Author: djeannerod

“The most original hotel in the world”:

Memory, crime and tourism in Giannis Maris’ novel The Hands of Aphrodite (1963)

by Nikos Filippaios, University Ioanina

With thanks to Ciara Gorman, Queen’s University, Belfast

The subject of this presentation is the Greek crime fiction novel The Hands of Aphrodite which was written by Giannis Maris, first published in 1963 as a series in a successful newspaper of that time in Greece[1]. The novel and its sociopolitical components will be discussed through a theoretical perspective which selectively combines the scholarship on the historical memory, the literary analysis of crime fiction and also the wider spectrum of sociological and anthropological studies.

Giannis Maris (1916-1979) is considered  the father of Greek crime fiction, as he managed to give to this European and US popular fiction genre an undoubtedly modern Greek identity. In his almost fifty crime novels, GM represents – through the structure and the conventions of the crime fiction genre – the contradictions of the post-war urban development in Greece, and particularly in Athens. At his best, Maris combines economic, social and cultural critique with political and ideological analysis. Police officer Giorgos Mpekas plays the role of the crime solver in almost all of these novels. Generally, Maris was influenced by Georges Simenon, thus Giorgos Mpekas is reminiscent of Jules Maigret – however, he has his own unique features. He is presented as a typical portly family man of the 1950s and 1960s in Greece, but behind this banal appearance hides a brilliant detective, who knows how to look at the details of a case, who can psychologize the suspects and even play with their illusions, hopes and fears. Moreover, Mpekas eventually leaves his logic behind and finally becomes involved in the case he investigates, a typical feature of the noir and hard boiled subgenre.

We could say that Maris, following the paradigm of Simenon, utilizes crime fiction in order to criticize the socio-political contradictions of the 1950s and 1960s, as a politically progressive writer who, however, had to avoid censorship of the regime that followed the Greek Civil War (1946-1949). Although in this presentation, there is no time for a complete historical retrospective, it is necessary for the analysis of our subject to mention some crucial events that marked the Greek state from the 1940s up to the 1970s.

From 1941 to 1944 Greece was occupied by Nazi Germany, a period full of mainly human, political and economic loss, but also with an important wave of national guerilla resistance against the occupiers. One of the most dark and tragic events of the German Occupation  – an event that plays a central role in the novel we present today – was the dissolution of the long-standing and prosperous Greek Jewish community of Thessaloniki, whose members were sent to concentration camps[2] and, of course, their properties were stolen by the Nazis. In 1944 the Nazis abandoned the country, but soon after a very violent and dreadful Civil War took place between the Right-wing and the Left-wing forces, which is considered  the first act of the Cold War. In 1949 the Civil War ended, with the victory of the right-wing forces. The right-wing governments of the 1950s formed a political, social and cultural hegemony of conservatism, ethnocentrism and fierce anti-communism. It is important to note, especially in relation to the novel’s plot, that some of the Greek collaborators of the Nazis not only occupied key positions in the Greek state apparatus, but they also became an important part of the post-war indigenous bourgeoisie. However, from the end of the 1950s, a combination of factors, such as the increasingly steady economic development of the country, the semi-illegal action of the socialist and Left political forces, but also the strong influence of the Long 60s[3] led to a turn in Greek society as a whole towards more progressive and democratic paths. These paths were, however, closed off  with the imposition of the dictatorship (1967-1974)[4].

This is a summary of the historical background in which the plots of Maris’ novels take place. The novel under consideration, The Hands of Aphrodite, takes place in 1963 and  is mainly influenced by international events. To be more exact, The Hands of Aphrodite is influenced on the one hand by the trial and the execution of Adolf Eichmann, one of the leaders of the Nazi’s Holocaust, by the state of Israel in 1961 and on the other by the initial arrest and the final release of Max Merten, the man largely responsible for the “Greek Holocaust”. Merten visited Greece in 1957 and he was immediately arrested by the Greek authorities, in order to be tried for his crimes; however, after strong reactions from West Germany he was freed[5].

The novel’s plot is set in 1963, when fictional members of the international underworld hunt for the gold that the German Nazis stole from the Greek Jews during the German Occupation (1941-1944), and then hid it in a secret location. The protagonist of Maris’ crime novels, inspector Giogros Mpekas keeps a close eye on them, in cooperation with an officer from the Israeli intelligence service, Captain Yoel.  All the persons involved in the plot travel around Greece during spring and summer and stay in hotels in Athens, but also travel to other tourist destinations in central and southern Greece.

The novel was firstly published in 1963, as a “roman feuilleton” in the Athenian newspaper Evening Post. More specifically, the novel was published as a series in a special strip comic format: images by the illustrator Michalis Gallias, an important artist at the time who made significant contributions to the development of Greek illustration, were accompanied by a sharp and fast-paced narration written by Maris. The novel was republished in its entirety in 1972, edited by Maris himself and in 2013, with introduction by Andreas Apostolidis, an established crime fiction writer and scholar.

Giannis Maris was one of the first European crime fiction writers who introduced the themes of memory and  oblivion, and even the censorship of the Holocaust in his work. Apart from the Hands Of Aphrodite, the Holocaust plays a central role in some other of Maris’ novels and short stories, mainly in the novels A Woman From The Past (1964) and Operation: Vengeance (1964). So we could say that Giannis Maris was one of the pioneers of historical crime fiction, especially the kind which deals with relatively recent and particularly traumatic historical events. As we know the historical subgenre of crime fiction, mostly the one that focuses on the 1940s and World War II, has been extremely popular in recent years; for example the Bernie Gunther series (1993-2019) by Philip Kerr and the novel Readbreast (2000) by Jo Nesbø.

However, in The Hands Of Aphrodite, the issue of the Holocaust and its both historical and person al memory is entwined with a rich reference to hotels, motels and generally with the touristic prosperity of Greece in the late 1950s and mainly in the 1960s. We could claim that this combination of the “Greek Holocaust’ and the touristic places is an element of a literary and cinematic trend named “Holocaust Impiety”. In the context of the Holocaust Impiety writers, directors, mainly representatives of popular culture, portray the Holocaust in a subversive way, which does not seem to align with the tragedy of a crime unique in the history of mankind. Contemporary examples of the Holocaust Impiety trend, which seems to oppose the famous phrase by Theodor Adorno “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric”[6], are the Berlin Noir trilogy by Philip Kerr in the field of literature and Quentin Tarantino’s film Inglorious Basterds in the field of cinema[7].

The ideological discourse, moreover the ethos, which is formed in the novel The Hands of Aphrodite is based on this antithesis between the present (i.e. 1963) of a flowering wave of tourism in Greece and the recent past of the extermination of the Greek Jews of Thessaloniki and the seizure of their properties by the Nazi.

A more careful and critical reading of the novel reveals the suspicion lurking within tourism development, which especially in the early 1960s was reinforced by the state apparatus with generous funding and advertising. The concealment of the true identity of the criminals looking for the lost treasure of Greek Jews behind the typical figure of the mindless tourist develops  into a pattern in the novel’s narrative. Of course the space of the hotel plays a central role in this pattern.

In a representative excerpt of the novel, a Israeli spy visits Greece with the fake identity of a lawyer of a Nazi officer responsible for the Greek Holocaust, who was arrested by the Israeli authorities.The true purpose of his visit is to get in touch with the criminals hunting for the treasure and to catch them, but he appears as a foreign visitor ready for the entertaining and hedonistic adventure of a tourist trip in Greece:

Friedrich Dürrenmatt[8], a tourist from Lausanne, settled at the Athene Pallas Hotel. He had an ouzo at Syntagma, paid a visit to the Acropolis in the afternoon and asked his waiter if he could listen to “Children of Piraeus” at night. He slept full of Attic light and with a slightly disturbed stomach he woke up the next morning rather late.

He enjoyed from the window of his room the frame of Akropolis swimming in the golden light and then he made two phone calls, both of them rather strange…

Not only the touristic references in this passage (“ouzo”, “Children of Pireaus” – the famous song written by Manos Hadjidakis and sung by Melina Merkouri and Akropolis), but also the carefully selected words and phrases in a strong relation with light (“Attic light”, “golden light”) parody a mentality about Greek tourism, which especially during the 1960s was dominant. As historian Antonis Liakos writes: “since the end of the 1950s, tourism has been massificated (…) without necessarily being related to antiquities”[9], but – we would continue – as part of “leisure time”, a phenomenon that emerged on a global scale after the Second World War.

Russian theorist Michail Bachtin understands the modern novel as a polyglossic genre, because in most novels an antagonism takes place between the hegemonic language/discourse of the dominant social, economic and political groups and their ideology, on one hand and the emerging languages/discourses, which represent dispersed mentalities stemming from the heterogeneity of the wider social whole, on the other. We could assume (not without doubts, a subject which we cannot analyze this time) that this sociolinguistic interaction takes place even more dynamically in a popular genre, such as crime fiction[10].

Therefore, in the perspective of a Bakhtinian interpretation of the aforementioned passage, an antagonistic dialogue vividly takes place: the hegemonic political, economic and cultural discourse of a flowering and extroverted Greek tourism is criticized by an alternative discourse, concerning the superficiality of Greek tourism, which evokes a historical and personal oblivion mainly of the traumatic experiences of the 1940s, of the Occupation and the Civil War.

Elements which are inextricably linked to historιcal, ethnic, social and cultural identities that formed the Greek state, but were also delimited by it – from the characteristic Mediterranean nature to the ancient Greek historical memory – are degraded into means of a superficial and commercialized tourist enjoyment. It is very important that Dipermatt doesn’t visit Acropolis, but he watches it through his hotel window.

In this context, the space of the hotel in the novel becomes a non-place according to the term  proposed by Marc Augé:

Anthropological place is formed by individual identities, through complicities of language, local references, the unformulated rules of living know-how; non-place creates the shared identity of passengers, customers or Sunday drivers. (…) A person entering the space of non-place is relieved of his usual determinants (…) he tastes for a while –like anyone who is possessed- the passive joys of identity-loss and the more active pleasure of role-playing (…) The space of non-place creates neither singular identity nor relations; only solitude and similitude. There is no room there for history unless it has been transformed into an element of spectacle, usually in allusive texts. What reins there is actuality, the urgency of the present moment (…) Everything proceeds as if space had been trapped by time, as if there were no history other than the last forty-eight hours of news[11].

Therefore, we could claim that in the novel the hotel spaces act as non-places of both personal and historical forgetfulness, in our case of an oblivion regarding the “Greek Holocaust”. This interpretation comes in line with the general silence or, we could more accurately say, silent censorship that quickly spread after the German Occupation and the Civil War, regarding the tragic events of the extermination of the Greek Jews of Thessaloniki. The reason for this informal censorship? The fact that the Nazis sent the Jews to the concentration camps and confiscated their property in collaboration with their Greek collaborators, some of whom after the war took key positions in the state apparatus.

However, a crucial feature of the historical crime novel is that the role of the crime solver, who is mentally immersed in past events in order to find the criminal and restore justice, meets the role of the historian, who rationally researches the past in order to restore the truth. Academic Ellen O’Gorman in her article Detective Fiction and Historical Narrative (1999) claims that especially in hard-boiled and noir crime fiction, the detective seeks a reconstruction and interpretation of the past, harmonized with his own code of ethics (which often contradicts the hegemonic ideological line), but ultimately – in the pessimistic context of the noir subgenre –is forced to align with the interpretation and reconstitution of the dominant ideology[12].

Giorgos Mpekas, the police officer in Maris’ novel, undertakes this double role of the detective and the historian, because he drifts into a painful journey in the past of the Occupation, as he chases Nazi criminal officers and their Greek collaborators, a journey that he can endure thanks both to his rationalism and humanity, his almost natural feeling of justice. This double – police and historical – activity of Mpekas leads to a transformation of the hotel space itself: when Mpekas and the Israeli spy, with whom he collaborates, stay in hotels all over Greece, their rooms are turned into spaces where plans are organized in order to bring the criminals to justice. Under these circumstances, the hotel space is not a non-place anymore, as it is dominated by the feeling of security and of the superhuman attempt to restore justice for one of the most despicable crimes in human history, the Holocaust. In the following excerpt, these correlations are presented with an ironic humor, familiar to the noir genre, both in literature and cinema:

And if he does not show up (he means one of the hunters of the Jewish treasure), we will find him, said police officer Mpekas the next day to the Israeli agent.

The two of them – Mpekas and he – were sitting in the room of the small hotel where the Athenian officer had broken down.

– From here, from our room? Yoel teased him

– Yes, answered officer Mpekas quietly. Through our room. (232-233)

Towards the end of the novel, all the people involved in the case, outlaws and defenders of the law alike, gather in a luxurious hotel in the city of Nafplio, which is situated in southern Greece and which was the first capital of the Greek state, even before Athens. Maris’ historical, sociopolitical and cultural commentary is characteristic:

Bourtzi is probably the most original hotel in the world. A small, but strong sea castle that enclosed the port of Nafplio during the Venetian times.

Later, when the Venetians left and Greece became free, Bourtzi hosted the headmen who were executing those sentenced to death in the prisons of Palamidi. These terrible – and unhappy – people (old convicts who chose the profession of the executioner to save their heads) became almost insane in the loneliness of the castle, since they could not go out to the world that hated them.

Once all this was over. And the convicts of Palamidi who were sentenced to death and the guillotines and the executioners. Bourtzi remained a picturesque Venetian monument with awesome stories and fame. Then a clever businessman thought of transforming it into a hotel and Eleanor Roosevelt honored it – and established it – with a brief visit.

Foreign tourists came to feel the shiver of the old days, behind the thick castle gates and its frilled battlements. Film companies have come to make films. Its towers were full of tables and rooms, which were once inhabited by executioners, were decorated with modern furniture, while on their floors that once echoed the heavy armor of the Venetians, tsa-tsa and mambo were danced. From the stairs eaten by the sea, tourists in bikinis dived into the water (193-194)

The readers follow the gradual oblivion of Bourzi as a place conquered by death, violence, madness and fear, as it is transformed firstly into a monument surrendered to the rushed glance of the tourist and finally into a hotel, a non-place dominated by historical oblivion  –perhaps better called pseudo-historical memory – as part of a developed leisure industry, in which superficial personal autonomous expression is linked with mass consumption.

Therefore, as scholars Annette Pritchard and Nigel Morgan note, (post)modern hotels are “complex, culturally contested and ideologically laden liminal spaces”, where “dominant discourses of space and wider hegemonic socio-cultural relations are resisted, contested or affirmed”[13]. In The Hands of Aphrodite the dominant discourse and the hegemonic socio-cultural ideology of an exovert and euphoric tourist industry is contested by a critical view.

This critical view probably concerns the general shift of Greek society and economy towards the western models of production and consumption – in short, towards a globalized late capitalism. This shift seems inevitable but it does not lack disadvantages, which also concern the silencing and censorship of traumatic memories of the German Occupation and the Civil War, with political, social, economic and ultimately ideological incentives. However, this critique developed in the novel avoids any tendency towards conservatism, xenophobia and national introversion, as Giannis Maris observes, keeps track and occasionally comments with mastery, skepticism and sarcasm, with a cynical and at the same time stoic look, on the great changes that the post-war Greek state is experiencing.

[1] Maris G. 2013. The Hands of Aphrodite (Ta Heria Tis Afroditis). Introduction by Andreas Apostolidis. Athens: Agra. The pages containing the excerpts of the novel which are mentioned in the presentation are stated in parentheses, right after these excerpts. Before each excerpt there is the picture which corresponds to the text in the first edition of the novel, in a style combining the strip comic and the roman feuilleton.

This is the text of my presentation at the “International Symposium: Literary Hotels” (9-10 September 2021, Hub Athens), organized by the HOTEMS project (“Hotels and the Modern Subject: 1890-1940”). My presentation was part of the panel “Crime à la Moderne: Memory, Perception, and Mobility in Hotel Crime Narratives” (Friday, September 10).The text is accompanied by a basic bibliography in the form of footnotes and also by pictures, which were included in the pptx. file shown in the presentation.

[2] Saltiel, L. n.y.. The  Holocaust  of  the  Thessaloniki  Jews  and  the  role  of  the  bystanders  (1942-1943) [online] Fondation De La Mémoire De La Shoah.

[3] Marwick, A., 2005. The Cultural Revolution of the Long Sixties: Voices of Reaction, Protest, and Permeation. The International History Review, 27(4), pp.780-806.

[4] For a more detailed and in-depth historical presentation of this specific era, see Clogg, R. 1992. A Concise History of Greece. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, p. 145-168

[5] Hassid, S., 2021. The Trial of Max Merten in the Changing Mirrors of Time and Place. [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 December 2021].

[6] Adorno, T., 1983. Prisms. Massachusetts: The MIT Press, p.34.

[7] For the representations of the Holocaust Impiety in crime fiction see: Berberich, C., 2019. Detecting the Past: Detective Novels, the Nazi Past, and Holocaust Impiety. Genealogy, 3(4), pp.70. and Auer, S., 2015. The Holocaust as fiction. [online] Available at: <; [Accessed 8 December 2021].

[8] After my presentation, a member of the audience remarked that Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1921-1990) was a Swiss writer who was famous in the 1960s. I answered that probably Giannis Maris could have known this writer, however he probably used this name as a typical Swiss one. Τhis subject needs more detailed research.

[9] Liakos A., 2020. The Greek 20th Century. Athens: Polis, pp. 368

[10] Bakhtin, M., 1981. Discourse in the novel. In: M. Bakhtin, ed., The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, 1st ed. Austin: University Of Texas Press, pp. 259-422.

[11] Augé, M., 1995. Non-places: Introduction Τo Αn Anthropology Of Supermodernity. London: Verso, pp.101-104.

[12] O’Gorman, E., 1999. Detective Fiction and Historical Narrative. Greece and Rome, 46(1), pp.19-26.

[13] Pritchard, A. and Morgan, N., 2006. Hotel Babylon? Exploring hotels as liminal sites of transition and transgression. Tourism Management, 27(5), pp.762

The ‘‘metaphysical shudder’’ of the detective novel (CFP)

This call for papers is destined for a book-length publication in the bilingual collection Book Practices & Textual Itineraries (published at Université de Lorraine, France) which traces evolutions in the production, transmission and reception of books and texts over time and across cultural and disciplinary boundaries (more information about the collection here).

Experimented by many novelists from both sides of the Atlantic since the 1950s, the contemporary trend of the ‘‘metaphysical’’ detective novel calls the intrinsic metaphysical value of the genre into question. Shall we consider ‘‘metaphysical detective fiction’’ as a distinct sub-genre? We may legitimately wonder whether existential concerns would not permeate just about any sort of crime-based narrative. Would not the practical questions raised by the detective-character — who, where, when, how, and why? — be essentially linked with more profound interrogations? What exactly is this ‘‘metaphysical shudder’’ of the detective novel that Umberto Eco used to speak about? How would it manifest itself in American and European crime fiction over time? How could its conditions of writing possibly be described? These few questions sketch several philosophical, thematic, and narrative avenues for the enquiry of the metaphysics of crime fiction that this call for papers proposes to discuss.

Please read the complete CFP available below and send your proposals — title and abstract in English or French (400-600 words) — to Estelle Jardon ( by 15th December 2021. Final papers in English or French (7,000-9,000 words / 30,000-40,000 characters – space included) will be due by 1st May 2022 with publication anticipated in the fall 2022.

Read complete CFP (English version) below .

Contrary to the ‘‘metaphysical’’ detective novel which has attracted a growing scholarly attention, notably since the publication of Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy in the late 1980s, the broader subject of the metaphysics of crime fiction has rarely been discussed yet. This can be partly explained by the fact that the two approaches seem to contradict each other: on the one hand, the use of the adjective ‘‘metaphysical’’ suggests that other forms of crime fiction are devoid of any metaphysical dimension; on the other hand, the belief in an intrinsic metaphysical value of crime fiction calls the relevance of the label into question. Yet, the American specialists Patricia Merivale and Susan E. Sweeney define the metaphysical detective story as ‘‘a text that parodies or subverts traditional detective-story conventions […] with the intention, or at least the effect, of asking questions about mysteries of being and knowing which transcend the mere machinations of the mystery plot […] by becoming self-reflexive (that is representing allegorically the text’s own processes of composition)’’. From its early beginnings then, with Edgar Allan Poe’s tales of ratiocination, the detective story would have followed another path, overtly philosophical and speculative, notably hinged upon the relative tragic irony which is to befall the detective-character. This particular sort of drama became a favorite of many prominent novelists of the post-war period (J. L. Borges, ‘‘Death and the Compass’’ [1954]; Alain Robbe-Grillet, The
Erasers [1953]; Friedrich Dürrenmatt, The Pledge [1958]) and continued to be experimented with by the succeeding generations of postmodernist writers (like the Americans Robert Coover, Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon ; the Englishmen Peter Ackroyd, Martin Amis or Graham Swift ; the Italians Italo Calvino, Leonardo Sciascia or the Frenchman Patrick Modiano). These few examples help demonstrate that the label ‘‘metaphysical detective fiction’’ signals, if not a sub-genre of prestigious unclassifiable novels, at least a genre-breaking class of literary fiction under the guise of detective fiction.

Without neglecting these intellectual appropriations of crime fiction and their influence on the evolution of the genre, there seems to be a good opportunity to question the metaphysical potential of more authentic forms of popular crime fiction, too. One may legitimately wonder if existential pursuits would not be the inner workings of just about any sort of crime-based narrative. Would not the practical questions raised by the investigator — who, where, when, how, and why? — be essentially linked with more profound interrogations? Let us remember some of Umberto Eco’s motivations for writing The Name of the Rose like a detective novel: ‘‘and since I wanted you to feel as pleasurable the one thing that frightens us—namely, the metaphysical shudder—I had only to
choose (from among the model plots) the most metaphysical and philosophical: the detective novel’’. These few lines will hopefully provide a good starting point for discussing the metaphysics of crime fiction, not only as an inherent characteristic, but also as a driving force in the evolution of the genre.
The proposals to be submitted shall, therefore, focus on examining how exactly this‘‘metaphysical shudder’’ could manifest itself in crime fiction, from Edgar Allan Poe to this day, and from both sides of the Atlantic. The interdisciplinary collection of essays that is envisaged would particularly encourage the points of view of specialists of modern and contemporary philosophy to intersect with
the ones of European and American crime fiction specialists in the hope to better question the complex philosophical notion of ‘‘metaphysics’’ from the perspective of crime fiction. In the philosophical domain for example, proposals could concentrate on the metaphysical significance of crime fiction writing, or on the various interpretations and commentaries that the genre’s popularity and its avid
readers drew from many twentieth-century philosophers and intellectuals (Bloch, Brecht, Champigny, Deleuze, Jameson, Kracauer, Todorov, etc.).
If crime fiction is considered to be inherently metaphysical, how does this metaphysics differ or vary according to the different sub-genres of crime fiction that exist (the puzzle mystery story, the noir novel, the thriller)? Howard Haycraft, who was the first person to qualify crime fiction as ‘‘metaphysical’’, used the term to describe the religious and moral bends of Father Brown’s mystery stories written by the English Roman Catholic writer G. K. Chesterton. In the same way, Ross Macdonald used to say that Graham Greene’s novels This Gun for Hire and Brighton Rock ‘‘were ruthless in the portraiture of their villain-heroes, yet at the same time concerned with the salvation of their souls”. Some Christian writers in the first part of the twentieth century clearly found in crime fiction the best way to explore the nature of evil, crime and guilt. However, other writers often led readers to ponder on the same themes by following different routes, or rather by highlighting the importance that different superior forces play in life, such as strange twists of fate, chance and accident or contingency. These recurring themes of postmodern crime fiction in particularstill remain relevant to this day, like in The Suicide (2014) by Mark SaFranko, who imagines a detective-inspector from New-York, in the recent context of the 9/11 attacks, that the vagaries of his job expose to a suicide which ultimately leads him on the trail of his own culpability. Lastly, one cannot neglect the narrative form of the detective novel — this ‘‘reading-machine’’ (Thomas Narcejac) — prompting readers to be attentive to any trace of the hidden identity to be riddled out and uncovered along the pages.

In the same spirit, proposals should attentively look for this ‘‘metaphysical shudder’’ as fleeting impressions, feelings or less subtle strategies infused within the narrative and which can consequently impact the reading process.
Based on these philosophical, thematic, narrative or structural levels of analysis (this list of examples is non exhaustive), proposals could either concentrate on the study of a single novel or a single writer, or privilege a comparative approach of several ones. The different points of view and approaches adopted will hopefully lead to the better comprehension of the divergence between the
juxtaposition (‘‘metaphysical detective fiction’’) and the coordination (metaphysics and crime fiction) of the terms in order to challenge the relevance of the former umbrella term and the seemingly arbitrary categorisation of some novels under it. This study will also ultimately aim at highlighting the essential literary value of crime fiction — the quality which makes it the memento mori of our time — as one of the last popular imaginary spaces which directly confronts man to the violence and the anguish of death without any real harm.

This call for papers is destined for a book-length publication in the bilingual collection Book Practices & Textual Itineraries, which is devoted to the study of book history and textual scholarship.

This collection traces evolutions in the production, transmission and reception of books and texts over time and across cultural and disciplinary boundaries. Published at Université de Lorraine, France, under the supervision of an international editorial advisory board, the collection aims at facilitating dialogue between book, text and image scholars and practitioners from France, Europe and the English-speaking world (more information about the collection here).
Please send your proposals — title and abstract in English or French (400-600 words) — to Estelle Jardon ( by 15th December 2021. Final papers in English or French (7,000-9,000 words / 30,000-40,000 characters – space included) will be due by 1st May 2022 with publication anticipated in the fall 2022.

Global Histories of Crime Fiction: Redefining a Popular Genre – seminar of the ACLA 2022 Meeting (CFP)

CFP: Global Histories of Crime Fiction: Redefining a Popular Genre 

American Comparative Literature Association 2022 Annual Meeting, 15-18 June 

National Taiwan Normal University 

Seminar organisers: Jesper Gulddal (University of Newcastle, Australia) and Stewart King (Monash University)

Crime fiction today is a uniquely global genre in the sense of being written, published, sold and read on a significant scale on all continents and in almost every country. It is also global in the sense that it serves across a wide range of locations as an important vehicle for investigating and interrogating relationships between law, crime and justice. This global orientation challenges the persistent notion that crime fiction is predominantly a UK and US phenomenon and that other crime fiction traditions are either peripheral or derivative. Publishers have already embraced the idea of world crime fiction, as evidenced by the large number of crime fiction translations, not only with English as the source or target language, but also between other languages. Similarly, readers around the world have few concerns about reading foreign crime novels, and the combination of familiar forms and unfamiliar, “exotic” content has become one of the major selling points of global crime writing. The scholarly literature has been slow in catching up with these developments, but the last few years have seen lively debate around the concept of crime fiction as world literature. Following on from these discussions, this seminar seeks to overcome one of the last bastions of conventional crime fiction scholarship, namely the tendency to write the history of crime fiction either as the succession of canonical Anglophone formats (classic, hardboiled, etc.) or as accounts of individual national traditions. We pose the question, how can we globalise the historical narratives around crime fiction and move towards an account of the genre that recognises its global diversity and transnational connections.

We welcome papers dealing with any aspects of world crime fiction and the historiographical challenges it presents. Suggested focal points include:

  • The historiographical challenges presented by world crime fiction 
  • Autochthonous crime fiction traditions in China, Japan, India, the Arab world and elsewhere
  • Appropriations and localisations of canonical English-language formats around the world 
  • Translation as a means of localising crime fiction
  • Lateral circulations of crime fiction that bypass the Anglosphere (such as between China, Japan and Korea, in the Mediterranean, and within the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War) 
  • Comparative perspectives on world crime fiction 
  • Formal innovation and hybridisation at the “periphery”
  • Indigenous and First Nations crime fiction 
  • Reinterpreting British and American crime fiction from a transnational perspective
  • Digital and data-driven approaches to world crime fiction 

Enquires: or 

Conference website: 

Submit a paper proposal here: 

Sanantonio Mondadori

Dominique Jeannerod, Queen’s University, Belfast

Jean-Marie Le Ray, Translator, Rome-Paris

With our thanks to Gianni Rizzoni and Daniel Magennis

Italy was not the first country to translate and adapt the investigations of Detective San-Antonio, the French bestseller whose 183 novels have sold more than an estimated 100 million copies in his country of origin. Initial translations into English, in 1954, did not meet with any success and faded almost without trace. San-Antonio had greater success in Francoist Spain, where translations were published, and sometimes reissued, from the early 1960’s. The first translation of the Italian “Sanantonio” was not until 1970, the first title being La Gioconda in blu (Pass me the Mona Lisa). What sets Italy apart from other countries is the large number of translations published there and their high quality. 120 of the 183 original novels were translated there, as well as two comics. Including reissues and reprints, the total number of San-Antonio books published in Italy from 1970 to 2015 amounts to 190. Throughout these 45 years—by no means uninterrupted— San-Antonio was picked up by five different Italian publishing houses. The most significant of these was Mondadori who, between July 1970 and the end of 1977, published 90 original translations at a rate of one every month.

The present article tries to put into perspective San-Antonio’s apparent success in Italy. It seeks to reassess the Italian San-Antonian corpus, following the recently published book San-Antonio International (Artiaga & Jeannerod (dir.), PULIM, 2020) which challenged the narrative of San-Antonio’s success abroad, a narrative that so often blurs the realities of its reception. Far from being an unqualified success around the world, the story of San-Antonio in translation takes the form of a series of mishaps and commercial disasters. In fact, the number of Italian editions imply a success that appears to be at odds with an otherwise depressing worldwide tendency; an exception to the observations made in all the other countries investigated in this study.

Certainly, several valid explanations to this Italian idiosyncrasy are highlighted in the book, not least the exceptional skills shown by the Italian translators, with their ear for French slang and their flair for finding equivalences in the Italian language. Success in Italy was further bolstered by the long tradition of circulation of French popular fiction in Mediterranean countries; the cultural proximity between France and Italy, reinforced in the 1970s by Franco-Italian cinematic co-productions, most notably comedies and crime films, two genres to which the universe of San-Antonio owes a great deal. The covers of the Italian editions of San-Antonio recall the striking figure of Jean-Paul Belmondo. San-Antonio also responded to the wide demand for entertaining and “light” literature. Also, perhaps the most significant factor of all is that with Mondadori the San-Antonio novels found in Italy a powerful publisher that dominated the popular fiction market. This had been the key to their popularity in France with Fleuve Noir. In many ways more prestigious, better established and more internationally connected than Fleuve Noir, Mondadori offered an even better platform. So ideal, in fact, that San-Antonio in Italy may have become a victim of its own success. After all, what series’ characters can keep pace with a new novel released every month for 90 straight months?

This was the rhythm adopted by publisher Fayard (“Le Livre Populaire”), for the original Fantômas series by Souvestre & Allain. But it had lasted “only” for 32 novels, from February 1911 to September 1913. The 1970’s Italian public was offered more than three times this number of San-Antonio novels for almost an entire decade.

Was some modicum of readers’ fatigue not to be expected? By 1978, Mondadori had called it quits and handed San-Antonio over to two successive publishing houses, Editoriale ERRE and Edizioni Rosa & Nero. Neither would ever recapture the early commercial success of Sanantonio. Both houses were directed by Gianni Rizzoni, who had played a decisive role in Mondadori’s translations of San-Antonio. Of the eight translators who were responsible for translating San-Antonio to Italian between 1970 and 1986, Rizzoni ranks second behind only Bruno Just Lazzari for the quantity of texts translated.[1] However, Rizzoni’s activities in the promotion of San-Antonio in Italy far exceed translation, and it is no exaggeration to see in him the series’ main Italian “fixer”. In a 1986 article in Il Corriere della Sera, Alfredo Barberis presented Rizzoni to its readers, on the occasion of his second creation of a publishing house (Edizioni Rosa & Nero) with a view to once more attempt to revive Sanantonio’s fortunes[2].

The publication of “Champagne per tutti” (…) celebrates the return of Frédéric Dard, Sanantonio under his pen name, the most phenomenal mystery writer of recent years. In a totally invented language – a mixture of Rabelais, Céline and Merlin the cook – which his Italian translator-tutor, Gianni Rizzoni, makes particularly funny thanks to his entertaining glottological research, Sanantonio tells of a Roman adventure of Béru & Co. with a cocktail as improbable as it is irresistible of scientists, light-hearted girls and mafiosi. Just a detail: for the first time the author also addresses his well-known digressions (which are not really in the style of Montaigne or Alain) to a hypothetical female reader. Such is the power of feminism.

By calling him a translator-tutor (i.e. also a guide, protector, support), Barberis finally chose to blow Gianni Rizzoni’s cover, and to reveal to readers of the Corriere della Sera that he in fact is the man behind Sanantonio’s success in Italy; the mediator between the commissioner and his readership, the intermediary without whom Italians likely would have never heard of this French detective, and the man who has invested the most in his adventures over the years. Above all, Rizzoni is cemented as the “father” of Sanantonio’s language in Italian, and the true “memory” of the Italian Sanantonio.

Gianni Rizzoni was a professor of French literature, who had written on Baudelaire, Delacroix, and the Dreyfus Affair. He translated Signé Furax, a trilogy by humourists Pierre Dac and Francis Blanche, and a crime trilogy by master of slang Auguste Le Breton (the author of Riffifi) published with Mondadori, in the Giallo series.[3] For the screen, Rizzoni adapted the Italian version of Bertrand Blier’s Valseuses. His name, however, is not mentioned in any of the first three Sanantonio books published from July to September 1970: La Gioconda in blu (Passez moi la Joconde, Pass me the Mona Lisa), La quarta zucca è bianca (Mangez pas consigne, Don’t eat the instructions) and Sanà fra i duri (Messieurs les Hommes, Goodfellas). The translation/adaptation (Traduzione e adapamento dal francese) is credited to Jean Barbet and Giuseppina Pisani Futacchi, a French teacher and a young Italian teacher.

In her 1990 dissertation on “Il caso San-Antonio”, Luciana Cisbani, discovered that when Mondadori bought the rights to publish the San-Antonio series, Alberto Tedeschi, director of the Crime Series submitted these translations to Gianni Rizzoni, who ended up completely rewriting  them. Rizzoni described this process in an interview with Cisbani :

… they had struggled to translate literally, they had looked for literary solutions for each sentence, but the result was very heavy. (…) So I rewrote the whole translation and anchored the use of certain slang terms. Notably because neither Pisani Futacchi nor Barbet had any idea what Italian slang was, while I had gained some knowledge of terminology in the matter, from my experience as a translator of Auguste Le Breton.

Indeed, having under his belt translations of Rififi sulla Senna (Du rififi à Paname), Il Clan dei siciliani (Le Clan des Siciliens) and Brigata antigang (Brigades anti-gangs), Rizzoni had developed an extensive Italian-French vocabulary based on Le Breton’s slang. The fourth San-Antonio translation published by Mondadori, Siamo logici perdiana (Faut être logique) was entrusted to Bruno Just Lazzari, a “Triestinian ex-cavalry officer” who went on to become the most prolific Italian translator of Sanantonio, with 85 translated novels, as well as 2 comics, over nearly 10 years. Gianni Rizzoni’s name as a translator of Sanantonio appeared for the first time in January 1971, on the seventh translated novel, Il filo per tagliare il burro (Le Fil à couper le beurre, The Thread That Cuts the Butter).

Rizzoni recently gave us more details on how the work was divided for subsequent Italian translations.

I must admit that – as the documentation indicates – first as an editorial manager, then as a collection manager, I used a lot the translations of my friend Lazzari, who had an extraordinary gift, that of fluidity. The narration, with him, was flowing freely. But this actually had very little to do – nothing at all – with any “translation strategy”. Let’s just say that I was the expert on French culture; at the same time, I was interested both in French slang (which Lazzari did not know) and in Italian slang. Having already translated the novels of Le Breton, I felt I could create neologisms and bizarre constructions to accommodate San-Antonio’s style: the Italian language of Sanantonio was my own. Bruno would translate the novels at full speed, in just a few days – that was one of the main attributes for which we liked so much working with him – and then I would step into the editing by inserting or emphasizing the Sanantonian language and stylistic features. I’ve always written the blurbs on the back covers in a Sanantonio style.

This echoes his 1989 interview with Luciana Cisbani :

with one or two exceptions, I have always revised all of Sanantonio’s Italian translations. (…) When the translator translated in another way a typical Bérurier sentence or one of the many bird names of Pinaud, I tried to standardise the term or the sentence with reference to the more traditional form in use. This, chiefly because the logic of these kinds of repetitive novels is to always provide the reader with new elements while maintaining a series of recurring gags and terms, which create an atmosphere of familiarity.

Rizzoni’s concern for continuity in the language used is one that guided his translation of Sanantonio. While San-Antonio in French rarely revisited the “neologisms” he created, the Italian translation was able to build a basic vocabulary that spanned the entire series that was identifiable to its readership, thus creating over time the idiosyncratic Italian language of Sanantonio.

Despite all this, it is quite clear from 1978 that Sanantonio’s popularity in Italy was in decline. The falling numbers of original translations offers an indication.

  • 1978: 7 original translations, including 1 “Hors Série” (Le vacanze di Berù / The holidays of Bérurier)
  • 1979: 7 original translations, including 2 “Hors Série” (Berù I ° il leone d´Africa + Sessualità / Béru-Béru + Sexuality)
  • 1980: 2 original translations, including 1 “Hors-Série” (Il galateo secondo Berù / The standing according to Bérurier)
  • 1981: 4 original translations, including 1 “Hors-Série” (La saga dei Cojon / Les Con)
  • 1982: 1 original translation
  • 1986: 3 original translations
  • 2001 – 2004: 6 original translations in 4 years

From 2000 to 2004, the publishers Casa Editrice Le Lettere published 6 original translations (by the couple Domitilla Marchi and Enzo Fileno Carabba) and a reprint of a translation by Lazzari and Rizzoni. Between 2013 and 2015, Edizioni E / O published 17 reprints of translations by Bruno Just Lazzari (assisted by Gianni Rizzoni), bringing the total number of Sanantonio releases in Italy to 190 (120 original editions, 68 reprints and 2 comics, published by Mondadori in 1973 (Olé! Sanantonio) and 1974 (Sanantonio in Scozia), respectively, both translated by Bruno Just Lazzari).

1980, the year after Mondadori decided to give up the series, marked the turning point for Sanantonio: a single novel in the series came out, in May, Bagni & Massacri, in addition to one novel outside the series, Il galateo secondo Berù. Around that time, a survey was conducted to celebrate the first 10 years of publication of San-Antonio in Italy (1970-1980). Apparently only 98 readers responded, and keeping this low response in mind, here are a few statistics which can be extrapolated from their responses.

A majority of respondents (88%) were either teenagers or under 40 years old; 72% were men; most were living in northern Italy (65%); 3% lived abroad: the Italian Sanantonio was also distributed in Switzerland, Germany, Australia and Canada, and in Arab countries (where volumes were often seized because of the “obscene nature of the covers”), Latin America, Belgium and the United States.

Predictably for such a cohort, readers rated their loyalty to San-Antonio’s adventures at 95%. Readers main motivations for reading San-Antonio were first the humorous content (84%), then the language (80%), and lastly because of the Giallo (crime) content (43%)…

Despite the support of a commercially robust publishing house and an outstanding team of translators, San-Antonio collapsed in Italy after 10 years. What explanations can we find and what lessons can we learn from them?

First of all, San-Antonio was possibly victim of a kind of bottleneck effect. By publishing practically one book per month for several years against three or four books per year for the French San-Antonio, soon the French production could not keep up the pace with Italian translations’ rhythm, resulting in an “exhaustion” of new material to translate.

The Italian reprints of the first volumes translated were a solution to keep pace with monthly publications as much as possible. At first it worked, but then reprint sales started to decline, dropping from monthly print runs of around 30,000 copies at the peak of the series, to 8 or 10,000 (still not a bad figure, although not enough). At that time, the main problem for Editoriale ERRE was inventory management of around 150,000 volumes (since the sale of novels in newsstands required a large inventory), in other words, significant management of costs.

Faced with declining sales, the collection’s accounts began to fall into the red. Any publishing house must pass on a share of overhead costs on each product but, above all, it cannot afford to waste its time and resources on a product that is difficult to relaunch, except by investing heavily in promotion (i.e. a cost recovery estimated at around 3-400 million lire for the time, more or less 150-210,000 euros of today). The only alternative would have been for all remaining prints to be remaindered. To spare San-Antonio this indignity, Gianni Rizzoni decided to throw everything he had in the fight.

When Mondadori’s senior management decided to stop the publication, Rizzoni managed, albeit with difficulty, to convince the company and its director, Leonardo Mondadori, to allow him to create the publishing house Editorial ERRE, whose sole purpose was to ensure the survival of Sanantonio, where he was director of collections.

While responsibilities for the printing of volumes, warehousing and distribution remained with Mondadori (which could thus better control the flow and still derive some profit from it), Rizzoni assumed all of the entrepreneurial risk.

Rizzoni then left Mondadori to move to Fabbri, while being authorized to retain his editorial autonomy and being responsible for managing the translation rights contracts (mainly entrusted to Lazzari), proofreading, printing, as well as storage, distribution, promotion, etc. At this point, Rizzoni had become the one-man band on whom Sanantonio’s survival depended.

Faced with the ever-pressing issue of unwanted stocks, Rizzoni came up with the idea of ​​combining the unsold items with the summer promotions of Rizzoli magazines, in particular “L’Europeo” and “Playboy“.

But in the end, none of this was enough and Rizzoni’s impressive personal commitment became increasingly impossible to justify and in 1983 he too decided to throw the towel.

Il Mondo, in its September 5, 1983 edition published an article titled “Sanantonio è KO”. It alludes to another development which could have prolonged the life of Sanantonio after all: over its last few months, the series had been kept on a drip in the hope that RAI (the Italian public radio-television) would broadcast a radio-play based on Sanantonio (for which contracts had apparently already been signed), as part of an international production. This venture, which had the possibility of allowing the series to survive, ultimately fell through.

But Gianni Rizzoni still held the translation rights. He decided in 1985 to try once more, with yet another publishing house (Edizioni Rosa & Nero) and a new formula: neater, large format books, printed on better paper. The Sanantonio books were no longer to be distributed in newsstands but in bookstores, with photographic clichés on the cover. This was all accompanied by large-scale advertising campaigns in the main newspapers of the time.

This new venture found support with some journalists, such as Alfredo Barberis, who wrote:

Dard-Sanantonio is far from being as “naive” as he wants us to believe: he is a cultivated writer, who has his roots in the learned tradition of the buffoons of French and European literature.

And again, Gianni Rizzoni did not shy away from the venture, getting directly involved not only in terms of editorial, intellectual, translation work, but also financially, investing a lot of his personal resources and time in the publishing of the novels of Sanantonio. It cost more than it earned, leading Gianni Rizzoni to conclude:

I ended up completely losing interest in Sanantonio…. A kind of exhaustion after so much effort and fatigue …

This disinterest and fatigue, coupled also with his other editorial responsibilities (editorial director at Fabbri, managing director of Sole 24 Ore editions, editorial director at Giorgio Mondadori) resulted in Gianni Rizzoni never really claiming paternity for his invention of the Italian language of Sanantonio. But even if San-Antonio is hardly read today in Italy, it would be interesting to rediscover and study this language. And beyond it, to reflect on the invention of a popular transalpine language for the communication between French and Italian cultural industries in the second half of the twentieth century, and thus on an original contribution to an imagined European Community.

To discover more about the Italian Sanantonio, see

San-Antonio in Russia :

For a selection of translated works see :

For a timeline of San-Antonio translations worldwide see :

See also: San-Antonio International – Circulation et imaginaire d’une série policière française, by Loïc Artiaga, Dominique Jeannerod (dir.), PULIM, 2020:

[1] The other six translators were Jean Barbet, Giuseppina Pisani Futacchi, Ersilia Borri, Guy Kaufmann, Gigi Rosa and Salvatore Di Rosa

[2] Corriere della Sera, Wednesday, May 28, 1986. Alfredo Barberis has conducted interviews with Pier Paolo Pasolini for the daily Il Giorno and with Primo Levi for Il Corriere della sera, and directed several newspapers, as well as the literary magazine Millelibri published by Giorgio Mondadori, until 1993. He is also a crime fiction specialist.

[3] Auguste Le Breton, Brigata Anti-Gang, Giallo Mondadori, n. 1085, 16 novembre 1969, 250 Lire

A concise history of Cuban crime fiction

Emilio J. Gallardo-Saborido

Escuela de Estudios Hispano-Americanos, Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)

Jesús Gómez-de-Tejada

Instituto Universitario de Estudios sobre América Latina (IEAL)

Universidad de Sevilla

In 2015, the Princess of Asturias Award for Literature winner was the Cuban author Leonardo Padura Fuentes. The jury’s report highlighted, among other achievements, his interest in listening to “popular voices and the lost stories of others” and described his work as “a superb adventure of dialogue and freedom”. For crime fiction lovers, the granting of this award was a real boost since that genre had been questioned many times in different academic circles. Besides, although Padura has cultivated various genres, he stands out especially for being the creator of a series of detective novels starring an unusual hero or anti-hero, Mario Conde.

From his initial appearance in the 1991 novel Pasado Perfecto, Conde will be the key element around which Padura turns the tables on the crime novels written mainly in Cuba during the previous two decades. His critical, sometimes disappointed, but also lucid vision invites readers to review Cuba’s past and present, starting precisely in such complicated years as the early 1990s.

Even though crime fiction had not been profusely cultivated in Cuba before the revolutionary triumph of 1959, some texts deserve at least a brief mention. In 1926, the Social magazine published the collective novel Fantoches. Its plot is focused on the attempted murder of a young woman from a wealthy family. It is interesting to highlight how this work, written by eleven different authors, close to the grupo minorista (Alfonso Hernández Catá, Carlos Loveira, Jorge Mañach, etc.) to a greater or lesser extent, constitutes an avant-garde detective literary entertainment. In fact, it chronologically precedes a similar initiative carried out by members of the London Detection Club, such as Agatha Christie, G. K. Chesterton or Dorothy L. Sayers, captured in the 1931 novel The Floating Admiral.

Among the pioneers of Cuban detective fiction, the work of Lino Novás Calvo also stands out, especially known for the literary biography El negrero. Vida de Pedro Blanco Fernández de Trava (1932) and the non-generic volumes of short stories La luna nona y otros cuentos (1942) and Cayo Canas (1946). Between 1948 and 1952, Novás Calvo published eight crime stories in the Havana magazine Bohemia, of which he was editor-in-chief. These stories are characterised by a noirish flavour, a modality that he had defended in theoretical articles and his collected letters with Professor José Antonio Portuondo –another of the fundamental voices in the conceptualisation of the Cuban detective genre–. In addition, he gives a leading role to crime news and places the narrative focus on the revenge of the victims against their repressors. In 1991, José María Fernández Pequeño compiled these stories in the volume 8 narraciones policiales.

After the symbolic date of 1959, we had to wait until 1971 to find a detective novel that would achieve a broad resonance and serve as a pillar for future productions within the genre. We are referring to Enigma para un domingo, by Ignacio Cárdenas Acuña, a book awarded in the 1969 Cirilo Villaverde Novel Competition. Strongly inspired by the American hard-boiled novel, Cárdenas knew how to combine this foreign influence with the ideological defence of the revolutionary project. From now on, a new version of crime fiction (both detective and espionage –or counterespionage, as it is called in Cuba) would rapidly develop, adopting an apologetic tone. Thus, throughout the early 1970s, we witnessed a singular phenomenon: the creation and evolution of a new genre, that we could label as “Cuban revolutionary crime fiction”, sponsored by various government bodies (through literary competitions or mass editions). Furthermore, a corpus of critical texts that defined the genre’s features appeared at the same time, or even earlier, as the publication of the most representative works of this generic modality; works that, indeed, multiplied quantitatively in an outburst that had its epicentre in the 1970s and 1980s. Nonetheless, this multiplication of pieces contributed to its quality reduction. Another reason for the impoverishment of this literature was the excessive weight given to the ideological message. Nevertheless, among this extensive post-revolutionary production, some authors showed enhanced literary skills, as is noticed in novels such as Joy (1978) by Daniel Chavarría and Y si muero mañana (1980) by Luis Rogelio Nogueras.

Present-day contemporary Cuban crime production is characterised by both the survival of the revolutionary and the emergence of neo-noir fiction. For its part, the revolutionary modality prolongs, in essence, the features outlined since the early 1970s and privileged in the competition Anniversary of the Triumph of the Revolution (sponsored by the Home Office), which since then has acted as one of the main instances of legitimisation and is still in force today. Among the authors faithful to this trend, Leonelo Abello Mesa stands out, having won the competition several times with titles such as Miami: otra vez (2006), Misión en Langley (2007) and Nieve en La Habana (2010).

Alongside this continuous revolutionary detective novel, a crime fiction linked to the Spanish-American neo-noir trend emerged and developed that, in Cuba, was initiated by Leonardo Padura Fuentes by creating the National Revolutionary Police officer previously mentioned, Mario Conde. His kinship with the neo-noir side of the genre places him alongside other detectives in Spanish and Latin American literature, such as Héctor Belascoarán, by the Mexican narrator Paco Ignacio Taibo II; Heredia, by the Chilean Ramón Díaz Eterovic; or Pepe Carvalho, by the Spanish Manuel Vázquez Montalbán. This aspect would grow, especially in the 1980s in the Hispanic peninsular and Latin American sphere, when the revolutionary model was still maintained in Cuba, albeit on the wane. The main features of neo-noir fiction allow the reader to look into the depths of the most corrupt and muddied side of the societies in which the crime stories are set. These plots usually place readers in front of a dark and perverse authority, ultimately responsible for the torn situation of, generally, a large city that is harassed by the economic and political upper spheres of the State.

Mario Conde made his name in the tetralogy “Las cuatro estaciones” (1991-1998), in which he had to solve four crimes committed in a Havana marked by corruption and famine in the crucial year of 1989. Subsequently, the trajectory of this character persists through five more titles: Adiós, Hemingway (2001) and La cola de la serpiente (2001; 2011), La neblina del ayer (2005), Herejes (2013) and La transparencia del tiempo (2018). While La cola de la serpiente adds a new case set in the recurring year 1989, the rest of the titles are projected forward in time to the 21st century. These works present various stories where the detective and historical genres intertwine with the life adventures of an increasingly aged Conde, who, having resigned from his job as a police officer, works as an old bookseller and occasional detective.

Other names such as Amir Valle and Lorenzo Lunar Cardedo also enrich the Cuban neo-noir scene. Valle’s biting novels comprise the “Descenso a los infiernos” series (2001-2008), which, through five titles, tells the story of the adventures of the police officer Alain Bec and the old delinquent Alex Vargas in the marginal neighbourhood of Centro Havana. On the other hand, Lunar’s raw vision is reflected in the trilogy “El Barrio en llama” (Que en vez de infierno encuentres gloria, 2003; La vida es un tango, 2005; Usted es la culpable, 2006), set in a suburb of the provincial city of Santa Clara, a series of novels starring police lieutenant Leo Martín. Finally, other writers and animators of the genre, such as Rebeca Murga, Rafael Grillo and Vladimir Hernández, stand out on the current Cuban scene.

In conclusion, the trajectory of Cuban crime fiction shows some distinctive features and others that are common to other Latin American countries. At the beginning of the 20th century, crime fiction, in a relatively incipient way, encountered its first exponents on the island. In this pioneering phase, the influences of the British tradition were mixed with the hard-boiled style, both marked by their desire to adapt the foreign patterns to the island’s atmosphere. In the 70s of the last century, the revolutionary, strongly ideologized, style emerged, which, after a solid hegemony for two decades, from the 90s onwards, shared the stage with the neo-noir style. This last version of the genre in Cuba has grown in line with its treatment in other Hispanic spheres, to the point of having acquired a significant national and international projection.

Further readings:

Braham, Persephone. 2004. Crime against the State. Crime against Persons. Detective Fiction in Cuba and Mexico. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Fernández Pequeño, José M. 1994. Cuba: la narrativa policial entre el querer y el poder (1973-1988).Santiago de Cuba: Editorial Oriente.

Gallardo-Saborido, E. J., Gómez-de-Tejada, J. 2017. La literatura policial del Bloque del Este en la revista cubana Enigma (1986-1988). Revista de Letras, 57.2: 53-71.

García Talaván, Paula. 2014. La novela neopolicial latinoamericana: una revuelta ético-estética del género. Cuadernos Americanos, 2.148: 63-85.

Padura, Leonardo. 2000. Modernidad, posmodernidad y novela policial. La Habana: Ediciones Unión.

Sánchez Zapatero, Javier, Martín Escribà, Àlex. 2014. La novela criminal cubana. Cuadernos de Investigación Filológica, 40: 171-189.

Simpson, A. S. 1990. Detective Fiction from Latin America. Madison, New Jersey: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.

Uxó, Carlos. 2021. El género policial en Cuba. Novela policial revolucionaria, neopolicial y teleseries. Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien: Peter Lang. DOI:

Wilkinson, Stephen. 2006. Detective Fiction in Cuban Society. Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien: Peter Lang.

Translated by Laura Cabeza Muñoz


The authors of this piece would like to mention the kind contribution of the Instituto Universitario de Estudios sobre América Latina (IEAL), University of Seville, Spain, in relation to its translation from the Spanish original version. A shorter version of this text (in Spanish) has been used as script for a podcast of the series “Háblame de CSIC”: We gratefully acknowledge that the cover of the magazine Misterio proceeds from an original from the Biblioteca Nacional José Martí, Havana.

Three Notes on Argentine Crime Fiction

Hernán Maltz

Universidad de Buenos Aires, Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas

With thanks to Ciara Gorman (Queen’s University, Belfast)

Argentine literature could be characterized as peripheral in the global domain (at least compared to the literary traditions of European countries). This marginal status could be valid as well when considering crime fiction in a worldly way. However, this country presents a vigorous and complex tradition in the genre. In this sense, the following notes do not intend to provide a complete review of crime fiction in Argentina. They are just some aspects about its history, its problems, authors and works.

I. Main writers of national literary system are linked to crime fiction

One significant aspect of crime fiction in Argentina is that some of the main national writers practiced it. Jorge Luis Borges, the most well-known, not only wrote short stories, such as “El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan” (1941), “La muerte y la brújula” (1942) or “Emma Zunz” (1948), but he also meditated on the genre in brief essays and personal texts: for example, he established his own rules for creating crime fiction (in “Leyes de la narración policial”, available in Spanish here, on pages 48-49:, and he even debated about its origins in his controversial argument with Roger Caillois regarding the latter book Le roman policier (Buenos Aires: Editions des Lettres Françaises / Sur, 1941; and Borges’s polemical review and Caillois’s answer are collected in the book Borges en Sur 1931-1980, Buenos Aires: Emecé).

During the twentieth century, other central writers approached the genre in novels, short stories and essays: Roberto Arlt, Rodolfo Walsh, Julio Cortázar, Manuel Puig, Juan José Saer, Ricardo Piglia, and many others. In this respect, researcher and critic Sandra Contreras, in her book on César Aira’s works (Las vueltas de César Aira, Rosario: Beatriz Viterbo, 2002), even posited the presence of a sort of “crime fiction imperative” (the need for any aspiring writer in the Argentine literary field to publish crime fiction).

But despite all this accumulation of literary capital, it is still also true that Argentina was not an exception, in the middle of the previous century, to the sort of sentence that considered crime fiction not to be “real” literature: we can find a proof of this kind of judgement in Adolfo Prieto’s Sociología del público argentino (Buenos Aires: Leviatán, 1956), in which he conceives of the genre as “infraliteratura” (infra-literature, as opposed to high literature). However, crime fiction in Argentina proliferated, as it was given a sense of legitimacy by those writers mentioned above. By the end of the century, in the introduction of his anthology Cuentos policiales argentinos (Buenos Aires: Alfaguara, 1997), the critic Jorge Lafforgue stated that crime fiction is deeply bound up in the roots of all Argentine literature.

II. Three significant periods of the genre

Without being exhaustive, we can mention at least three important periods for the genre in Argentina.

The first one surprisingly started in 1877 (a very early date for such a “young” literature as that of Argentina), when Raúl Waleis, pseudonym and anagram of Raúl V. Varela, published La huella del crimen, the first crime fiction novel written in Spanish (Buenos Aires: Imprenta y Librerías de Mayo [Biblioteca Económica de Autores Nacionales]; and re-edited only 132 [!] years later: Buenos Aires: Adriana Hidalgo, 2009). During the last third of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the next one, we can find short stories in the pens of Paul Groussac, Eduardo Ladislao Holmberg, Vicente Rossi, and Horacio Quiroga (who, despite being born in Uruguay, spent most of his adult life in Argentina, and his works are usually recognized within the Argentine literature). Some of the short stories of these significant contributors to the genre can be read in an anthology edited by Román Setton: El candado de oro: 12 cuentos policiales argentinos (1860-1910) (Buenos Aires: Adriana Hidalgo, 2013). In this period, there is a variety of styles and the genre is still not quite institutionalized (although we can find quotations of international authors: for example, Raúl Waleis, in the introduction of La huella del crimen, notes the inspiration he drew from the works of Edgar Allan Poe and Émile Gaboriau).

We can identify another important period in the decade of 1940, with Borges’s success in implementing and spreading an abstract model of crime fiction (such as the one exposed in “La muerte y la brújula”). Other figures, all of them close to Borges, contributed with works in the line of British mystery fiction: Los que aman, odian (1946), by Adolfo Bioy Casares and Silvina Ocampo; El estruendo de las rosas (1948), by Manuel Peyrou; and even some fictions by Rodolfo Walsh, such as those included in Variaciones en rojo (1953) (soon Walsh concentrated on non-fiction and published Operación Masacre [1957], a few years before Capote’s In Cold Blood [1966]). But the abstract model defended by Borges also included a parody of the genre, with the primary example of Seis problemas para Don Isidro Parodi (1942), by Honorio Bustos Domecq, pen-name for the duo of Borges and Bioy Casares. Additionally, they both directed the collection El Séptimo Círculo (for the publishing house Emecé), which was a significant vector for the spread of crime fiction in Argentina (the editorial side of crime fiction in this country has other important collections, such as La Serie Negra, directed by Ricardo Piglia in the 1970s, among dozens of collections and publishers specialized in the genre).

A third significant period surrounds the decades of 1960 and 1970. During this time, the hard-boiled genre (originated in the decades of 1920 and 1930 in the United States) had its own representation in Argentina, in the form of “tough narratives” (which often contained parodic features). Just to mention some of them: Triste, solitario y final (1973), by Osvaldo Soriano; Los tigres de la memoria (1973), by Juan Carlos Martelli; El agua en los pulmones (1973) and Los asesinos las prefieren rubias (1974), by Juan Martini; “La loca y el relato del crimen” (1975), by Ricardo Piglia; “Orden jerárquico” (1975), by Eduardo Goligorsky; Noches sin lunas ni soles (1975), by Rubén Tizziani; Últimos días de la víctima (1979), by José Pablo Feinmann; and (once again, without being exhaustive) “Versión de un relato de Hammett” (1984), by Juan Sasturain (Piglia’s and Sasturain’s tales are included in the above-mentioned anthology, Cuentos policiales argentinos, probably the best and most complete anthology of crime fiction in Argentina to date).

III. Three conceptual issues

Among the conceptual problems regarding the possibility of an Argentine crime fiction, we could think about three nuclei: the nationalization of the genre; the representations of the police institution and State forces; and the rise of feminist perspectives and gender studies.

In the mid of the twentieth century, many writers posited the question of whether or not “Argentine crime fiction” existed. In the introduction of Los casos de Don Frutos Gómez (1955), a book of hilarious short stories starring the superintendent Don Frutos Gómez, Velmiro Ayala Gauna established that, indeed, it was possible to create a national genre: he expresses that the figures of the rastreador (pathfinder) or even rural men have as much as capacity of observation and knowledge as the European detectives.

Second issue: here we should remind readers that one of the usual names of the genre in Argentina is “policial” (for example: género policial, cuentos policiales, or just policial). This label implies some sort of (debatable) proximity to the name of the police and its adjective in Spanish (noun: policía; adjective: policial), and in extension to the Army and other State forces. This is a very sensitive point: the last military dictatorship in the country (1976-1983) caused many obscure deaths (among many tragic consequences), and, in this regard, many writers, in their critic essays, tend to question the possibility of the genre in Argentina, at least in the form of the traditional whodunit: is it possible to reach the truth if the State hides information and causes deaths? Among many writers and critics, José Pablo Feinmann and Carlos Gamerro addressed this problem and its implications (for example, the trouble of an investigator who belongs to a terrorist State and the need to look for other detective figures separated from public institutions), in two intelligent articles: “Estado policial y novela negra argentina” (by Feinmann, and included in a book edited by Giuseppe Petronio, Jorge B. Rivera and Luigi Volta, Los héroes “difíciles”: La literatura policial en la Argentina y en Italia, Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1991) and “Para una reformulación del género policial argentino” (by Gamerro, and included in El nacimiento de la literatura argentina y otros ensayos, Buenos Aires: Norma, 2006).

Last but not least: the rise of feminist perspectives had its consequences also in crime fiction. During this century, some women writers gained visibility. Probably the most important of them (at least in terms of sales and international circulation) is Claudia Piñeiro, with novels such as Tuya (2005), Elena sabe (2007), Betibú (2010), or the most recent Catedrales (2020), which includes the topic of abortion (linked to a sensitive and recent issue of the public agenda: its legalization). More female writers, with works close to crime fiction, are Mercedes Giuffré (Deuda de sangre, 2008), Tatiana Goransky (¿Quién mató a la cantante de Jazz?, 2008), María Inés Krimer (Sangre Kosher, 2010), Selva Almada (Chicas muertas, 2014) or Alicia Plante (Verde oscuro, 2014), among others. In some cases, fictions even include a feminist perspective, as in the case of Krimer’s 2019 novel, Cupo.

Who Took Eden Mulligan?

A review by Matthew Munro, QUB, Belfast

Murder mystery writers love their settings. Some are as fictional as their detectives – like Ruth Rendell’s Wexford in Kings Markham, or Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and St Mary Mead. Others put their protagonists in real places, Ian Rankin’s Rebus stalking the streets of Edinburgh or Tana French’s Dublin Murder squad prowling along the banks of the Liffey. Few though, like Sharon Dempsey elevate their real life setting to the status of a character.  In Who Took Eden Mulligan, Belfast seeps through the pages in all its bloody history, the crime and the detectives haunted by unanswered questions of the city’s troubled past.

As with her debut crime novel Little Bird Dempsey’s tale is a police procedural pursuing an investigation through the eyes of a detective and a forensic psychologist, though Chief Inspector Danny Stowe and Psychologist Rose Lainey are a fresh pairing. The two met as fellow Norn Irish in exile at Liverpool University but travelled in opposite directions until a family death brings Rose back to Belfast just as Danny is being released from the purgatory of Historical Enquiries Unit with a chance to resurrect his stalled career.

The lives of the detectives are as much a part of Dempsey’s tale as the deaths of the murder victims. Rose delves into the past of the mother she fled from, the siblings she abandoned and the name — Roisin – that she repudiated. Danny fears to admit the crumbling state of his marriage. Completing the quartet of plot threads are the present time multiple murders in a household of student friends on the threshold of fully employed adulthood and the past story of Eden Mulligan, the mother of five from the markets who disappeared one night in the midst of Belfast’s troubles.

Dempsey’s writing flows enjoyably making this an easily devoured book – I finished it in a little over twenty-four hours.  As is the nature of crime fiction, the story starts very much in media res with the lone survivor and self-confessed perpetrator fleeing the bloody scene and throwing herself into a police station. One consequence of this is that backstory and context are filled in with reverie and reflection, each protagonist reminiscing about their shared pasts and more individual angsts. However, Dempsey handles that necessary exposition smoothly enough that it doesn’t distract from the narrative.

There are also plenty of nice lines that caught my eye.

When Danny and Rose are filling in the gaps

“Not much to tell really. I’m one cat away from being a crazy cat lady.”

When listening to the patronising pathologist

It occurred to Danny that, like some doctors and surgeons, Lyons possessed a bit of a god complex and was lacking in bedside manner. He had found his calling working with corpses, that was for sure.

A sister’s insight into their mother

‘She was our Ma, what else do you need to know? Children never really know their parents, not as separate people.’

Eden’s grown-up children facing another swathe of press hypotheses raking through their mother’s past

‘Every time they rewrite who she was, a bit of who she really was vanishes. We can’t afford to lose any more of her.’

Who Took Eden Mulligan is not so much a murder mystery as an examination of people’s relationships with their individual and their shared pasts. Dempsey’s characters refer explicitly to the notion of cross-generational trauma – that even in a time of peace ‘young people in Northern Ireland are affected by the violence of the past.’ That is what makes the Belfast setting not just more real than KingsMarkham or St. Mary Mead but more entwined with the story than Rebus’s Edinburgh. It is a story about Belfast’s past and present as much as it is the murders’ resolution or even Rose and Danny’s development. In that sense Dempsey has crafted something a hybrid novel – with the central crime providing not just the narrative focus, but the lens through which to interrogate troubled times whose ghosts still stalk the familiar streets.

See also the portrait in

Fictional Crimes/Factual Crimes. European crime fiction and media narratives of crime (CFP)

International conference

Paris Nanterre University, 7-8 October 2021

The close relationship between crime fiction and authentic events is a crucial aspect of popular culture, in Europe as elsewhere. On the one hand, crime fiction has always drawn from news stories and social issues as a source of inspiration to deal with and reveal the most unspeakable practices or hidden aspects of our societies. On the other, news media have regularly borrowed the devices of fiction to increase their dramatic appeal: among the most notable examples are the serialization techniques adopted by the 19th century press to report police cases, the “true crime” programs of cable and satellite television and the multitude of articles or reports that make use of fictional intertexts. A number of recent studies have shown the importance of these exchanges, highlighting how the communicational dynamics of news media and the narrative structure of crime fiction have displayed strong reciprocal affinities since the advent of modern media culture, ever since the appearence of the 19th century literary genre of the urban mysteries and up to the contemporary ambitions of much crime fiction to occupy the space of journalistic investigation. Such exchanges, which can be found everywhere in the western world and beyond, also thanks to their broad international circulation, play a significant role in the ongoing homogenization of European imagination.

Moreover, the relationship between media culture and crime narratives is not limited solely to the ways in which fiction borrows some of its plots from the news, or the news imitate the stylistic devices of fiction. Rather, it calls into play the discursive structures that underpin both the journalistic discourse and crime fiction (in all of its different varieties: mystery, investigation, revelation, sensationalism…). Such proximity suggests that the two domains share not only a common social (as well as political and psychological) sensibility to the world, but also similar hermeneutical and rhetorical strategies in their respective interpretations and reconstructions of reality. More generally, their complex interplay, far from being anecdotal, suggests the existence of a profound complementarity between discourse and imagination. Assuming the existence of a much closer relation between fictional and factual accounts of crime may help explain the parallel evolution undergone by the two domains during the transformation of the media ecosystem. In fact, each new medium has invented its original modes, both fictional and factual, of representing crime, reformulating earlier forms inherited from the past and adjusting them to its own logic and means of expression.

In this conference, we would like to examine the porosity of media discourses on crime, both fictional and factual, and their meanings in terms of cultural imagination, ideology and/or social discourse. We invite proposals from all fields of media studies–literature, press, radio, television, cinema, internet and social media–particularly in a European perspective. Emphasis should be placed on the contemporary period and the ways in which media contexts impact textual forms and formats. Proposals are welcome that interrogate the ambiguity between fiction and factual events: for example, case studies that analyze the ways in which fictional stereotypes, forms and styles are adapted into factual statements or, conversely, the ways in which true crimes are transformed into fictions. Investigations on cases that blur the boundaries between the fictional and the factual after a process of media adaptation or migration are also welcome as well as more theoretical, global, transversal or historical approaches.

Possible topics include, but are by no means not limited to, the following:

  • The circulation of figures and stereotypes between the fictional and the factual within the same medium: contamination of forms, genres and modes of expression; borrowings, adaptations or appropriations. Examples: political fictions, true crime documentaries, fictionalized authentic events, journalistic and documentary productions using fiction.
  • The transmedia circulation of forms and content, and its effects in terms of reconfiguration or shift of meaning from the fictional to the factual, and vice versa: how does the process of intersemiotic translation affect the limits of representation, and how does the process of content reconfiguration occur within the different media ecosystems, according to their uses and the generic boundaries they prescribe between fictional and factual? Examples: journalistic investigations converted into TV series or film fictions, factual re-readings of works of fiction in social media.
  • The dissemination of the same figures and motifs through different media, and the ways in which their different occurrences cohere at the intersection of the fictional and the factual. Examples: the recurrence of criminal motifs across the media sphere, the emergence of phantasmatic criminal figures, standing halfway between fantasy and reality (the female cat burglar, the criminal network, the white slave trade, the Satanist ritual, etc.)
  • The cultural, social, political or, more broadly, ideological meanings produced by processes of contamination, circulation or homogenization between fictional and factual narratives. The role of fiction in structuring the ideologemes of contemporary culture; the use of mixed forms, such as political fictions, documentaries or counter-cultural productions to express either hegemonic or counter-hegemonic discourses.
  • Comparative approaches of cases from different European countries: comparison and constrast of different media ecosystems, legislations, specific linguistic characteristics or cultural practices; investigation of particular national case studies.
  • Analyses using digital tools that will be able to superimpose several corpora (factual and fictional, different countries, etc.) and bring out common lexical and generic registers, and patterns of transformations and appropriations according to genres, languages and countries.
  • The circulation of imaginative content and forms across the different European countries, according to its effects: homogenization vs relocation or appropriation, variations in the imports distribution of such different globalized forms as the true crime, the thriller, etc.
  • The historical dimension of this circulation, with respect to both the collective imagination and the media sphere: archaeology of crime representation across the media (pastiches, reuse of documents or archives), persistence of forms inherited from other media (e.g. the urban mystery, the melodrama, the whodunit.), resurgence of forgotten motifs (urban legends, expert discourses shaped by serial stereotypes, and so on).

The conference is organized as part of the H2020 DETECt project and the ANR Numapresse project. The conference will be held at the Paris Nanterre University.

Proposals should be sent before 31st March 2021, in English or French, to and

Download the Call for Papers in English and in French.

Arabic Crime Fiction

Arabic fiction has thematized crime ever since the classical period. However, the existence of detective stories or, more generally, of crime fiction as a genre within Arab culture has yet to be fully acknowledged. This book therefore offers both a theoretical reflection on this genre in its context and a set of studies on instances of crime fiction in the Arab world. Covering a vast historical and geographical range, it tackles famous writers as well as authors of young adult fiction, deals with the current practitioners of noir as well as with classical detective stories, and also focuses on the adjacent fields of film and television production.
Arabic Crime Fiction / Le récit criminel arabe thus fills a theoretical and historical gap in current scholarship. Bringing together specialists of Arab literature and cinema and/or crime fiction, it provides an overview of a rich and varied genre, at the crossroads between the narrative, philosophical, and legal traditions of the Arab world, the realities of contemporary society, and the international forms of crime fiction. It thus demonstrates that Arabic crime fiction does, indeed, exist, even though it is not yet fully recognized by the publishing market and academic institutions. (From the publisher’ s website;)

A table of contents and introduction to the volume can be found at

Agatha Christie : One hundred years of confinement

by Sebastian Beck & Dominique Jeannerod

Exactly a 100 years ago, on the 21st January 1921, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the first novel by Agatha Christie was published in the UK. It had been published first in the USA in October 1920 by John Lane, who also co-founded Bodley Head, the UK publisher. Since then, Christie’s two most prominent detectives, the Belgian Hercule Poirot and British Miss Marple have been investigators in 45 novels for 46 years and all over the globe: in the Caribbean, in the Middle East, but most of all in Europe and especially in England. We took this anniversary as an opportunity to have a closer look at the different dimensions of space in these 45 novels and how the places where homicides were committed have evolved over the course of Christie’s career.

Although Poirot and Marple both applied their unique skills in different parts of the world, a predominant number of Christie’s novels are set in England, most of them in Devon (10) or London (7). Besides Three Act Tragedy (1935), set partly in Cornwall but for the most part in Yorkshire and Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (1938) also in Yorkshire, all other novels are set in the Middle or South of England. It is therefore not surprising that the majority of the investigated murders happened in London (19) or Devon (15). Only 8 murders were committed north of England’s capital (Three Act Tragedy (1935): Bartholomew Strange, Margaret de Rushbridger; The A.B.C. Murders (1936): George Earlsfield; The Big Four (1927): Mr. Paynter; Elephants Can Remember (1927): Dorothea Jarrow; After the Funeral (1953): Cora Lansquenet; Sad Cypress (1940): Mary Gerrard, Laura Welman).

With regard to the distribution of locations in Poirot and Marple novels, it is noticeable that most novels are set in a rural location (41,66%) and only 22,91% take place in an urban environment. Miss Marple has an even higher percentage of rural settings (66,66%), which is due to the fact that her small hometown, St. Mary Mead, in fictional Downshire, South-East England, is located in a rural area and the crime scene of several murders. Famously, ‘there is a great deal of wickedness in village life’. By contrast, Hercule Poirot lives in the metropolitan area of London and consequently moves in more urban settings (27,77%) than his female counterpart.

When looking at the rural settings, one English county stands out: Devon, home of several Agatha Christie landmarks, from her native Torquay, to Greenway House, to Burgh Island (And then, there were none), Hampsley/Kents Cavern (The Man in the Brown Suit) and Elberry Cove (The A.B.C. Murders). Unlike Poirot and Marple, who always manage to find the solution in the end, readers and researchers find it often challenging to try and locate the places of murder in their cases. Many locations, for starters, are fictional. While some fictional locations like St. Mary Mead, functioning as the typical English small town (the TV adaptations have located it in Kent) are the setting for multiple novels (The Murder at the Vicarage (1930), The Body in the Library (1942), The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side (1962)) others refer to actual cities like St. Loo (in Peril at End House (1932) and Evil Under the Sun (1941)) which is most probably the famous bathing resort and Christie’s hometown Torquay.

Regardless of the geographical basis of their settings, there are recognizable patterns for the places of murder. Only about a quarter of the crimes happened outside (27,27%), most of them happened in confined space (53,72%), such as houses in the countryside. And inside these houses, as to be expected, locked rooms and confined spaces do indeed feature prominently: the library, the bedroom. Also, while travelling, quarantine-like situations, with passengers locked in a train, on a boat or a plane, and separated from the outside world. The trademark combination of rurality and separation manifests itself already  in the first chapter of the first novel:

I descended from the train at Styles St. Mary, an absurd little station, with no apparent reason for existence, perched up in the midst of green fields and country lanes […] The village of Styles St. Mary was situated about two miles from the little station, and Styles Court lay a mile the other side of it. It was a still, warm day in early July. As one looked out over the flat Essex country, lying so green and peaceful under the afternoon sun, it seemed almost impossible to believe that, not so very far away, a great war was running its appointed course. I felt I had suddenly strayed into another world. (The Mysterious Affair at Styles)

The apparent serenity of such microcosms is deceptive. It contrasts with the affects of those  who inhabit them. Christie explores how people interact when confined together: resentment, passions, violence, and ultimately murder. As in And then there were none, hers are novels about being locked down with quite insufferable and potentially hateful and harmful people.

Her novels, even when set in distant countries she knew very well such as Iraq (1936), Egypt (1937), and Jordan (1938), or in the Caribbean (1964) on the whole, do not really engage with exoticism, as they are more inward-looking, focused on the psychology of very vivid characters and their interactions. Characters nearly always seem more colourful than settings. 

Does this make Christie’s work essential reading during confinement? As Walter Benjamin perceptively observed, Crime Fiction works as an exorcism and an antidote to our fears, by projecting them. It is not only the fear of the unknown, the outside and the intruders that are coded in Crime Fiction, but as Christie exemplifies, family abuse and domestic violence can also be projected in this way.

The seemingly high number of murders perpetrated in domestic, confined spaces in Christie’s novels should not be dismissed as pure fantasy either. These are actually eerily similar to today’s official (pre-confinement) numbers. The Homicide Index which shows where victims in England and Wales were killed from March 2018 – March 2019 confirms this for the male victims (39%). Female victims were killed in or around the house at an even higher percentage (71%). Of course, account needs to be taken here of the spread of urbanization since the publication of The Mysterious Affair at Styles

The meaning of confined spaces, houses, dwellings on the one hand and boats, trains or planes on the other, is inverted in Christie’s world. They are changed into places of danger rather than shelter, and of stasis rather than movement. From tokens of wealth and freedom, they are turned into symbols of restrictions and closure. They epitomise the feeling of being trapped. Nobody can get out. Additionally, vehicles are most often in motion and project their occupiers in life-threatening spatial environments (sea, sky, etc.). These circumstances confront the possible victim with a situation where there is no escape. Christie used those settings in her novels The Mystery of the Blue Train (1928), Murder on the Orient Express (1934), Death in the Clouds (1935) and Death on the Nile (1937).

Despite Benjamin’s intuition, reading about confined family murders (often the case in Christie’s books) while confined with your family actually might not always help to keep tragic projections and domestic fears at a distance. But because of the focus on interiors and interiority, her novels, which have been branded as “escapist”, seem on the face of it to represent rather the opposite, a sort of ‘captivism’. Not so much a literature of escape but one of captivity.  One which thrills readers with literary fantasies of captivity. What captivates us here is the very dysfunctional society of very strange characters stuck together for the duration of the novels. And also the fact that there is a release on the horizon, provoked first by a crisis, the crime, and then by its resolution. Reason and lucidity always triumph over madness, even if justice is not always served. So as a “Captivist” literature, Agatha Christie’s novels seem to be very apt confinement literature, addressing both the perils of this unnatural proximity to other people and the hope for the restauration of a form of normality.