Dagmar Maria Lange became famous – using the pseudonym of Maria Lang – as the first queen of the Swedish detective novel. She is best known for her 1950s whodunnits involving Puck Bure and detective inspector Christer Wijk.
Dagmar Lange grew up in Nora, in Bergslagen. She was the daughter of Elsa Keijser and Clas Lange, a journalist and the publisher of Bergslagens tidning. Following her father’s early demise in 1917 Dagmar Lange’s mother married the travelling salesman Carl Ivar Olson. They had two daughters together, Ingrid and Siv. Having completed high school in Västerås, Dagmar Lange continued her education, first in Uppsala and then Stockholm, where she defended her literary thesis on Pontus Wikner in 1946. She generated a certain controversy by revealing Wikner’s homosexuality in her thesis and this led to a delay in publishing her work.
After gaining her doctorate Dagmar Lange spent many years working as a teacher, a director of studies and eventually as principal of Nya elementarskolan (primary school) in Stockholm. She was very well-liked by her students. She would spend her summers in Nora, where she would often sit and write her detective novels. She also spent many years working as a music reviewer (of opera) for Vecko-Journalen. Her favourite composer was Richard Wagner. Once she retired she moved back to Nora and devoted herself wholeheartedly to writing. Right up to her final book, Se Skoga och sedan…, published in 1990, she maintained a publishing rate of one book a year.
Dagmar Lange’s breakthrough as a writer of detective novels occurred immediately following the publication in 1949 – under the pseudonym of Maria Lang – of her first whodunnit involving Puck Bure and Christer Wijk called Mördaren ljuger inte ensam. A major contributing factor to her public success was the publication of a congratulatory review by the popular cultural journalist Barbro Alving in Dagens Nyheter. Dagmar Lange was in debt to her friend Olle Hedberg for getting her book published at all, as he had encouraged her to send the manuscript to Norstedts Förlag, who took it on.
Dagmar Lange wrote whodunnits, the most common form of detective novels in 1950s Sweden. In these stories a limited number of suspected individuals would be assembled, all of whom had a motive for committing a murder. Major emphasis is laid on the murder mystery and the logical approach taken to discovering the culprit. The surrounding environment of the murder is also important and Dagmar Lange became famous for her portrayals of the Bergslagen area in the fictitious Skoga (which was based on her familiar Nora), which alternate with developments occurring in the well-known Stockholm environment. For example, in the 1955 detective novel Se döden på dig väntar, Dagmar Lange used the Drottningholm castle theatre as the murder location.
Critics noted the unusual and sensitive subject matter, amongst other things, of Mördaren ljuger inte ensam: the murderer was a lesbian who was driven by passion to commit murder. Dagmar Lange’s decision to choose this subject material was considered brave. Romantic interludes and relationship ties became trademarks of her writing and this found favour with her readers but left her vulnerable to criticism from reviewers. Those who went all out against her work believed that she placed far too much importance on sexuality and romance, and tossed aside other qualities such as logic and plausibility. One of the reviewers’ frequent complaints was that both Puck and Christer Wijk are a bit too slow in determining the identity of the real murderer.
The Puck and Wijk series, which is largely focused on the lovestory between Puck and her husband Einar Bure, concludes in the 1956 novel Mörkögda augustinatt, although the couple make a guest appearance in Vår sång blir stum from 1960, and En främmande man, 1962. From the 1959 novel Ofärd i huset bor onwards Dagmar Lange’s books are based around Christer Wijk and the opera singer Camilla Martin. Dagmar Lange variously expressed how tired she was of the Puck character once she finished writing about her. Nevertheless, it is mainly those books which include Puck in a leading role which are considered to be Dagmar Lange’s best works. An exception is the book Kung Liljekonvalje av dungen, from 1957, where the lead character is Christer Wijk alone. That particular work is often singled out as being Dagmar Lange’s best book.
Dagmar Lange introduces her fictitious alter ego Almi Graan in her 1960 novel Vår sång blir stum. The name is an anagram of Maria Lang. Almi Graan is a writer of detective novels and has a doctorate in literary studies, just like Dagmar Lange, and she appears consistently in the detective novels from 1979 onwards. Dagmar Lange also wrote four children's detective stories centring around the character of her nephew's son, Janne. Two of Dagmar Lange’s books have been turned into films directed by Arne Mattsson, in 1960 and 1961, and another six movie adaptations were released in 2013, featuring Tuva Novotny as Puck. Dagmar Lange also wrote the script for the TV-series Håll polisen utanför, from 1969, where Sven-Bertil Taube played the lead role of Sverre Sterner.
Dagmar Lange skrev också fyra ungdomsdeckare med sin systersonson i huvudrollen. Två av hennes vuxendeckare har filmatiserats i regi av Arne Mattsson, 1960 och 1961, och ytterligare sex filmatiseringar spelades in 2013, med Tuva Novotny i rollen som Puck. Dagmar Lange skrev även manuset till TV-serien Håll polisen utanför, 1969, där huvudrollen som kommissarie Sverre Sterner spelades av Sven-Bertil Taube.
In 1971 Dagmar Lange was elected into Svenska deckarakademin (detective novel academy) becoming one of thirteen members. The others included Jan Broberg, Åke Runnquist, Maj Sjöwall, and Per Wahlöö. However, Dagmar Lange already resigned in 1973 in protest against the prize for best translated detective novel going to Richard Neely’s book The Walter Syndrome. She felt that it contained far too much and overly violent content. She was a firm lifelong anti-violence campaigner, and the murders in her books are usually not particularly bloody.
Dagmar Lange was an eccentric figure who counted a lot of interesting cultural celebrities among her friends. She held well-attended and memorable parties. Repeat guests included the likes of Gösta Knutsson, Jan Mårtensson, and her publisher Lasse Bergström. With regard to book sales she faced her greatest competition from Stieg Trenter (the pseudonym of Stig Johansson), who was also a close friend of hers. She and he had an agreement that whoever sold the most books in a given year had to invite the other for dinner at Operakällaren (in Stockholm) in December every year.
Dagmar Lange became a literary celebrity in her lifetime, as indicated by her inclusion in Lennart Nilsson’s famous photograph called “Detta är 50-talet” (this is the 1950s) which was printed in the first edition of Vecko-Journalen of 1960. This photo portrays a selection of 35 men and women from a range of spheres including the sciences, politics, and music and who are said to have made their mark on the 1950s. For three years Dagmar Lange also contributed to the panel for the radio programme Vet ni vad?, led by Nils Erik Bæhrendtz. The programme was a forerunner of the TV-programme De lärde i Lund.
In 1985 Dagmar Lange published her autobiography entitled Vem är du? Dagmar Lange eller Maria Lang. Her accounts of her childhood and youth and later years are based on letters she received from her readers. Along with various interviews and personal archival material belonging to family and friends this book served as the basis of a biography written by Lena Lundgren and Lisbet Wikner in 2014.
Dagmar Lange died in Nora in 1991. She is buried in the Norra cemetery in the same town.