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A Crime Classic a day (2)

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Eric Ambler, A Coffin for Dimitrios, Pocket Book, 232, 1944

Eric Ambler’s novel was first published in the UK as The Mask of Dimitrios in 1939. It is set in the shadowy international underworld in 1930s Istanbul. The plot consists of a crime writer’s perilous search for and reconstruction of the late, sinister Dimitrios. As the story of his life of crime unfolds, the deceased man becomes remarkably present, his shadow looming threateningly large over the narration. The novel is a masterpiece of action, suspense and modern writing. Homage, or acknowledgement of Ambler’s cult status as a crime and spy-thriller master, this is is the novel James Bond brings with him to Istanbul in From Russia, with Love.

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Marriage Noir, illustrated

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In the same way as Film Noir represents the “dark side of the screen”, the noir novel, a 20th century heir to Emile Zola’s naturalism, offers a dark brand of literary realism. Where noir cinema is the nightmare to Hollywood’s dream industry, noir paperbacks can be seen as an inverted mirror to Harlequin romances. Continue reading

How to rank the Top 20 novels by Agatha Christie ?

Peril at End House

Any project dealing with a large corpus, even big data, needs to construct its object of research. This often means defining it according to precise and telling criteria. Quantitative research also means careful selection. Sampling is the key. But how is one to sample within a canonical corpus such as that of the novels of “the Queen of Crime”? There are obviously some numeric indexes: sales figures, number of editions, number of translations. But what else? An interesting ranking of the 78 novels by Agatha Christie can be found at https://agathachristiereader.wordpress.com/christie-index/; Similarly a Goodreads ranking, based on readers votes can be accessed at http://www.goodreads.com/list/show/2126.Best_Agatha_Christie_Book. And there is yet another, more subjective one, below. Continue reading

Polizeiruf 110 – The East German Tatort?

Polizeiruf

By Annika Breinig, with thanks to Daniel Magennis

When watching Polizeiruf 110 today, audiences could easily mix it up with the West German Tatort.

These series are broadcast at the same time and on the same channel. They share similar approaches to narrative structure and production, and concentrate on the same themes and motives. There are few signs indicating that this show is the only survivor of German Democratic Republic television, with beloved children’s program Sandmännchen another example.  Although at the beginning the series was meant to be a GDR equivalent of the West German Tatort, it distinguished itself from its model in many ways, not the least of which was its treatment of political issues. Continue reading

The Executioner’s Tears in Russia

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With thanks to Didier Poiret

Frédéric Dard’s noir novel  titled The Executioner’s Tears (Le Bourreau pleure,1956) won the 1957 Grand prix de littérature policière. It was translated in post communist Russia and was published almost simultaneously three times, a sign of the enthusiasm, dynamism, and anarchy of the translated books market in Russia in the early 1990s. Continue reading

A Russian Translation

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San-Antonio, Passez-moi la Joconde, In Detektiv Francii, 7, Moscow, Renaissance, 1993

With thanks to Didier Poiret

Passez-moi la Joconde, one of the earliest novels by San-Antonio (1954) formed part of an anthology of French Detective fiction published in Russia. The anthology contains five novels. San-Antonio’s is the last one. There is no sense of chronology, nor apparent attention paid to genre distinctions or any other criteria of classification. It would be an interesting question for a quizz to try and guess what the five (or six) French authors (see below) have in common: Boileau-Narcejac ; Didier Daeninckx; Vernon Sullivan (aka Boris Vian); Paul Andreotta; San-Antonio

Passez-moi la Joconde, one of the earliest novels by San-Antonio (1954) formed part of an anthology of French Detective fiction published in Russia. The anthology contains five novels.(1) San-Antonio’s is the last one. The collection entirely lacks a sense of chronology’, nor does there seem to have been any attention paid to genre distinctions or any other criteria of classification. It would be an interesting question for a quiz(4) to try and guess what the following five (or six) French authors (see below)(5) have in common: Boileau-Narcejac ; Didier Daeninckx; Vernon Sullivan (aka Boris Vian); Paul Andreotta; San-Antonio.

Continue reading

“Weapons in the war of ideas” ? Armed Service Paperbacks & Crime Fiction

 

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Georges Simenon, On the Danger Line, NY, Armed Services Editions,  No 21, 1943

American soldiers serving overseas during WWII were offered a rich selection of  compact paperbacks.   Destined to help them dodge the tedium of war, they were designed to fit in their pockets.   The Armed Services Editions  books were printed at a cost of 6 cents a volume and distributed for free from 1943 to 1947.  This is a landmark in the history of mass market reading. The mention on all but a handful of  the covers that “This is the Complete Book—Not a Digest” is a reminder that  paperbacks were at the time still new, and that readers had to be reassured that these were not abridged or condensed books. 123 million books were printed as part of this programme,  representing 1,227 different titles.  Only a minority of these titles were Crime Fiction. The purpose of the programme was educational as much as recreational. Continue reading

Rocambole !

 

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The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas’s thousand pages novel of revenge and metamorphosis (first serialized  from 1844 to 1846 in the Journal des Débats), portrays the ultimate Avenger character. Or, as Umberto Eco pointed out in a famous essay, the prototype of all later superhuman action heroes, up to  James Bond. But the arch-villain, the predecessor  of the invincible evil geniuses of incredible powers, the masterminds of Crime in Literature, Film, Comics and Poetry (such as Lautréamont’s  Maldoror) was created no long after him, and not far from there. Rocambole‘s adventures were first published in 1857, in another Parisian  newspaper, La Patrie.  And they amounted to considerably more pages in total, as their author, Viscount Ponson du Terrail wrote nine Rocambole  novels until his death in 1871.  Ambiguity and complexity, an embrace of the fantastic and the willingness to stretch the readers’ belief for  the benefit of narrative expediency  (or through plain forgetfulness) are their distinctive features.  Quite  a heinous villain in some of the books (Les exploits de Rocambole, La  Revanche de Baccarat) he is a more likeable hero in others; loosing his looks (to vitriol) in an adventure, he finds them again in a subsequent one.  This very plasticity and openness,  which make the plot subject to dramatic changes of course have contributed to the Series’ success and led to the  coining of the adjective rocambolesque. 
While the books are, regrettably,  rarely read now, they have been adapted as comics (see below) and movies, with Rocambole morphed into a Superhero (below).   The novels themselves  are still in print in many countries and no popular fiction library would be complete without them.  The posters and  book covers reproduced below are more than the remains  of a great popular success ; they carry  the stamps of this success, and for us the signs which can be read to better understand  what conditioned it. Continue reading