Sunday, 15 February 2015

Petrona Remembered: A Wreath for the Bride by Maria Lang



This post is also appearing today on Petrona Remembered, the website set up in honour of Maxine Clarke, tireless supporter of the crime fiction community. Those of us who remember and miss her contribute to the site by suggesting a book she would have enjoyed, and writing about it. Petrona Remembered is building up a terrific list of good books this way: please go and visit it.



Wreath for the Bride 1

A Wreath for the Bride

by Maria Lang

I love the idea of remembering Maxine this way: recommending a book that we think she would have liked. I didn’t know her long or well before she died, but she had already shown her generosity to me, welcoming me into the world of blogging and making her thoughtful and perceptive comments at Clothes in Books. She wanted to share her great ideas and great finds with the rest of us, and she hoped we’d do the same back for her - so what better way to commemorate her than to carry on that tradition.

The book I have chosen is A Wreath for the Bride by Maria Lang. It was first published in Sweden in 1960, and has recently been republished in English (my translation is credited only to the publishers, Hodder and Stoughton) – probably because a Swedish TV show has been made from her books, and was recently shown on the BBC under the name Crimes of Passion.
 
Wreath for the Bride
Maria Lang (1914-1991) wrote 42 detective stories: she was ‘the first queen of Swedish crime fiction.’ She was often compared to Agatha Christie – usually these comparisons make me sigh (you wonder if the people making the comparisons have actually read any Christie) but based on this book, it’s not so unreasonable.
The book has a very strong sense of place – but it couldn’t be further from the hard-boiled, noirish books many of us now associate with Scandi-fiction. It’s set in a small village, Stroga, where everyone knows each other. Everyone gossips and has an opinion on other’s affairs. You can’t walk down the street without being seen and noticed.

Or can you?

Anneli, young and beautiful, is about to marry rich, eligible Joachim. She is chatting with her friend Dina in the main street, then dives into the florists’ shop – her fiancé has asked her to look at her bouquet, which he has chosen. Dina waits outside for her, chats to some locals. It starts raining, and she can wait no longer. So she goes into the flower shop – and is told by the owner that Anneli has never been there. She has vanished into thin air. She does not re-appear in time for the wedding, which has to be called off, though everyone goes for the meal in the hotel anyway. A few days later a body is discovered.

Petrona Remembered Wreath for the Bride  3
So what did happen to her? What are the undercurrents in peaceful Skoga? Luckily, Chief Inspector Christer Wick is visiting from Stockholm – he has come for the wedding, as he grew up in Skoga and his mother still lives there. He investigates the crime, and also takes a great interest in the delightful and pretty Dina, Anneli’s devastated friend. In the end he finds the solution, and expounds the full explanation to the gathered townspeople in true Christie fashion. In a very Christie-like manner, there have been all kinds of different things going on, and the explanation is very complex. My only criticism is that if something very odd and inexplicable has happened - but it turns out that it didn’t happen, someone was just lying, then that’s not much of an illusion. But that’s a bit picky.


The atmosphere is beautifully done: the old-fashioned shops in the street, giving onto a yard, the old lady who sits outside watching what goes on. The action takes place in the high summer, and I love the fact that one character goes out at 3 o’clock in the morning and finds it is
wonderful out— the sun out and the birds singing away at full blast.
Quite a lot of people are out and about in this midnight sun, so very un-English and beautifully described.

I also watched the TV version of this one, which was enchanting, with gorgeous scenery, 1960 clothes, and Swedish houses to look at. It was somewhat expanded from the book, but true to the spirit, I thought, and great fun to watch.

The English title of the book is misleading: The bride’s flowers are very important, but it is her bouquet, not her head-dress, that matters so much. The Swedish title translates as the King of the Lily of the Valley, and refers to a poem which various characters quote, and indeed lilies-of-the-valley are of great importance (there is a song based on the poem, which you can hear on YouTube).

As we all know, Maxine loved her Scandi-fiction, and the books she read were often harsher and more contemporary than this one. But I think she would have liked A Wreath for the Bride: to see where it fits in the history of Swedish crime fiction, because of its great sense of place, and because it is engaging, but also haunting - it has a darker sadder side. It is the ideal short sharp read.










18 comments:

  1. What a lovely review and tribute to Maxine, who graciously brought so many crime fiction readers into her blog world. I have read so many books she recommended, and so enjoyed the lively discussions at Petrona.

    This sounds like an excellent short read. And I love the 3 a.m. setting with people about and birds singing.

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    1. Thanks Kathy. Maxine is very much missed, and very much not forgotten.
      One of the best things about reading foreign fiction is lines like that - it was probably the essence of normalcy for Lang and her Swedish readers, yet really sparks and interests foreigners...

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  2. Moira - You really chose such a great book to review for Petrona Remembered. I think Maxine would have loved the sense of setting, and she'd have enjoyed the mystery very much too. I appreciate your contributing. And this does sound like a really solid mystery read.

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    1. Thank you Margot, and thank you so much for inviting me to contribute. It is a splendid project, and one I'm proud to be part of.

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  3. Moira: I am glad to hear the sun does shine in Sweden. My older son lived on the southwest coast of Sweden and can confirm there are an abundance of grey days. He said the only time he got down during the year was when he realized that he had not seen the sun for a month.

    The photo is spectacular evoking beauty and vulnerability and curiosity.



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    1. Thanks Bill - did you get to visit your son? I would love to travel to Sweden, I might make it one day.

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    2. We had hoped to go but it never worked out. We have equally hoped to go with him for a return visit but it has not happened. It is a regret in our lives.

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    3. Never give up hope! You might still get the chance....

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  4. Sounds like a very interesting book which I would like to try some day. Her books would have been published about the same time as the books by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö?

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    1. I think so Tracy - I think she would be less city-based than them, but I have only read a couple of their books, a while ago, so can't really compare them.

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  5. Moira, thank you for highlighting Maria Lang through a fine review of her book, "A Wreath for the Bride." Forty-two detective stories? It tells me how little I know of the crime fiction world. I don't like author comparisons either. I don't see why any author should be compared to another. Each brings his or her own unique gift to fiction writing.

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    1. I know Prashant, sometimes you come across these series and authors and books you know nothing of, and wonder how many books there are in the world. They're all out there for us to find...

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  6. The dress in the top photo looks like it was made just for Audrey Hepburn or Leslie Caron, and they would look stunning in it and in the photo.

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    1. Thanks Kathy, I really liked the picture - although the young woman in the book is very blonde, I thought this photo captured something of her character.

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  7. Never heard of book, author or TV adaptation unsurprisingly. Sounds interesting, but I'll pass.

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    1. It's very old school, I will say. The TV version was very enjoyable, I will probably watch more episodes of it.

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  8. I wondered if there were translations of the novels. I did enjoy the television series--as much for the social history as the mysteries. And they were beautiful too...the episode corresponding to this novel perhaps most all.

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    1. I think this might be the only one available in English at the moment? Based on the one I saw, the TV films were lovely - as you say, great historical detail, and an absolutely gorgeous underlying aesthetic, really carried through. I must watch more epis....

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