Month: April 2015

A Journey with Sam Millar


Jack Kirby, The Avengers, 4, March 1964 (cover art)

There are many photographs of Sam Millar in the press, and on the web.  On most of them, he looks rather intimidating. On some, you might even feel  a sense of menace.  He comes across as a hard man,  no mistake.  His  reputation, CV, and books, of course, do nothing to change this first impression. Or maybe they  do influence it. Nobody would wish to know  as  much about violence as he does. There is something else also, and his books prepare you for that too, when you meet him : a  dark and constant sense of humour, and a great gift for telling stories, especially stories of tough luck.  And a passion for books, magazines, and all printed matter. The journey between Dublin Connolly Station and Belfast Central lasts 2 hours.   It  feels much shorter. We have barely passed the  viaduct on the Broadmeadow  estuary when he orders coffees, and starts talking about the books he read. His father, a sailor, encouraged him to read;   himself read all the time.  Reading was a political act. When he came  ashore, back to Belfast, he brought books.   From America, he used to bring him Comics;  Marvel, DC Comics, stories of heinous villains and  of superheroes fighting for justice. Sam grew up during the early period of the troubles  in Northern Ireland, reading  Detective Comics made in New York.  The Civil rights movement and the tail end of the silver age of Marvel comics might  have seemed to intersect, not only historically, but at some distant, ideal point. Continue reading

Alphonse Bertillon : an Eye on Crime (Exhibition)


Opening today and lasting until November an interesting exhibition, curated by renowned expert Pierre Piazza, is devoted to the inventor of scientific police, Alphonse Bertillon (1853-1914).   It presents a rich and diverse collection of some 200 items, some of them belonging to the  Department of Forensic Identification of the Paris Police, some of them stemming  from Bertillon’s personal collections, presented and contextualised  with  archives consisting of press clippings, of  illustrations, caricatures, films and photographs. It shows the  methods used to ascertain and investigate crime and to find the criminals, based on the collection and analysis of the traces they left.  The exhibition show how, for example with crime scenes photographs, Art, technological innovation and forensic science merge.

Early Crime Fiction Series around 1900


With thanks to Philippe Aurousseau and courtesy of  oncle-archibald.BlogSpot

The 62 volumes of the adventures of  French Amateur Detective Marc Jordan were one of the earliest  French publisher’s series devoted to crime  fiction . The publisher was Ferenczi, whose publishing house would soon become a cornerstone of Popular Fiction in France.   From September 1907  readers could purchase every Tuesday, at a price of 25 centimes,  the last instalment in the Exploits surprenants du plus grand détective Français.  The following year (1908) the Éclair company, would release Nick Carter, le roi des detectives, the silent film directed by Victorin Jasset, highlighting the parallels between  Marc Jordan and the American detective Nick Carter. Nick Carter Detective Library had started in 1891. Street & Smith would then publish a magazine, Nick Carter Weekly, until 1915.  It was in some  respects  a template for Ferenczi’s Marc Jordan.

Each  issue  of Marc Jordan’s adventures consisted of 32 pages (22 x 27 cm). The covers were  illustrated  by painters and cartoonists  Edouard Yrondy  (1 to 42)  Hickx (43 to 46), Michel Ronceray (No. 47 to 52) and Marco (No. 53 in 62). Continue reading

Police & Cinema, 1920

Police et Cinéma

Marcel Priollet, Police et cinéma  éditions J.Ferenczi, 1920, booklet, 18 x 11 cm. ©BILIPO

The small booklet above, by  prolific popular author Marcel Priollet (1884– 1960)  was published  in 1920.  It formed part of the first (1916- 1923) “Le Roman policier” series  published by Ferenczi. This publisher  was  by then well on its way to become a household name in the history of French popular literature . This is an early example of the explicit use of the concept of “Roman policier” (detective novel) in order  to cach the attention of the readers. It is therefore an important indicator of the constitution of the  crime genre  as an autonomous, instantly recognizable entity  in that period.
This particular booklet also demonstrates the relationship  between popular literature and film.  By then the exchanges between the two media have taken a new direction: after the first world war,  it is cinema that will influence the detective story, rather than the reverse.

The beauty of International Crime Fiction Cover Art


Cornell Woolrich, The black path of fear,  The Crime Club, Doubleday, Doran, 1944

The Big data approach and instruments,  which inform this blog, do not only allow to study globally a population of  popular writers  who, in an international effort and over many decades invented Crime fiction.  It  also helps to envision the books they produced in a material way, in their condition as objects, commodities and fetishes. The  juxtaposition of hundreds of book covers from different countries reveals their semiotics,    with their recurring motifs and their serial patterns.   Books covers can thus be read  as sites where developments in international cultural industries, the specialisation of narrative genres, the publishers’ distinctive strategies and the evolution of popular representations and tastes all  intersect.  The  available metadata linked with each cover also recalls  that Crime Fiction series fostered some of  the past  century’s greatest artists.  This post  displays  a very short selection of some Crime Fiction cover art, as milestones in a cultural history of the international imagination of crime, and its visualisation.

Poe rua-morgue

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Multimedia Crime Fiction : an international trajectory, 1954-2015


Les salauds vont en enfer, Play by  Frédéric Dard, Edited,  introduced and annotated by : Hugues Galli, Thierry Gautier & Dominique Jeannerod, EUD, 2015, 238 pp.

Grand Guignol programme 1

Frédéric Dard was France’s most popular Crime Fiction author.  Besides his career as  a novelist, Dard was a prolific playwright, screenwriter and dialogue writer. The recent discovery  and subsequent publication (EUD, 2015) of an original manuscript of the  successful Play Les salauds vont en enfer  allows to retrace the circuits of cultural creation in 1950’s France and the interrelation between various  media and narrative forms.  Created in the Grand Guignol Theatre in Paris in 1954 and directed by Robert Hossein, the play went on to experience  a series of  transpositions. First, in 1955, on screen (also directed by Robert Hossein), then as a novel, when  in  early 1956,  it was novelised as a roman noir by Frédéric Dard, the author of the play.   In 1971, Abdal Iskar adapted it as television film.  A wealth of archives, generously shared by collectors  and the author’s  family  have helped reconstructing  the story of the play’s reincarnations and exportations.  But working  closely on the text of the play  for this first edition (six decades after it had been written) also highlighted the  importance of the international  and intermedia horizons in the creation, as they are both already  there in the author’s inspiration.  Most  of the following pictures, which document the variations  and interpretations from media to media and in different countries, are reproduced in this edition, where they are fully referenced. Continue reading

The other life of French Crime Fiction Authors in Portugal

  Groc Torres

Léon Groc (1882-1956), O Segredo da Praça Maldita (La Place maudite, Le Lynx, 1941),  Lisboa, 1947

The International Circulation of Cultural Works operates like a magnetic field. Forces interact, currents drive materials in different directions, at different speed, in various magnitudes. Such effects can be observed in the reception  of French Crime Fiction authors, between the 1930’s and 1960’s, in countries like Spain, Italy and Portugal. In these countries, a secular tradition of French cultural influence offered an outlet to a French production which was at this point in time experiencing a severe  competition from the English and American markets.  There had been a  Golden Age  in French language Crime Fiction too (Simenon, Steeman, Véry, Decrest, Boileau, Nord, Vindry and others…) but it was, in most countries, overshadowed by the success of English language Golden Age crime fiction. Even on the French literary field the successful import of the Detection Club authors created  a tough competition for French authors in the thirties.  After the war, the Noir vogue would even engineered a  process of eviction of new, American or American sounding authors. Continue reading

Maps of Contempt


(Click to enlarge)

Edgar Allan Poe (1 occurrence)

Le Monde ‘s Data Visualisation team (Luc Bronner & Maxime Vaudano)  have produced a fascinating and revealing interactive map of French Schools names (
Based on publicly accessible data and the names of 67105 French Schools (public and private, and at all levels) it shows, without surprise, that many of these schools (some of them 200 years old) chose the name of a writer. But there are great disparities between writers, and the data tells about the omission of Crime fiction authors. It indicates an apparent stigma attached to this specific type of authorship, as Crime authors fare considerably less well than other, even much lesser known authors.  Edgar Poe, admitttedly not a French author is named only once. Gaboriau, the author of the first crime novel, zero.  Victor Hugo, by contrast (who invented with his inspector Javert a very memorable policeman, but  definitely not considered a crime author) had his name chosen by 365 schools.    It is more than surprising that some of the most read, most popular and internationally famous French authors (such as Gaston Leroux, the author of the Phantom of the Opera) don’t seem to have been deemed worthy of such distinction. When will a French school be named after  him, one of France’s more gifted writers? Or after Eugène Sue, or Frédéric Dard ?

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The best Detective Novels : Colecção Os Melhores Romances Policiais


Francis D. Grierson (1888-1972), O Negro Assassino (Murder in Black, 1935; Portuguese translation : Adolfo Coelho, 1938).  Colecção Os Melhores Romances Policiais, Volume 44, 2nd edition, 1947


The Lisbon-based publisher Livraria Clássica Editora launched in the early 1930’s a Series of  International Crime Fiction classics :  Os Melhores Romance Policiais.   This series was interrupted in the mid 1950’s. It consists of 124 volumes.  The two first authors published there were two Belgians,  both from Liège.  The first one was Stanislas-André Steeman (1908-1970) with  Seis homens mortos (1932).The second one, of course,  Simenon. The series would publish two other successful  Belgian authors after the war (both hidden under the pseudonym Paul Kenny). French Language Crime Authors are certainly over-represented there. In an era when the British authors members in the Detection club  (including  Chesterton, Anthony Berkeley, Agatha Christie,  Freeman Wills Crofts, R.Austin Freeman, Ronald A. Knox, A.E.W. Mason,  Baroness Orczy,  Dorothy L. Sayers, Henry Wade, and Victor L. Whitechurch ) asserted their worldwide dominance,   Os Melhores Romance Policiais published  mainly translations of  French  works originally published by Gallimard, Ferenczi   or Librairie des Champs Elysées, in series such as Le Masque or Crime et Police.
Several novels translated for Melhores Romances Policiais had won the “Roman d’ Aventures” Award, which was created in 1930 to promote  Crime Fiction writing in French.  Steeman’s Six hommes morts  won it in 1931. Among the French authors of  Livraria Clássica’s “best Crime Novels” feature notably :
-Algeria born and Cambridge educated Charles de Richter (1887- 1975), who published many thrillers inspired from Edgar Wallace in the Éditions de France Series ” À ne pas lire la nuit”.
-Jean-Toussaint Samat (1891- 1944),  a former journalist with Le Petit Marseillais who published in Le Masque and in a number of other French Series of the 1930’s, for Baudinière, Ferenczi, and Editions de France. 
-Marcel Marc, author of Les Trois Crimes de Veules-les-Roses (Gallimard, 1931).
The list includes, too, Pierre Nord, Louis-Léon Martin Edouard Letailleur and Léon Groc, Francis Didelot and Maurice-Bernard Endrèbe.
The first ten books published there are listed on  the blog Rua da Morgue : (
1 – Seis homens mortos de S. André Steeman
2 – Condenado à morte de Georges Simenon
3 – A casa fatal de Leon Groc
4 – O segredo de H.21 de Adolfo Coelho
5 – O “autobus” desaparecido de Leon Groc
6 – Quem matou? De Charles Kingston
7 – Três crimes de Marcel Marc
8 – “ M” de Leonard Falkner
9 – A horrível morte de miss Gildchrist de Jean Toussaint-Samat
10 – O mistério de Loverval de S. André Steeman

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