm. In Farlig att förtära (1950) Puck meets the police sergeant Åke Nord and the forensic chemist Ahlgren; later they became Lang's regular characters. Puck and Wijk exchange a long kiss in Rosor, kyssar och döden (1953), but their romance is not developed further. In  Intrigernas hus (1955) Lang's scene was the Royal Opera and to Stockholm's most famous restaurant Operakällaren, where somebody tries to poison Love Bauman, an ambitious singer and director candidate for the opera. Lang adds to the plot infesting background informations, historical details, and real persons, as the singer-actor Sven-Bertil Taube, giving authenticity for the story. Extra help in solving the mystery, who killed the maître d'hotel, lieutenant Christer Wijk gets from his wife Camilla, who works at the opera. Camilla is the first to find the body in Att vara kvinna (1962).

Se, döden på dig väntar (1969) also focused on the world of divas. Tora Monrad, a 40-year-old singer and star of Drottningholm theatre, is murdered. When the events in Intrigernas hus were accompanied with Wagner's 'Siegfried', now the ensemble is playing Mozart's 'Cosi fan tutte'. Christer Wijk appears late in the story – the protagonist is Puck Ekstedt. En skugga blott  (1952), in which Puck has just married Einar Bure, starts exeptionally straight: Puck comes home from Egypt and finds a young dead woman from her bathtub. Usually Lang takes her time to describe the milieu and central characters before the bringing on the stage the obligatory corpse. In  Inte flera mord! (1951) Puck and Einar Bure decide to spent with Einar's father, the professor Johannes Ekstedt, an idyllic vacation in Skoga. But on the first day there's a body under the professor's window, which makes Puck exclaim: "No more murders!"

For further reading: 'Pusseldeckaren och folkhemmets bortträngda mörker' by Sara Kärrholm, in Hotad idyll: berättelser om svenskt folkhem och kallt krig, by Håkan Arviddson et al. (2005); Maria Lang -bibliografia 1951-1998 by Simo Sjöblom (1999); 'För het på gröten? Maria Lang och sexualiteten' by Maria Söderlund, in Jury 4 (1997); Spårhundar, spioner och spännande personer by Bo Lundin (1993); Århudradets svenska deckare by Bo Lundin (1993); "Vem är du? Dagmar Lange eller Maria Lang by Maria Lang (1985); Spårhundarna by Bo Lundin (1973); 'Maria Lang och mordets känslofunktion' by Göran Bengtson, in Sydsvenska Dagbladet ( May 13, 1958) - Further information about the birthdates of Lang's characters: Ruumiin kulttuuri 2/1996, Eila Palmgren's well documented article 'Sankarit eivät kuole eivät edes vanhene'. Other mystery writers from Sweden: Per Wahlöö, Maj Sjöwall, Nils Hövenmark,, Jan Guillou, Stieg Trenter and from Finland: Mauri Sariola, Marton Taiga, Outsider, Tauno Yliruusi

Selected works:

  •  Pontus Wikner som vitter författare, 1946 (doctoral thesis)
  • Mördaren ljuger inte ensam, 1949
    - Murhaaja ei valehtele yksinään (suom. H. Sorjo-Smeds, 1952)
  • Farligt att förtära, 1950
    - Vaarallista nautittavaksi (suom. H. Sorjo-Smeds, 1951)
  • Inte flera mord!, 1951
    - Ei enää murhia (suom. H. Sorjo-Smeds, 1953)
    - No More Murders (translated by Joan Tate, 1967)
  • En skugga blott, 1952
    - Varjo vain (suom. H. Sorjo-Smeds, 1954)
  • Rosor, kyssar och döden, 1953
    - Ruusuja, rakkautta, rikoksia (suom. Kyllikki Holmqvist, 1954)
  • Tragedi på en lantkyrkogård, 1954
    - Murhenäytelmä hautausmaalla (suom. Jussi Sorjonen, 1963)
    - Film: När mörkret faller (1960), prod. Sandrews, dir. Arne Mattsson, starring Karl-Arne Holmsten (as Christer Wijk), Nils Asther and Birgitta Pettersson  
  • Se, döden på dig väntar, 1955
    - Kuoleman aaria (suom. Ritva Huhtala, 1956)
    - Death Awaits Thee (translated by Joan Tate, 1967)
  • Mörkögda augustinatt, 1956
    - Pimeä elokuun yö (suom. Kyllikki Holmqvist, 1957)
  • Kung Liljekonvalje av dungen, 1957
    - Kielojen kuningas (suom. Eero Perkiö, 1958)
    - A Wreath for the Bride (translated by Joan Tate, 1966)
    - Film: Ljuvlig är sommarnatten (1961), prod. Europa Film, dir. Arne Mattsson (1961), screenplay Marian Lang, starring  Karl-Arne Holmsten (as Christer Wijk), Sif Ruud and Erik Hell
  • Farliga drömmar, 1958
    - Vaarallisia unia (suom. Eero Perkiö, 1959)
  • Ofärd i huset bor, 1959
    - Murha vuokralaisena (suom. Ritva Tiusanen, 1960)
  • Vår sång blir stum, 1960
    - Pian laulu, leikki vaikenee (suom. Ritva Tiusanen, 1961)
  • Att vara kvinna, 1961
    - Tunkeilija naistenkerhossa (suom. Antero Tiusanen, 1962)
  • En främmande man, 1962
    - Käärmeet eivät kuole (suom. Mauno Suuronen, 1964)
  • Tre små gummor, 1963
    - Kolme pientä eukkoa (suom. Elsemaj Hurmerinta, 1965)
  • Siden sammet, 1964
    - Sillkiä, samettia (suom. Elsemaj Hurmerinta, 1966)
  • Ögonen, 1964
  • De röda kattorna, 1965
    - Punaiset kissat (suom. Elsemaj Hurmerinta, 1966)
  • Svart sommar, 1966
    - Musta kesä (suom. Elsemaj Hurmerinta, 1967)
  • Vitklädd med ljus i hår, 1967
    - Kahdeksastoista Lucia-neito (suom. Elsemaj Hurmerinta, 1968)
  • Ingen returbiljett, 1968
    - Ei paluulippua (suom. Liisa Vihko, 1969)
  • Intrigernas hus, 1969
    - Juonien talo (suom. Eero Mänttäri, 1970)
  • "Håll polisen utanför," 1969 (TV mini-series)
    - TV film 1969, dir. Hans Dahlin, teleplay Maria Lang, starring Sven-Bertil Taube (as Svenne, the private eye)
  • Staden sover, 1970
    - Kaupunki nukkuu (suom. Risto Lehmusoksa, 1971)
  • Mördarens bok, 1971
    - Murhaajan kirja (suom. Ulf-Erik Qvickström), 1972 
  • Akta dej, Katja!, 1971
    - Varo, Katja (suom. Tarja Kangasluoma, 1973)
  • Hjälp mej, Katja!, 1972
  • Vem väntar på värdshuset?, 1972
    - Kuka odottaa majatalossa (suom. Anna-Liisa Laine, 1973)
  • Vi var tretton i klassen, 1973
    - Meitä oli kolmetoista (suom. Aarne Valpola, 1974)
  • Det är ugglor i mossen, 1974
    - Suo on täynnä taikaa (suom. Inkeri Pitkänen, 1974)
  • Dubbelsäng i Danmark, 1975
    - Tanskalainen kaksoisvuode (suom. Inkeri Pitkänen, 1976)
  • Jan och Katja jagar jultomten, 1975
  • Körsbär i november, 1976
    - Kirsikoita marraskuussa (suom. Niilo Pakarinen, 1977)
  • Arvet efter Alberta, 1977
    - Albertan perintö (suom. Inkeri Pitkänen, 1978)
  • Jan och Katja jagar en kista, 1977
  • Camilla vid skiljevägen, 1978
    - Camilla katoaa (suom. Inkeri Pitkänen, 1979)
  • Ögonen och andra noveller, 1978
  • Svar till Ensam Eva, 1979
    - Vastaus yksinäiselle Eevalle (suom. Inkeri Pitkänen, 1980)
  • Inga pengar till Vendela, 1980
    - Paras murha palkitaan (suom. Inkeri Pitkänen, 1981)
  • Gullregn i oktober, 1981
    - Kuoleman kultasade (suom. Inkeri Pitkänen, 1982)
  • Docka vit, Docka röd, 1982
    - Tanssi mun nukkeni (suom. Irmeli Sallamo, 1983)
  • Fyra fönster mot gården, 1983
    - Pimennetty ikkuna (suom. Inkeri Pitkänen, 1984)
  • Använd aldrig arsenik, 1984
    - Arsenikkia aamuisin (suom. Inkeri Pitkänen, 1985)
  • Klappa inte katten, 1985
    - Keltainen kissa (suom. Veijo Kiuru, 1986)
  • Vem är du?: Dagmar Lange eller Maria Lang, 1985
  • Dödligt drama på Dramaten, 1986
    - Murhanäytelmä (suom. Leena Vallisaari, 1987)
  • Ånglok 16 på fel spår, 1987
    - Aavejuna (suom. Leena Vallisaari, 1988)
  • Tvillingen i spegeln, 1988
    - Peilimurha (suom. Leena Vallisaari, 1989)
  • Flyttbil försvunnen, 1989
  • Se Skoga och sedan..., 1990

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