With thanks to Didier Poiret
The two editions of this book (one published in 1992 and the other in 1994), a Russian translation of two novels by Frédéric Dard (Cette mort dont tu parlais & C’est toi le venin, both belonging to his “Romans de la nuit”) present some minute, and inexplicable differences. At first glance, it is not obvious, but the pose and the women lying are similar, yet different. Why ? Is the 1994 cover (picture on the left) deemed less aggressive, because of its less crude colours and because it features a slightly more clad woman than the one on the right (1992)? Even with not so subtle semiotic codes, there are subtle boundaries and differences in degrees.
(Images from Didier Poiret’s collections)
Peter Cheyney (1896-1951) was the first author published in the Série Noire, in 1945. Marcel Duhamel, the series’ director had translated two of his books during the war. His success in France got the Series off to a good start and many more of his novels were published as part of it. Nonetheless, the Série Noire fetishized noir novels and did not publish short stories. This is why the collection No ordinary Cheyney, translated as Du pas banal, by Jean Weil (Paris, 1949) was published with a different publisher, the newly created “Presses de la cité”, which was soon to become an arch-rival for Gallimard’s Série Noire. Duhamel’s dilemma was to either sacrifice his ideas for the series, and risk disorienting his readers; or strengthen a dynamic competitor with an author who was the international best seller of the time. That Duhamel chose the principles and the series’ unity might explain how he succedded in creating and maintaining such a distinctive and long lasting identity.
Les Frères Rico, published in 1952 with Presses de la Cité was written in July of the same year, in Lakeville, Connecticut. It is not one of the most well known of Simenon’s American novels, although it deserves to be, even leading to a film adaptation, with Richard Conte cast in the leading role. Conte is not the only link between this novel about business, family and the mafia and Coppola’s epic trilogy, The Godfather. And there are elements in the main character’s personality which evoke De Niro’s in Scorsese’s Casino.
Written during the decade Simenon spent in America (1945 to 1955) and dealing with American settings, characters and topics, it is a novel which could equally have been published in the Série Noire, save for the fact that, maybe, it had much more authenticity than anything published by French crime authors in that series at the time. Like so many of the Série Noire novels, Simenon’s novel is really a tragedy, a tragedy with ordinary people. Blood and sacred family ties, duty and honour, being forced to make the most cruel of choices are its tragic elements. Businessmen instead of heroes, and corporate organisations (here, the mafia) with their dispassionate, mechanical rules instead of gods, are the elements of ordinariness. Simenon of course is one of the 20th century’s true poets of the ordinary and the novel is poignant in its evocation of the melancholy of submission.
The noir atmosphere, the lingering sense of betrayal, displacement and sorrow left by the novel is captured beautifully by Loustal’s colour drawings for the Omnibus illustrated edition (Paris, Omnibus, 2004)
Of all the authors in the later period of the famous Fleuve Noir Spécial Police Series, Kââ (Pascal Marignac, 1945-2002) is one of the most interesting. His noir novels are amongst the most literary and sophisticated published in this series. The books are no less brilliant than their titles suggest:
Silhouettes de morts sous la lune blanche, Fleuve noir, Spécial Police no 1862, 1984 Continue reading
Founded in 1941 and based in NYC, Avon Books was one of the early publishers of paperbacks in America, following closely the industry-changing model set in 1939 by Pocket Books (also in NYC), with their pocket-sized publications. But while Pocket Books publications emphasized literary recognition of the works they republished, Avon chose to rather stress their popular appeal. Illustrations played a large part in this. Beyond the promise of a pleasurable read, the audience’s fascination with death is an equally reliable marketing force. Continue reading
Some iconic crime fiction series like the influential Série Noire constituted, in the aftermath of WW2, a canon of existential (ist) literature in the guise of noir fiction. Continue reading
American author Rae Foley’s (Elinore Denniston, 1900-1978) postwar series featuring the detective Hiram Potter was often described as an American counterpart to L. Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey. In a period when European authors were writing books imitating the American hardboiled genre, Rae Foley was writing, in America, books imitating British Golden Age mysteries. She can thus be seen as a symmetrical counterpart to Peter Cheyney, or James Hadley Chase. Together, Foley, Chase, and Cheyney show both sides of the postwar transatlantic exchange which helped to shape crime fiction. Foley’s success recalls that the exchanges worked both ways. Even at the heights of the noir era, British style mystery books continued to be in demand. And the circulation of Foley’s books in continental Europe blurred boundaries further, highlighting their openness to multiple cultural appropriations. Continue reading
Both Hammett and Chandler had their novels originally published as hardbacks. But both of them, like so many original hardboiled writers from the first generation reached a mass readership through two other forms created by the publishing industry: The pulp magazines in which their short stories were first published, and the paperback. The latter’s rise, starting in the early 1940s, ensured the continued circulation of their work. In 1933 Chandler published his first fiction (“Blackmailers Don’t Shoot”) in Black Mask (which had been launched in 1920) and continued publishing there and in other detection magazines until 1941. Continue reading
Georges Simenon, The Rules of the Game (La Boule noire, Presses de la Cité, 1955)
The Rules of the Game (La Boule noire) is the first novel Simenon wrote in France upon his return from his decade-long stay in America. Written in April 1955 and set in Connecticut, it drmatizes issues of belonging and membership, and the small-town mentality. It is apparent that, in writing it, Simenon had just come to terms with the realisation that he had never truly belonged in American society.
Original edition, Presses de la Cité, 1955