Smoking Kills

 

Smoking kills

 

 

Antoine Laurain – Smoking Kills (Translated by Louise Rogers Lalaurie), Gallic Books, 19/05/2018. Original title Fume et tue, Le Passage, 2008

                        A book review by Jonas Rohe, Queen’s University Belfast

“At the beginning of his career, the smoker is generally intent on killing no one but himself. But forces beyond my control drove me to become a killer of others.”

Fabrice Valentine has worked as a senior head-hunter in big Parisian company for over 20 years and is living the good life: he has a wonderful wife, is successful in his job and always has his beloved cigarettes handy, which are his trusted friends through hard times. The only thing that is threatening his happiness is a change in the French smoking regulations. Suddenly, Valentine finds himself in a more and more smoke hostile environment. At first, he can no longer smoke in his office and then his family and friends start to pressure him to try out a new way to quit smoking: hypnosis. Valentine has no real intention of giving up his poison of choice, but to appease his peers he finally agrees to meet with the hypnotist, who is supposed to end his beloved addiction for ever. To Valentine´s great surprise the urge to smoke has vanished completely and what’s more he doesn’t even miss it. On top of this, he is offered the seat of CEO in his headhunting company. Life could not be much better…

Until it all falls apart, first Valentine’s boss dies before he can tell anyone of Valentine’s promotion and is replaced by a jumped-up youngster, who is obsessed with health issues and has entirely different ideas about running the headhunting business. He then discovers that his wonderful wife is having an affair with an obscure artist and is threating to leave him. Distressed, Valentine turns again to his cigarettes, but after years of reliable pleasure they no longer bring him any satisfaction. Without his beloved addiction to comfort him, Valentine is living in a nightmare. When he is jumped by a junkie at a metro station he throws him before the incoming train and takes a deep drag from his cigarette… The pleasure returns, stronger and more enveloping then ever before. The sensation is so great, that it could drive a smoker to murder…

Laurain’s Smoking Kills is part biting satire about our health obsessed society, part noirish character study and part grotesque black comedy. All these pieces together should make for a compelling story, but unfortunately despite the original theme of the book it doesn’t quite fit together. The main problem of the novel is the pacing, Smoking Kills starts off strongly, with a humoured reminiscence of the autodiegetic narrator about his life before the murders. It takes Laurain about 30 pages to get all the prerequisite parts for a good detective story established and until this point his insightful character descriptions and laconic reflections on smoke obsession are thoroughly enjoyable, but, unfortunately, the narration continues for over 100 more pages in this manner.

Although the theme is appealing and well written, it just does not carry over 130 pages without a murder and it seems that,  at times, Laurain gets lost in his characters and neglects the actual progression of the story. Because of this, Smoking Kills feels a bit flat and it is hard to buy into the air of suspense in the novel. This is also the case because there is no real antagonist, no clever detective or unlikely adversary that opposes the protagonist, on which absurdly enough the narrator reflects himself: “Deep down, I wanted her to feel suspicious and raise her eyebrows in surprise though it would have disrupted all my plans”. When a bit of suspense arises however, it is spoiled by the narrator himself because he insists on giving away what is going to happen next at every opportunity.

As a saving grace, Smoking Kills does convince with dark humour and sharp characterisation and the somewhat flimsy plot is still entertaining, if one possesses a bit of patience or an unhealthy fascination with cigarettes and smoking culture. Although not a masterpiece, Laurain’s novel is still an entertaining read, with a cool and original theme and plenty of dark humour that make for an interesting character study if not a great crime story.

Jonas

Our reviewer with his poisons of choice.

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“Delicate Infractions”: Innovations, Expansions, and Revolutions in the Crime Genre (CFP)

International Crime Genre Research Group: 8th Biennial Conference

 

Death and the compass

“Delicate Infractions”: Innovations, Expansions, and Revolutions in the Crime Genre

Friday 14 – Saturday 15 June2019

Maynooth University, Ireland

The Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges famously remarked that the detective genre “thrives on the continual and delicate infraction of its rules”. Taking this as a point of departure, the 8th Biennial conference of the International Crime Fiction Research Group will aim to bring together researchers with a shared interest in exploring how the genre has changed and continues to change by way of such delicate infractions, but also occasionally by way of full-blown transgression and definitive ruptures.

Under the broad title of “Delicate Infractions”, we invite proposals related to the following areas:

Systemic troubles reflected in the crime genre

  • The crime genre in the age of Black Lives Matter, Trump and resurgent far-right ideology.
  • The representation and promotion of radical politics in crime narrative.
  • Genre responses to the refugee crisis in Europe and beyond.
  • How can or should the genre reckon with the ‘slow violence’ of pollution, climate change, ocean acidification, and ecocide?

Formal re-configurations of the crime genre:

  • Re-imaginings and re-workings of the tropes of crime.
  • Re-configurations of the archetypal detective/criminal/victim triad.
  • Challenges to the gendered and racialized assumptions of conventional crime narratives.
  • Crime, Modernism, and/or Postmodernism (and beyond).
  • Crime, Surrealism, and the Avant-Garde.
  • Hybrids and intersections with other genres.

Changing technologies and how they influence crime, crime detection, and crime writing

  • The technological pre-conditions for the emergence of the genre.
  • Historic changes or ruptures wrought on the genre since its inception by technological innovations in transport, communications, and weaponry.
  • Cyberspace, Artificial Intelligence, and the elaboration of new kinds of crime and new modes of investigation.
  • Digital Humanities, Big Data, Digital Gazetteers, Crowd Sourcing; New technologies for Crime Fiction Studies.
  • Apps, Immersive Narratives and technology-supported Crime Fiction Tourism.
  • The place of YouTube, Social Media, podcasting, and other online platforms in the publication of crime narrative.
  • New technologies and new experiences of reading Crime Fiction.

As in previous years, we also welcome submissions that do not fall neatly within the above categories (or that expand them), and we are open to research questions that are themselves ‘infractional’ in respect of the critical paradigms that have grown around crime genre scholarship.

Submissions can be centred on crime fiction and/or film, but we also welcome submissions relating to true crime and that analyse other forms of media, as well as examinations of relevant topics within fields such as history, criminology, anthropology etc. Our guiding objective since our first conference in 2005 is to bring together scholars from a diverse range of areas with a view to highlighting and exploring the points of convergence (and divergence) that emerge.

Organising Committee Chair Dr David Conlon (MU). Committee members Dr Dominique Jeannerod (QUB); Dr Kate Quinn (NUIG); Dr Marieke Krajenbrink (UL).

Please send your abstracts to one of the following by November 29th 2018:

david.conlon@mu.ie

d.jeannerod@qub.ac.uk

kate.quinn@nuigalway.ie

marieke.krajenbrink@ul.ie

Crime fiction series published in 20th century Romania

 

 

Bianca Alecu, University of Bucharest

 bianca.maria.alecu@gmail.com

 

Romania belongs no doubt to  countries that are not considered the founders of the  crime genre, but where the crime fiction phenomena is still an enigma, both in its contemporary and past shapes. Unlike better known areas of Crime Fiction production, such as France, North America or  Britain, the beginnings of  the Romanian crime fiction scene are still somewhat obscure, and  remain challenging to track down. Over the decades, there have been numerous more or less successful attempts at publishing popular fiction series including detective novels. From these attempts, eventually, crime fiction series would be developed, especially during the communist regime. This article will tackle both the historical backdrop of these series and elements of book cover design, since their connection is symbolic: “when a text is published and the book is designed and printed, it becomes a physical manifestation not just of the ideas of the author, but of the cultural ideals and aesthetics of a distinct historical moment” (Drew and Sternberger, 2005, p. 8, apud Gallagher, Patrick).

At the beginning of the past century, the Kingdom of Romania experienced one of its most significant moments of cultural and economical growth.  Its literary scene was heavily influenced by the French fin-de-siècle. At the end of World War I, Romania gained the territories of Transylvania, Banat, Bukovina and Bessarabia,  unifying all of the Romanian-speaking provinces. Only northern Transylvania was retained after the Second World War. Soon after, Romania became a socialist republic under a Stalinist type of communist totalitarianism that ended in December 1989, with the execution of the dictator.

Aventura  Fig 1

 

Interwar popular fiction series.

In the first half of the century, more precisely in the 1930s-1940s, popular fiction started to garner more commercial success. One example of this is the Aventura[1] (eng. “adventure”) series, published between 1937-1941 by Adevărul Publishing House and sold with their newspaper, Adevărul (eng. “truth”). Newspapers and books would be sold together at a reasonable, fixed price. The readership knew what to expect from the motto of the series: “Romane de Acțiune și Pasiune” (eng. “Novels of Action and Passion” – Fig. 1).

Each 15th of the month a new such novel would be published, that usually followed the conventions of popular fiction. The total number of books in this series is 50. Out of these, only around 8 are written by non-French authors (British or American: H. Melville, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jack London). Crime or mystery novels were included in this series, but they were only occasional features, since the main focus of the series was „adventure”, which usually meant discovery-scenarios with unexpected turns in exotic scenery.

insula vampirilor

Fig. 2. A special Christmas edition of the newspaper, from 1939

The cover design of the series is typical for rather cheap paperbacks, using the strategy of illustrating a pivotal point of the narrative (Fig. 2), while the background color is a paper-yellow, the nuance of which is difficult to tell because of the age of  the books that survived (Fig. 3). The font of the titles varies with the content of the books and cover illustrations, while the title of the series and the motto are placed in the top central part of the cover. Another recurrent element of the cover is the price (8 Lei, top left corner), which was then a typical strategy for selling popular fiction (Fayard 65 centimesDime novels, Penny Dreadfuls...).

 

 

  Fig 3      8lei

 

Fig.4

BELLU

Another series published in the same period was dedicated to crime fiction, as the name reveals: Romanul captivant polițist (eng. Thrilling detective novels). It was published by Ig. Hertz Publishing House, one of the most prestigious publishing houses of  interbellum Bucharest. It also published another series of popular fiction called „Colecția celor 15 lei” (i.e. The 15 lei series, i.e costing twice the price of the cheap adventura 8 lei series[1]). There is some uncertainty regarding these two collections, as it is possible they might have merged into one at some point in the 1930s. One of the first Romanian crime fiction novel was published in 1935 in the former series: „Cazul doamnei Predescu” (eng. The case of Mrs. Predescu, Fig. 4) by Petre Belu. The second edition sold between 31.000-45.000 copies.[1]

Unfortunately, a lot of the books published in the interwar period ended up in the great „recycling” projects of early communism. Both what was considered to be major and minor literature was liable to be  „cleaned” and censored, including popular fiction, crime and romance series that could be found in the bookshelves of the bourgeoisie. These books, and especially those which were taken by hundreds and thousands to the „recycling” furnace are now very rare, and can seldom be found, even in the archives of national libraries.

Crime fiction series under the communist regime.

During the communism area, another Aventura series was published by Tineretului (1967-1969) and Albatros (1969-1985) publishing houses. There is no recognizible connection with the interwar series, neither in terms of book cover design, nor content. Both international and Romanian authors were published in this series, which was a collection on its own and not a periodical magazine as before. The first and last books published in this collection belong to a renowned Romanian crime fiction author, Leonida Neamțu. In terms of book cover design, the first version of the series as published by Tineretului proposed a white handwritten silhouette of the letter „a” (from Aventura) against various bold, solid background colors (Fig.5). Inside the „a” the information about the book was written in a constant, minimalist font, in bold (the title) or underlined (the author). This contributed to the overall homogeneous aspect of the series, the design of which was very modern and forward-thinking for the time. After the series was transferred to Albatros (Fig.6), the design of the series was changed to a more varied one, containing both the classical „a” in the top left corner and thematic illustrations. Keeping the small version of the previous design is both an economical and symbolic decision, since the series were very popular with the public and this was the way of keeping the readership throughout the transition of the editorial project.

editura

Fig. 5. Colorful and minimalistic book cover design of the series as it was first published by Editura Tineretului

Albatros

Fig. 6. Book cover design of the  series continued by Albatros

The most successful and renowned crime fiction series of the communist period (and may still be well-known to this day) is Enigma, published by Univers Publishing House from 1969 to 1990. During the 1990s some titles were republished in a new series called Enigma Z,  with new cover design. This series never matched the fame and readership acclaim of the original one. The covers of some of the most famous titles of the communist Enigma can be viewed at https://archive.org/details/ColectiaEnigma-EdituraUnivers. As crime and spy novels began as yellow paper-backs in most European countries, yellow and bright colors (orange, green) remained one of the visual ways to inform the reader, even unconsciously, about the nature of the contents of the book. This can be seen in the cover design of the previous series, but it is fully-fledged in Enigma (Fig.7). Some of the graphic elements of the cover are similar to Albatros’ Aventura series, namely the collage-like illustration and the colorful background of the title box. However, one of the things that set apart the design of this series is the changing of the font of the title according to some symbolic connotations of the contents of the book (or even according to the length and phonetics of the title). The most recurrent color is, by far, yellow, followed closely by orange, mustard, green and pink. An anthology of crime fiction short stories was also published in this series, in two volumes that can be seen in the top right picture below. The design of these is distinct from the rest of the series, while in keeping with the overall ratio and aspect of the covers (square lines, central illustration, title box in the lower half of the cover).

enigma1 enigma2

 

 

enigma

Fig. 7 Enigma

This collection was among the lengthiest ones, counting 89 titles, 15 of them published in 1969, the numbers decreasing rapidly. From 1974 to 1978 only 5 volumes were published in a year. During he last years (1987-1990), only one volume was published per year. Only international authors were published, out of which the most numerous ones were soviet authors, particularly during the 1972-1980 period (approximately). Most of the titles were of world-renowned crime fiction writers, mostly British (Agatha Christie, Anthony Berkeley, Eric Ambler, Michael Sinclaire), American (Raymond Chandler, Dashiel Hammett, Edgar Wallace, Leslie Charteris, John Ball), French (Gaston Leroux, San-Antonio, Georges Simenon, Maurice Leblanc, Sébastien Japrisot, , Emile Gaboriau) and others. There is no distinguishable correspondence between the background colors and the nationality of the author or the fictional contents of the books. Neither is there a recurrent, constant pattern of the colors, the order of which is hazardous, yellow and orange accounting for more than a third of the covers.

The case of Soviet writers.

The first volume of soviet crime fiction published there was only the 31st of the series, in 1972, three years after the collection started. It was written by Dmitri Tarasenkov and called “Omul din gang” (The man in the gallery). All the volumes published subsequently in 1972 were written by Soviet writers, as follows: Iulian Semionov, E. Braghinski, Joe Alex, K. Kwasniewski. The last two are the pen-names of the Polish translator and writer Maciej Słomczyński. This period corresponds to a wave of censorship and sovietization of the whole book industry, as well as the literary products themselves. Eugen Negrici identifies four distinct chronological attitudes towards literature during communism, that are especially prevalent in the writing, commercializing and reading of prose: stalinism (’48-’53), formal destalinisation (’53-’64), relative liberalization (’64-’71) and communist nationalism and re-indoctrination (’71-’89). As Soviet crime fiction authors were prevalent in 1972 and the years that followed, featuring constantly alongside to more household non-soviet, occidental names in the genre (Bogomil Rainov is published next to Michael Innes or Dashiell Hammet, in 1973), one can assume that this was a consequence of the reinforcement of ideology after a short period of ease. However, the preparations for this began early in the 1960s, when there was a “search for artistic vehicles to carry emancipatory messages to the masses”, as Caius Dobrescu points out. Moreover, there are similarities between this and the Soviet exploitation of different popular genres as means of propaganda as early as the Avant Garde artistic and literary phenomena.

Some of the Soviet writers published in the series were already well-known in the Soviet Union for their interest in the spy genre, including literature and screenplays, cinema, and Theatre plays. Yulian Semionov (1931-1993) took part in publishing two dedicated crime fiction magazines, „Detective and politics” and „Top secret”. He is considered to be one of the pioneers of investigative journalism in Soviet Union. He was a member of the Union of Soviet Writers and enjoyed critical acclaim for his works of journalism, which were published in many newspapers. Two of his detective stories are published in the Enigma series, the first one,“Valiza cu amprente”, (“The suitcase with fingerprints”) in 1972 and the second one in 1975, “Ogariov Street, No. 6”. Dmitri Tarasenkov and Emil Braginsky worked as screewriters, among others, and were involved in the development of many Soviet films. The former later immigrated to USA in 1978, where, later on, he worked as a journalist for Radio Liberty. Other Soviet writers include Mihail Heyfetz, Arkadi Adamov, Arkadi and George Weiner. Authors from the Soviet block were also published, such as Maciej Słomczyński and Jerzy Edigey (Polish), Bogomil Rainov (Bulgarian), Eduard Fiker, Vaclav Erben, and Ladislav Fuks (Czech), Rejto Jeno (Hungarian). For a detailed representation, see Fig. 8.

 

Enigma Authors

WORKS CITED

Dobrescu, Caius (2013), „Identity, Otherness, Crime: Detective Fiction and Interethnic Hazards”, in Acta Universitatis Sapientiae, Philologica, 5, 1, 43-58. Available at https://goo.gl/EfNK4k

Forshaw, Barry (2007), The rough guide to crime fiction, London, Rough Guides Ltd

Drew, N., & Sternberger, P. (2005). By its Cover: Modern American Book Cover Design. New York, NY, USA: Princeton Architectural Press. Retrieved from http://www.ebrary.com, apud Gallagher, Patrick (2015), The look of Fiction: A visual analysis of the Front Covers of The New York Times Fiction Bestsellers, Thesis, Rochester Institute of Technology. Available at https://goo.gl/5gV26P

Negrici, Eugen (2006), Literatura română sub comunism. Proza, București, Editura Fundației Pro

 

ELECTRONICAL RESOURCES

http://romania-inedit.3xforum.ro/post/369954/2/B_Colectia_interbelic_259_AVENTURA_-_Romane_de_actiune_si_pasiune_/ Romanian forum dedicated to discussing and publishing electronical, scanned versions of old books. Available only in Romanian. All the books from the interwar Aventura series are available for downloading thanks to individual efforts of numerous people who still had some of the books in the series. A list of all the titles is also available.

http://romania-inedit.3xforum.ro/post/504019/1/Colectia_Romane_Politiste_-_Topic_recuperat/ Romanian forum dedicated to crime fiction, spy novels and pulp fiction series published since communism. Available only in Romanian. Most of the books are scanned and can be downloaded.

https://goo.gl/9RgDn6 The Facebook page of the same forum contains a photo album with the cover of all the books from the Enigma series. This is useful for getting an overall picture of the chromatics and design of the series.

 

 

 

[1] Carte rară din colecțiile Bibliotecii Științifice Universitare: contribuții bibliografice, Fascicula 3, collected by Scurtu, Elena, Nagherneac, Ana, Bălți, 2008. Available online https://en.calameo.com/read/001133349e22fadf634e7

[1] A good salary (of a clerk) was 9000 lei in 1928, one volume would cost aprox 0.1% of this salary

[1] A complete list of the volumes published in this series, as well as the digitized version of most of them can be found at http://romania-inedit.3xforum.ro/post/369954/1/B_Colectia_interbelic_259_AVENTURA_-_Romane_de_actiune_si_pasiune_/

“Very close to the bone”

ORawe-NH.jpg

Northern Heist

– Richard O’Rawe –

Book Launch

September 28 @ 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm

No Alibis Bookstore, 82, Botanic Avenue, Belfast

FREE

In association with The Merrion Press, No Alibis Bookstore invites you to the launch of this stunning new thriller by Richard O’Rawe

When James ‘Ructions’ O’Hare put together a crack team to rob the National Bank in Belfast in December 2004, even he didn’t realise he was about to carry off one of the biggest bank heists in British and Irish history.

And he’ll be damned if the Provos are getting a slice of it.

In Richard O’Rawe’s stunning debut novel, as audacious and well executed as Ructions’ plan to rob the National Bank itself, a new voice in Irish fiction has been unleashed that will shock, surprise and thrill as he takes you on a white-knuckle ride through Belfast’s criminal underbelly. Enter the deadly world of tiger kidnappings, kangaroo courts, money laundering, drug deals and double-crosses.

Northern Heist is a roller-coaster bank robbery thriller with twists and turns from beginning to end.

Source: No Alibis : http://noalibis.com/event/northern-heist-richard-orawe-book-launch/
Richard O’Rawe is a former Irish republican prisoner and IRA bank robber, and was a leading figure in the 1981 Hunger Strike. He is the author of the best-selling non-fiction books Blanketmen: An Untold Story of the H-Block Hunger Strike; Afterlives: The Hunger Strike and the Secret Offer that Changed Irish History, and In the Name of the Son: The Gerry Conlon Story (source : googlebooks)

 

Hell’s Gate, a review

A book review by Jonas Rohe, Queen’s University Belfast

hell's gate

Laurent Gaudé – Hell’s Gate (Translated by Jane Aitken & Emily Boyce), Gallic Books, 04/05/2017. Original title La porte des enfers, 2008.

“Bring Pippo back to me, or, if you can’t, at least bring me the head of the man who killed him” (p. 118)

Taxi driver Matteo De Nittis and his wife Giuliana live an ordinary life in the city of Naples until their 8-year-old son is caught in the crossfire during the feuding of local mobsters. Confronted with the death of their child, the life they once shared is shattered. Giuliana is consumed by the deep anger of a mother who has lost her child and demands that he be returned to her by God, a miracle, or her husband. Matteo meanwhile is traumatised by the death he witnessed and drives aimlessly through the Neapolitan night, riven by grief and sorrow and drifting more and more into a state of mind that is closer to death than life.

Matteo encounters creatures of the night, those who live their lives on the streets of Naples at the edge of society who are “nothing but shadows” in the world of the living. And once he is introduced to a half-mad professor who tells him that this world and the world of the dead are not as far apart from each other as you would assume, Matteo does not hesitate. If there is to be any chance of bringing his son back from the dead, he will take it. He would step through the gates of hell… Twenty years later a man called Fillipo De Nittis is gathering his courage to confront the man who killed him.

If you were to mix Dante, Kafka and Hitchcock and add a bad LSD-trip you would probably get Gaudé’s Hell’s Gate or at least something equally disturbing. Hell’s Gate is a novel about life, death and what is in between, but it is first and foremost a story about loss, grief, and yes, suffering. Gaudé sends his characters through literal hell throughout their mad scramble to remain sane, and the reader has the masochistic pleasure of following their emotional spiral of loss and misery through the pages. The characters are brilliantly written, and it is hard to imagine a more peculiar cast for a story about loss: “He looked at his strange companions: a disgraced professor, a transvestite, a mad priest and the easy-going owner of a café.”

Hell’s Gate shines in its deep understanding of tragedy and the sense of loss and the human desire for salvation. Gaudé effortlessly combines genre elements of crime fiction, magical realism, and fantasy together in an uncanny and thought-provoking pit of a book, that, even though only about 200 pages, is packed with philosophical implications impinging upon the human condition, society and death itself. The language must be praised for its dramatic and vivid imagery as well as a certain stoicism that still manages to convey a sense of compassion. Boyce and Aitkin have outdone themselves in their translation and, thanks to them, Hell’s Gate reads as if it were not a translation at all.

One strong point of the novel is the characters and their journey through pain and misery. In this Gaudé is unrelenting and towards the end of the novel in particular one wishes for even the barest of happy endings, just to relieve the characters of even a fraction of their pain. This is, of course, not forthcoming. Although a glimmer of hope remains at the end of the story, Hell’s Gate is an unremittingly bleak tale and is not for the weak of heart. But if you can endure the pain, then Hell’s Gate will make for an intense and surreal read that seamlessly weaves the reality of human tragedy with the fantastic that will mesmerize.

Taking Detective Stories Seriously

Sayers

 

Taking Detective Stories Seriously: The collected crime reviews of Dorothy L. Sayers, edited by Martin Edwards, Tippermuir Books Ltd, 19/02/2017.

                        A book review by Jonas Rohe, Queen’s University Belfast

 

Taking Detective Stories Seriously is a collection of the reviews of Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957), covering mainly the period in which she was a professional reviewer for the Sunday Times from 1933 to 1935. Sayers is not only famous for her successful crime fiction novels, but was also respected and revered for her work as a translator of Dante, her writing on various religious subjects, but was also, as this volume shows, an excellent critic and anthologist of the detective genre at the height of the Golden Age.

The volume is edited by Martin Edwards, who also provides a lengthy commentary on Sayers’ reviews. He details Sayers critique of several well-known crime fiction authors like John Dickson Carr, H.C. Bailey and other notables of the Golden Age. Edwards also casts light on Sayers’ view of the crime fiction genre in general, and her ideas of what a good detective story should be like. Overall, he paints a vivid picture of a thoughtful as well as passionate woman whose intelligence and articulacy command respect, even when her strong opinions provoke disagreement.

Indeed, Sayers was very articulate about the kind of writing she was expecting from her peers, and one point that she mentions quite frequently is the necessity for what she sees as “good English” in writing. She points out flaws in style or grammar relentlessly in her reviews and even issued a resolution in 1935 in her own inimitable style: “I will not cease from mental fight nor shall my sword sleep in my hand till I have detected and avenged all mayhems and murders done upon the English language”. Through her reviews, she also regularly reveals a particular dislike for unimaginative titles (like “The Murder at …” or the “The Mystery of …”). There, she anticipates Chandler’s satire of them in the introduction to The Simple Art of Murder („… nobody goes near them but an occasional shortsighted customer who bends down, peers briefly and hurries away; while old ladies jostle each other at the mystery shelf to grab off some item of the same vintage with a title like The Triple Petunia Murder Case, or Inspector Pinchbottle to the Rescue“).  When a title displeases her one can be sure to find a witty retort or pun that casts shame on the perpetrator for their banal or uninspired story titles, e.g.: “What in the name of Chaos and Old Night possessed Mr Vivian to call his humorous, well-written, well-characterised and altogether delightful and sensible story by such a slip-slop, sob stuff, rotten-ripe, rat-riddled title as Girl in the Dark?”

Sayers had her own idea about “good writing” in crime fiction stories, and from many reviews one can read that she was frequently disappointed in lax characterisations, plot holes or “unfair” solutions for detective stories, which were impossible for the reader to figure out for themselves. Not only was the “fair play” imperative a critical part of crime writing for Sayers, but also the combination of style and good characters, which were necessary for crime fiction to be something that she would have consider good literature: “Plot is not everything; style is not everything; only by combining them can we get a detective story that is also good literature.”
She expresses her distaste for rushed writing and overproduction, which many writers of the genre fell victim to. Although she herself was often under pressure to earn money through her literary works, she always criticised over-productivity as dulling the originality of the works in question.  She reviews, among others, the third Anthony Gilbert book within a year, An Old Lady Dies, where she stated that, although the text was up to his usual standards, “… I do not feel that there was any strong and compelling reason for writing it.” She criticised not only the writers but also the audience which was, in her eyes, too accepting of lacklustre writing:

“There are many reasons which may prompt an author to produce books at this rate, ranging from hyper-activity of the thyroid to the grim menace of rates and taxes. The greatest genius is usually attended by a considerable fertility, but, as a rule, it is too much to expect a fresh masterpiece every four months. With the detective story the temptation to over-production is especially dangerous: first, because it is only too easy to shake up the old pieces of the kaleidoscope into what looks something like a new plot, and, secondly, because the public (and this means You!) is still to indulgent in hasty and mechanical writings where mysteries are concerned”

With the growing interest in classic crime stories today, Sayers´ reviews offer the reader a detailed inside look not only into the various titles of the Golden Age, but also into the crime fiction genre as a whole. Sayers part witty, part cynical and part serious appreciative reviews are a well-written and entertaining way to get a new perspective on classics of the genre as well as an inside view into the personality of one of the key figures of crime fiction writing in the 1930s. Her inimitable style and quick wit as well as her evident expertise and care make this collection a good addition for fans of the Golden Age of Crime and anyone who enjoys the art of the well-written review, of which this one is such a shining example.

Continental Crimes

Continental Crimes

Edited by Martin Edwards – Continental Crimes, British Library, 10/06/2017.

                        A book review by Jonas Rohe, Queen’s University Belfast

 

Continental Crimes is a collection of classic crime short stories from writers of the British tradition which are set, as the name suggests, on the European continent. Edwards’ anthology contains fourteen stories dating from the early 20th century, through the Golden Age of Crime, to the 1950s. The tales are roughly in chronological order by date of publication, starting with Doyle’s The New Catacomb (1898) and ending with Michael Gilbert’s Villa Almirante (1959).  Continue reading

The Gravedigger’s Bread, a review.

A book review by Jonas Rohe, Queen’s University Belfast

gravediggers bread

Fredéric Dard – The Gravediggers’s Bread (translated by Melanie Florence), Pushkin Vertigo, 28/06/2018. Original title Le pain des fossoyeurs, 1956.

Then I went and sold the butcher a stupendous coffin lined with silk, which would have made someone who loved comfort positively want to die! (P. 145)

Blaise Delange is down on his luck. Without a job or money, he finds himself in a small town in the French countryside far from his home in Paris. The only thing keeping him from leaving this miserable nest is a mysterious blonde woman, whose bulging purse he finds on the ground. Fascinated by this unknown beauty, he discovers that she is in fact the local undertaker’s wife, and proceeds to return her lost possessions. Impressed by his apparent honesty, the undertaker offers him a job as his assistant. Even though Delange has neither the interest for nor any experience in the gravedigger’s trade, his desperate financial situation and growing interest in the undertaker’s young wife mean he accepts. Continue reading

The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books

Edwards

 

Martin Edwards –The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, The British Library, 2017

 

A book review by Jonas Rohe, Queen’s University of Belfast

 

 

Martin Edwards’ The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books (2017) offers a literary history of crime fiction of the first half of the 20th century, focusing mainly on the British tradition. The hardcover book is beautifully edited with an artfully designed cover and includes several high gloss pictures of different classic crime fiction book covers. Edwards, as a successful crime fiction author himself, has selected a wide variety of stories that cover the “Golden Age of Crime” of the thirties to the post-World War II crime fiction period. Continue reading

Book Cover Design and the Legitimation of Crime Fiction in Czechoslovakia (1960- 1980) – The Smaragd Series

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by Marcela Poucova, University of Brno

 

After the 1948 coup which brought the Communist Party to power in Czechoslovakia, the cultural climate changed considerably. Before then, there had been a number of publishing houses whose production covered various literary fields. With the dictatorship of the proletariat, the Soviet cultural model came to the fore. Socialist Realism was the order of the day, together with its vision of culture as a means of educating the masses. Private publishers gave way to several state-run ones led by the most devoted party members. Not only some authors, but even certain genres became undesirable.

Both high-brow literature of the highest quality (unless of Soviet provenience) as well as paraliterary genres fell out of favour. Works from the other side of the Iron Curtain without any strong leftist tendencies were deemed to be propaganda. Popular fiction, namely the ‘lower’ genres such as westerns, romances, and crime or spy novels were considered unworthy of the new builders of Communism. Of these, it was only crime and spy literature which managed to ‘turn coat’ and find its place under the new regime, albeit by adapting to the new political order by capitulating to its demands. As a result, from the 1950s, the vast majority of spy novels depicted the uncovering of clandestine activities of imperialistic countries whose ‘prime interest’ was to destroy the new  (Communist) democracies. Similarly, crime novels portrayed individual criminal activities of people who could not identify with the revolutionary ideals of the new society.

In the 1960s, the political scene began to change and editorial policies were relaxed. Culturally, this decade was the most interesting part of the era. As for domestic crime novel production – talented authors emerged for whom the genre brought an interesting challenge and a novel way to describe the reality of society. At the same time, the number of translated novels also increased. Naturally, in the spy genre these were by authors from the Soviet bloc. However, the crime and detective genre started to open up to more global influences. The reasons for this were clear. The public was hungry for a relaxing read that was not burdened with ideological content and, economically, this genre was profitable. Nevertheless, in a socialist state, when it came to ideology, profitability was pushed aside. Publishing houses with devoted party members at the helm created a number of measures designed to select the ‘right’ authors, novels and genres: Continue reading