To see the full programme and book of abstracts, please visit the conference website
Forgotten Connections in Popular Culture
I. De Miguel
The Graduate Center – Bernard Baruch College
City University of New York (CUNY)
While Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories, and in particular, Murders in the rue Morgue (1841) are considered the starting point for the detective genre (Baudou 159), Honoré de Balzac, has been seen as one of the genre’s initiators too. In 1841 also, Balzac published as a serial and without any fanfare in the newspaper Le Commerce his novel Une Ténébreuse Affaire. The narrative, set over a timespan running from 1803 to 1833, starts by depicting a sinister man cleaning his rifle in front of his terrorized wife and the arrival from Paris of two espions de police. Yet Balzac’s narratives are not structured around a crime leading to an investigation, and are, therefore, dismissed as crime novels by many scholars.
There are however many connections between some of Balzac’s novels, French serialized novels (le roman feuilleton) rooted in melodrama,TV series and crime fiction up to its current development by Virginie Despentes. Serialized narratives, with their episodes and their techniques of delayed solution, progressively influenced detective fiction and gave birth to series based on events linked to a main character, the literary forerunners of TV series.
As “Roman-feuilletons”, such as Balzac’s popular works of serialized fiction published in installments in 19th-century French periodicals started losing interest, the section “fait divers” (or miscellaneous contents, narrating news items, often in sensationalist terms) started attracting readers. This miscellany soon became a synonym for scandals, criminal cases, and court-related stories, which proved to be even more financially rewarding for the press than serialized fiction. It is not surprising, therefore, that the origins of the detective novel in France are usually linked to a specific daily periodical, “Le Petit Journal,” created in 1863 and specialized in “faits divers.” Émile Gaboriau, one of the journal’s chroniclers, is also traditionally considered the father of French detective fiction. His narratives combined two writing modes: sensationalistic journalistic chronicles and feuilletons, the serialized fiction prized at the time.
As highlighted by Jacques Dubois, during this period the romantic feuilletoninfluenced by the melodrama experienced a progressive shift towards the detective novel, keeping some common characteristics like:
• an innocent accused falsely and a mystery to solve
• a romantic and honorable hero, acting at the margins of official justice, that tries to bring back justice and harmony to the community
• the city appearing in the background, as a labyrinth, a metaphor for the complexity of urban society
• fueling suspense, the installments that ended with the phrase “la suite au prochain numéro” (“to be continued”) influence the rhythm of the narrative
We find here many traits inherited from melodramatic plays: the innocent victim, the honorable hero, a narrative fed by a secret (in detective novels the crime will replace the secret from the melodrama), and many digressions that will delay the novel’s solution. Eugène Sue’s Les Mystères de Paris (1842) is a perfect example of this. These characteristics incorporated the progressive-regressive movement of two intertwined narratives: the story of the investigation and the story of the secret (later, the crime). Gaboriau’s The Widow Lerouge (1863) inspired Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet (1887), but Sherlock Holmes became much more famous than Gaboriau’s detectives, le père Tabaret and Monsieur Lecoq. In “Avènement et ascension du roman policier”, Jacques Baudou notes that mainly the later translation of Conan Doyle’s first three novels published in France by installments and later as books propagated the first wave of detective novels in France (159).
Yet, as Kálai Sándor observes in “Pratiques sérielles dans le roman judiciaire : Le cas de Gaboriau”, Gaboriau started a series of narratives that evolved into five separate novels published between 1863 and 1873 with a recurrent character, Monsieur Lecoq, and contributed to the founding of the genre. Sándor adds that the publicity for the feuilletons made by Moïse Millaud, owner of the Petit Journal, announcing and delaying Monsieur Lecoq’s novels also participated in the creation of the genre by creating the first series. This confirms Matthieu Letourneux’s assertion in Fictions à la chaîne (2017) that as mass culture started rationalizing its production, the 20th-century’s cultural industry fully understood the interest of considering novels according to a logic of cycles or series (291). Sándor mentions other writers of the time, such as Fortuné du Boisgobey (1821-1891), author of Une affaire mystérieuse and of Le Forçat colonel, both published in 1869, and Pierre Zaccone (1818-1895), author of Mémoires d’un commissaire de police (Dentu, 1875) whose detectives appeared in several novels without as much success as Monsieur Lecoq.
But before Gaboriau, Balzac had used narrative techniques that we can link to the modern detective novel. In Les Chouans (1829), Marie de Verneuil, an aristocratic ‘femme fatale’ sent by Fouché, Napoleon’s minister of police, tries to seduce and have the anti-Republican hero captured. In L’Auberge Rouge (1831), like in many melodramas, and some of Agatha Christie’s novels, the murderer is confronted with the narration of the crime in front of an audience and is exposed by the expression on his face and his reaction. In Maître Cornelius (1832) there is a locked room mystery with a murderer that acts during his sleep. Based on true facts, Une ténébreuse affaire, seems, in terms of detective fiction, as the most modern of Balzac’s narratives. The two policemen, Corentin and Perayde, appear as predecessors of the couple of the detective and his sidekick. Corentin is the natural son of Fouché and is the exceptionally intelligent and dangerous policeman. Peyrade is more of a comic figure. Since Balzac was a great admirer of Fenimore Cooper, Corentin is compared to an Indian explorer with exceptional senses that help him see what the normal eye cannot see. The two spies try to capture the returned sons of a noble family. The noble émigrés are accused of kidnapping Malin, a Republican politician that bought their proprieties and land after the revolution, but at the end of the novel they are pardoned and only their guard is executed. The last chapter takes place thirty years later in a Parisian salon, where a high ranked official explains that Malin, the kidnapped politician had documents concerning a coup against Napoléon and that Fouché was also involved. In fact, Fouché organized the kidnapping of Malin. In this last chapter, the reader realizes that he has been terribly misguided by an unreliable narrator, and that the official narrative does not correspond to reality.
From the roman-feuilletons whose intrigue lasted forever and digressed in many ways, TV series took many features, including the recurring character appearing in the roman policier. In TV serials with chronological episodes there is suspense and a rhythm fueled by the fragmentation of the episodes.” On the other hand, TV series with self-contained episodes (such as Columbo) do not need to be watched chronologically since a character or a set of characters will experience a complete event in each episode (as it happened in Dupin’s, Sherlock Holmes’ or Arsène Lupin’s short stories).
Multimedia and transmedia development of serials is nothing new. In Le roman feuilleton français, Lise Quéfélec notes that the numerous theatrical adaptations of romans-feuilletons contributed to the diffusion of the genre. As André Maurois recalls in Les Titans ou les trois Dumas, from his start as a playwright, Dumas père excelled at writing suspenseful endings for the acts of his plays, a technique that he brilliantly used to keep interested the readers of his roman-feuilletons (173). As in TV series, Dumaswho had extensively studied Walter Scott’s novels, excelled on defining the characters in detail at the beginning of a novel. We can establish here a parallel with classical TV series, such as Columbo, since, as Stephane Benassi explains in Séries et feuilletons T.V. : pour une typologie des fictions télévisuelles, in a TV series the main character will be defined in the pilot episode with a very strong personality and will remain unchanged as long as the series will exist. Benassi adds that in Columbo there is a common universe throughout the series, but each episode represents a micro-narrative with a similar structure and rhythm, whereas in a serial, the common universe will form a cohesive macro-narrative that will allow many variations in terms of the evolution of the story, and a recurrent character. Benassi also notes that for the first adaptations of detective novels into TV series, TV channels’ high executives prioritized policies of neutrality and consensus, erasing political or ideological contents. For example, according to Umberto Eco, with a very French touch, both Arsène Lupin and Fantômas were very successful TV series in France but since Arsène Lupin showed a more conventional behavior, the series lasted longer in hopes to keep the support of TV advertisers. We find here a parallel along the evolution of the roman feuilleton, most ideological in its beginnings, and more politically correct later on (Eco in Benassi).
Surprisingly, melodrama as a genre resurfaces, in a different guise, among the profusion of judiciary TV series created in the US in the 1950s. In Television and the Legal System, Barbara Villez explains how the criminal process staged in these series connects with an investigation to uncover a mystery or a culprit, and to establish the truth. As I see it, the figure of the lawyer that gives birth to a recurring character, can easily be coupled to the figure of the aforementioned honorable righter of wrongs of the melodrama, since the TV drama lawyer untangles misunderstandings and defends an innocent victim unjustly accused, winning all the cases. As Villez explains, judiciary TV series grew out of the lack of confidence in justice that took place in the US in the 1950s, when the lawyer, a trusted figure at the time, became part of popular culture. According to Villez, with not only a recurrent character but also a repetitive narrative scheme with an innocent wrongly accused, the weekly series of Perry Mason showed the inner workings of justice and emphasized the figure of the lawyer-hero fighting the prosecutor (and I add, the villain in the melodrama). For Villez, such series had a very high impact and educated the audience not only on justice, but ultimately on democracy, since as they evolved, they started dealing with issues of social justice, and the characters became more complex, less idealized (and we could also say, as it often happens in contemporary crime novels). As Borges claimed in his 1978 conference “The Detective Story,” (El cuento policial) the modern detective story also engendered a specific kind of reader that would no longer read a narrative without a hint of suspicion and incredulity. By exposing hidden truths and questioning the notion of what is perceived as “reality,” works of fiction like the North American legal series mentioned by Villez, but also Balzac’s and many detective novels up to Virginie Despentes contemporary rewriting of the genre, uncover the hiatus between official discourses and the truth. These works of fiction contribute, in fact, to develop critical thinking.
A fan of TV series, the French writer Virginie Despentes has achieved great success following the controversies of the famous adaptation of her first novel, Baise-moi, published in 1994 as the first volume in a paperback series (Poche Revolver) devoted to Crime Fiction by publisher Florent Massot. Her more recent trilogy Vernon Subutex (2016-2018) has been celebrated as a modern roman-feuilleton. Although Vernon Subutex has not been published as a crime series, the novel is presented by the editor as a ‘fake crime novel’ with short chapters that take the form of each character’s flow of consciousness and an intricate web of characters, of both marginal and conventional status. The narrative takes place around two suicides or eventual crimes, and La Hyène the detective from Apocalypse bébé (2010) also appears in the novel. Despentes treats the chapters of the first volume as if they were episodes, slowing down the rhythm of the main narrative to introduce Vernon’s acquaintances, and narrate his wanderings through the voices of these secondary characters. Like in most recent American series, the set of characters displays an uncommon level of diversity for high-brow French literature, including a Tunisian non-religious professor and his devout daughter, rock musicians, a rich trader, a black singer, pornstars, and transgender characters. This group of characters described with details in the first chapters allows Despentes to consider issues from different angles and to resist dominant mainstream heteronormative representations (like Villez suggested for the series, Villez 26). In the second and third volume, the group starts acting as a collective hero, as it happens in many TV series (Villez first sees this happen in Hill Street Blues). Vernon Subutex had a record store in Paris and lost it with the arrival of virtual music platforms. Whereas, the first volume gives the setting for the Parisian identities and mentalities that once surrounded Vernon, and how they have changed, the second one does not uncover the truth about the two eventual crimes but it highlights that for many of the characters an irremediable sense of loss came along with the new economic model, and what it destroyed since the 1980’s. Despentes’s narrative seems to assert that “human beings” stopped being at the center of how society considers things, that money took over the system, displacing the most vulnerable, not giving them a place in society, and destroying all sense of community. The perception of this latter collective crime seems to be what brings all this disparate group of characters together. According to François Jost, the legitimate interest and the success of many American series revolves around several criteria. I would emphasize three of them. One is the fact that the main hero becomes a familiar character with qualities but also flaws (Jost refers to Norton Frye’s ‘low mimetic mode” with heroes and environments similar to the audience’s, and I would note that this also happened in detective novels). The second one is the use of common transnational tropes such as conspiracy or secrecy, the rejection of the elites, and exposing manipulations of public opinion. And the third is the appearance of the collective hero. We can see these three criteria through the voices conveyed by Vernon Subutex’s group of characters and the social analysis Despentes includes in the novel. Despentes seems to think, as did Balzac for the post-revolutionary period, that our contemporary world is increasingly unreadable. Through his wanderings, the character of Vernon socializes with crowds from both the lowest strata and the richest milieus of French society (like another famous French detective, Arsène Lupin). Despentes reminds French society that there was a time when the working class felt as a collective, not as a series of individuals in competition, and provides an uncommonly rich and comprehensive picture of social, economic, and political realities. Despentes also claims her attachment to popular culture by using noir fiction, along with her admitted influences of punk culture, and TV series. Like Balzac does in Une Ténébreuse Affaire, Despentes alludes to the conflict opposing how facts were officially narrated and what actually happened as neoliberalism took over the economy in the 80’s and the 90’s. Despentes exposes and resists institutional violence by decoding the past, providing a better understanding of the present and of the functioning of power.
As we can see, from their very early forms, detective novels have contributed to promote critical thinking and political awareness, furthering Villez’s claim that popular culture plays an important role in shaping the public’s perceptions of law, justice, and ultimately democracy.
would like to dedicate this research to Dr. Julia Przybos, Professor of French at
the Graduate Center, New York and author of Entreprise
mélodramatique, Paris: Corti, 1987.
Baudou, Jacques. « Avènement et ascension du roman policier », Temps Noir 18, Paris : Joseph K., 2015 : 159-173.
Benassi, Stéphane, Séries et feuilletons T.V. : pour une typologie des fictions télévisuelles, Liège: CÉFAL, 2001.
Borges, Jorge Luis, “The Detective Story,” 1978 in Eisenzweig,Uri.Autopsies du roman policier, Paris: Union générale d’éditions, 1983.
Dubois, Jacques. « Naissance du récit policier ». Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, vol. 60, 1985, 47-55.
Eco, Umberto. Innovation and repetition: between modern and post-modern aesthetics, in Daedalus, New York, August 1985. Translated as « Innovation et répétition : entre esthétique moderne et postmoderne », Réseaux, 12:68, 1994.
Eco, Umberto. De superman au surhomme, Paris : Grasset, 1993.
Jost, François, De quoi les séries américaines sont-elles le symptôme ? Paris : CNRS, 2011, Print.
Letourneux, Matthieu. Fictions à la chaine : Littératures sérielles et culture médiatique, Paris: Seuil, 2017.
Maurois, André. Les Titans ou les trois Dumas, Paris: Hachette, 1966.
Frye, Norton (in Jost), Anatomie de la critique, Paris : Gallimard, 1969.
From Dallas to True Detective– podcast franceculture
Pellini, Pierluigi. Un Caso tenebroso, Palermo: Sellerio, 1996, 21.
Quéffélec, Lise. Le roman feuilleton français,1989. Print.
Kálai, Sándor, « Pratiques sérielles dans le roman judiciaire », Belphégor [En ligne], 14 | 2016, mis en ligne le 10 octobre 2016, consulté le 10 septembre 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/belphegor/696 ; DOI : 10.4000/belphegor.696
Villez, Barbara. Television and the Legal System, London: Routledge, 2009.
Vanoncini André, « Balzac et la ténébreuse naissance
du roman policier », Romanische Studien, 3 (2016): 260-273.
 As noted by Maurice Serval, « Autour d’un roman de Balzac : Une ténébreuse affaire », in Revue d’Histoire littéraire de la France No. 4 (1922), pp. 452-483, « Elle ne trouva pour l’accueillir, que le rez-de chaussée d’un journal politique, « Le Commerce », et aucun critique n’en parla ».
 See Pellini in Vanoncini André, « Balzac et la ténébreuse naissance du roman policier », Romanische Studien, 3 (2016): 260-273.
 Kálai Sándor, « Pratiques sérielles dans le roman judiciaire », Belphégor [En ligne], 14 | 2016, mis en ligne le 10 octobre 2016, consulté le 10 septembre 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/belphegor/696 ; DOI : 10.4000/belphegor.696
 Mentioned by Umberto Eco in “Innovation and repetition: between modern and post-modern aesthetics”, Daedalus, New York, August 1985. Translated as « Innovation et répétition : entre esthétique moderne et postmoderne », Réseaux, 12:68, 1994, 22-23.
 See Stéphane Benassi, Séries et feuilletons T.V. : pour une typologie des fictions télévisuelles, Liège: CÉFAL, 2001, p. 104 and p. 107-108.
 Barbara Villez (Université Paris 8), « Que nous apprennent les séries sur le système judiciaire ? » conférence du 20 février 2015 au Forum des Images (Paris) https://www.forumdesimages.fr/app_beta.php/les-programmes/toutes-les-rencontres/cours-de-cinema-que-nous-apprennent-les-series-sur-le-systeme-judiciaire-par-barbara-villez
Today see’s the long-awaited publication of Henry Blanc’s 1973 comic strips adaptation of Berceuse pour Bérurier, the 1960 San-Antonio novel. Originally published in the French daily newspaper France Soir, whose circulation was, back then, well over one million copies a day (1 300 000, in 1963) Henry Blanc’s strips appear now, some 46 years later, for the first time as a volume, in a limited edition, restricted to 160 copies (numbered by hand from 1 to 160), thanks to a non-business entity “Les Amis de San-Antonio”. This collector’s item has been carefully and admirably curated by Thierry Gautier, Didier Poiret and Jean-François Pribile, founding and long-serving members of said entity, dedicated to furthering the knowledge of San-Antonio’s work.
The comparison of figures and places suggests a widening gap between a publishing industry of which San-Antonio was once, around the middle of the past century a stalwart, a dependable source of massive income, but which has now moved on, and the world of erudite and nostalgic readers, with their necessary and irreplaceable contribution. Once a big business, and by all accounts a hard-nosed one at that, San-Antonio has now become mostly a labor of love. While San-Antonio’s literature, which found in mass-market circulation its raison d’être, always depended on its readers for its very existence, it now seems that San-Antonio’s survival from oblivion, and the question of his legacy hinges more than ever on the dedication of readers taking over their free time (or devoting their retirement) to locate and browse through increasingly fragile archives to bridge gaps in knowledge, piecing together traces left in media long discarded and retracing a history based on material artifacts now almost forgotten, or whose last remains, like in this case, are archived in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.
Indeed, Gautier, Poiret and Pribile’s edition, with its detailed, erudite and rewarding introduction and the wealth of original documents it reproduces in its appendices, goes much beyond a tribute to the adaption of San-Antonio as comics, or to Blanc’s skills as an illustrator, or Robert Mallard ‘s (author of the texts under the strips) as a storyteller. It captures a moment of French cultural history, re-inscribing San-Antonio within a history of the successive forms and media it borrowed to reach its millions of readers over an entire era. As such, this edition continues to illustrate the productivity of the “cultural turn” advocated a decade ago (Jeannerod, San-Antonio et son double, PUF, 2010 ; Rullier, Gautier, Jeannerod & Lagorgette, San-Antonio et la culture française, PUS, 2010). Shifting away from the sole preserves of linguisitics and literary studies, cultural studies approaches help apprehending the multi-faceted and transmedia dimension of San-Antonio production, and articulating them with existing social conditions, representations, ideologies and industrial structures.
San-Antonio might nowadays appear as a relic from a past increasingly inscrutable and difficult to comprehend. Gautier, Poiret and Pribile’s tireless work in finding, selecting, reproducing and contextualising the strips (Berceuse pour Bérurier, the story published today, is merely one of twenty novels which served as a basis for the strips, published continuously between September 10, 1963 and March 12, 1975, amounting to a respectable total of 3536) sheds light into a moment of press and popular publishing industry which, at that stage was hard for anyone living in France to ignore, but which has slipped off almost everybody’s radar since.
From the narrower point of view of San-Antonio’s commercial success, it is easy to point out the coincidence between the start of the France Soir publication in 1963 and the recognition of the “San-Antonio phenomenon” in the following years. His 1964 book L’Histoire de France vue par San-Antonio was a best seller with 350 000 copies sold that year and became his first to sell over a million copies; in 1965 Robert Escarpit dedicated his seminar in the University of Bordeaux to the first Conference on San-Antonio. The continuous numbering of the 3536 strips re-frames the adventures of San-Antonio and gives a new dimension to their serial nature, merging the series of novels in an uninterrupted duration, emphasizing a sense of timelessness. It is now possible, based on Gautier, Poiret and Pribile’s precise research of concordances between the novels and the strips ( pp. 13-14) to establish the following correspondence between the novels (implicitly) adapted and the strips published in France Soir under a solely generic title (as “Les Enquêtes du commissaire San-Antonio” and then (from 1970, after strip 2210) “Les Enquêtes de San Antonio” ). Only the last three novels in the list below were adapted under their title:
France Soir 1963/1964 Du sirop pour les guêpes, Fleuve Noir, 1960
France Soir 1964 Du brut pour les brutes, Fleuve Noir, 1960
France Soir 1964/1965 Entre la vie et la morgue, Fleuve Noir, 1959
France Soir 1964/1965 De « A » jusqu’à « Z », Fleuve Noir, 1961
France Soir 1965/1966 Bérurier au sérail, Fleuve Noir, 1964
France Soir 1966 Des gueules d’enterrement, Fleuve Noir, 1957
France Soir 1966/1967 San-Antonio Polka, Fleuve Noir, 1962
France Soir 1967 Messieurs les Hommes, Fleuve Noir, 1955
France Soir 1967/1968 On t’enverra du monde, Fleuve Noir, 1959
France Soir 1968 Du mouron à se faire, Fleuve Noir, 1955
France Soir 1968/1969 Tout le plaisir est pour moi, Fleuve Noir, 1959
France Soir 1969/1970 Le loup habillé en grand-mère, Fleuve Noir, 1962
France Soir 1970 Descendez-le à la prochaine, Fleuve Noir, 1953
France Soir 1970/ 1971 Fais gaffe à tes os, Fleuve Noir, 1956
France Soir 1971/ 1972 Viva Bertaga, Fleuve Noir, 1968
France Soir 1972/ 1973 En long, en large et en travers, Fleuve Noir, 1958
France Soir 1973 Emballage cadeau, Fleuve Noir, 1972
France Soir 1973 Berceuse pour Bérurier, Fleuve Noir, 1960
France Soir 1973/1974 Ça ne s’invente pas, Fleuve Noir, 1973
France Soir 1974/1975 Sérénade pour une souris défunte, Fleuve Noir, 1954
Henry Blanc, San-Antonio, Berceuse pour Bérurier, Édition établie et présentée
par Thierry Gautier, Jean-François Pribile et Didier Poiret, Gardanne, Les Amis de San-Antonio, 2019
“Unified in Diversity?”
The Promotion and Reception of Europeanness in Contemporary Crime Fiction
Call for abstracts
We invite case studies in literary fiction, film and television series. For example, we are looking for analyses of cross-media phenomena such as Inspector Montalbano, the Millenium trilogy, or Babylon Berlin, which originated from literary works and became transnationally successful television series. Such cases would be especially interesting since the market logic for audiences in literary and screen reception is still markedly different. We are also particularly interested in case studies about television series such as The Team, Crossing Lines, or Eurocops, whose presumed Europeanness is already embedded in their production process.
I. De Miguel, PhD candidate, City University of New York
Even though classical Arabic proto-detective fiction written in the 13th century  preexisted the appearance of the modern detective novel (usually attributed to Edgar Allan Poe’s short story The Murders in the Rue Morgue in 1841), detective novels located in North African and Middle Eastern countries need to be contextualized. Since society and criminality are central to crime fiction, regional and cultural particularities must be taken into account when reading North African and Middle Eastern detective novels.
Within this context, Silvia Tellenbach’s interesting article “Law, Crime, and Society in the Middle East” provides a comprehensive analysis of the cultural and sociological background that needs to be considered. In an interview to the magazine Horizons in 1987, the writer Rachid Boudjedra (1941-) explained the late emergence of the detective novel in Algerian literature, attributing its cause to Algeria’s mainly rural development and to “the lack of a criminal tradition”:
There isn’t at all a tradition of crime in Algeria. Algeria’s society is a rural one. Urban areas barely started to develop fifteen years ago. In rural societies, there’s crime among peasants, but there’s almost never an investigation, because this sort of crime is always covered. Or then, it’s a crime that takes place in broad daylight as a vengeance or some sort of vendetta. The silence of the village decides of the lawfulness of such an act. Algeria’s war of Liberation brought some changes to this situation. As a matter of fact, the first crime novels located in Algeria are strongly rooted in that event.
As Silvia Tellenbach 2016’s research shows, Boudjedra’s claim not only proved to be correct, but it is also applicable to other North African and Middle Eastern countries. In fact, Tellenbach’s article brings to the fore the often-disregarded connection between specific characteristics of North African and Middle Eastern cultures, and their literatures, and the nature of criminality in these countries.
Tellenbach’s interesting analysis confirms a lack of tradition of homicides in Arab societies. While “all over the world, we can observe that criminal behavior is much more frequent among men, especially young men”, Tellenbach observes that even though the population of “most Middle Eastern countries is very young” (33) this does not translate into a higher crime rate as compared to Western societies. According to Tellenbach, Head of the Section “Turkey, Iran and Arab States” at the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law, several factors contribute to crime prevention: social control by families, social control in the public sphere (for example, in the neighborhood), and control of the population by the police and the secret services. Tellenbach also contemplates the difference between rural and urban settings where clannish or tribal systems of mediation or restorative justice may apply without the intervention of the police.
In light of the statistics provided by international organizations such as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s homicide statistics, Tellenbach concludes that the most common crimes are thefts and bodily injuries and that homicide rates are very low. When murders take place, the crime usually happens within the victim’s family or within the victim’s close environment. These crimes are often honor killings and, more often than not, the perpetrators confess their own crime. On this particular point, one might certainly want to challenge Tellenbach’s opinion that “such crimes are not of very much interest in criminal novels” (37). While the perpetrator’s confession might take away much of the interest in a whodunnit, such criminality is certainly within the “noir” tradition and could be explored in novels or films.
Furthermore, Tellenbach points out other forms of crime that Middle Eastern societies have had to confront in the last decades. Along with the fight against terrorism, crimes such as corruption, nepotism and misappropriation, both at low and high levels of society, appear as the background of crime novels exposing political or social conditions (Yasmina Khadra’s Dead Man’s Share and Rafik Schami’s The Dark Side of Love) Tellenbach also notes an increased awareness about organized crime by national and transnational groups trafficking with humans, money or drugs. Still, such a dangerous topic has been less dealt with in criminal fiction.
Concerning criminal investigations and prosecutions, and to a certain extent, the figure of the detective, Tellenbach underlines that “most Middle Eastern states adopted criminal laws and laws on criminal procedure are influenced by the French law” (39). Thus, a warrant is most often needed to search a suspect’s domicile. Secret services and the “police politique” along with the existence of secret prisons also alter the criminal landscape and fiction of Middle Eastern countries. Feared by the population, secret and political police might not have offered the best image so as to give birth to a popular hero.
To conclude, I would add that censorship, first, and exile later on (as in the case of Yasmina Khadra (1955-) or Abdelkader Djemaï (1948-)) also needs to be taken into account when examining the emergence and evolution of crime novels written in Arabic or French in North African and Middle Eastern countries. Self-censorship, for instance, might have contributed to limit the production of detective novels to a form of entertainment, often recurring to settings in foreign countries, like Al Sid’s Machettes, coconuts et grigris à Conakry (Tunis: Alyssa Éditions, 2000) written under a pseudonym. As Anne Griffon observes in her study of popular literature in Algeria “Romans noirs et romans roses dans l’Algérie d’après 1989” (Master’s Thesis) written under the supervision of Guy Dugas, the exile of Algerian writers after Algeria’s civil war in the nineties modified France’s and Algeria’s editorial landscapes: As the Algerian publishing houses had to face the war, the influx of Algerian authors increased largely the number of Algerian novels published in France.
Boudjedra, Rachid. Interview by Rédha Belhadjoudja. “Le polar? Je connais!” Horizons, 9 November 1987, I-IV.
Burton, Richard F. trans., The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night (1885-1888) (Burton Club Edition, reprinted U.S.A., n.d.)
Griffon, Anne. Romans noirs et romans roses dans l’Algérie d’après 1989, Master’s thesis (mémoire de DEA), Paris : Université Paris IV- Sorbonne, 2000. Web (http://www.limag.refer.org/Theses/GriffonDEA.PDF)
Malti-Douglas, Fedwa. “The Classical Arabic Detective” Arabica 35.1 (1988), 59-91.
Tellenbach, Silvia, “Law. “Crime, and Society in the Middle East” Crime Fiction in and around the Eastern Mediterranean. Ed. Sagaster, B., Strohmeier, M., Guth, S. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2016, 33-44.
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC): “Homicide Statistics”.
 In “The Classical Arabic Detective” Fedwa Malti-Douglas analyzes the figure of the detective as it appears in a specific type of Arabic medieval prose texts called adab, and used to educate and entertain. Some of these literary anecdotes emphasized the extreme sagacity of the figure of a caliph or a judge able to figure out enigmatic situations by the mere use of ratiocination. In contrast with Western detective narratives focused on solving a mystery, they would also include punishments for the culprits and the rendering of justice. Malti-Douglas examines three anecdotes, giving them the names of “The Case of the Painted Hand” (59), “The Case of the Excited Slave” (65), and “The Case of the Merry Slave” (66). She also mentions the “Tale of the Three Apples” from The Thousand and One Nights (74). “The Case of the Painted Hand” and “The Case of the Excited Slave” appear in Akhbadr al-Adhkiya’ (Stories of the Adhkiya’) of Ibn al-Jawz (d. 597/1200). “The Case of the Merry Slave” appears in Al-Nuwayri, Nihayat al-Arab fi Funun al-Adab (Cairo: al-Mu’assasa al-Amma lil-Ta’llf wal-Tarjama wal-Tibaca wal-Nashr, n.d.), v. III, p. 150. n.d.
 « Il n’y a pas du tout de tradition du crime chez nous. La société algérienne est une société rurale. Cela fait à peine 15 ans qu’elle commence à s’urbaniser. Dans cette société rurale, le crime paysan existe, mais il n’y a presque jamais d’enquête, car ce crime-là est toujours camouflé. Ou alors, c’est un crime en plein jour consécutif à une vengeance, à une sorte de vendetta. Le silence du village légifère sur la justesse d’un tel acte. C’est la guerre de Libération qui a apporté quelques changements à cette situation. D’ailleurs, les premiers polars chez nous sont fortement ancrés dans cet événement »
International Crime Genre Research Group: 8th Biennial Conference
“Delicate Infractions”: Innovations, Expansions, and Revolutions in the Crime Genre
Friday 14 – Saturday 15 June, 2019
Maynooth University, Ireland
The Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges famously remarked that the detective genre “thrives on the continual and delicate infraction of its rules”. Taking this as a point of departure, the 8th Biennial conference of the International Crime Fiction Research Group will aim to bring together researchers with a shared interest in exploring how the genre has changed and continues to change by way of such delicate infractions, but also occasionally by way of full-blown transgression and definitive ruptures.
Under the broad title of “Delicate Infractions”, we invite proposals related to the following areas:
Systemic troubles reflected in the crime genre
- The crime genre in the age of Black Lives Matter, Trump and resurgent far-right ideology.
- The representation and promotion of radical politics in crime narrative.
- Genre responses to the refugee crisis in Europe and beyond.
- How can or should the genre reckon with the ‘slow violence’ of pollution, climate change, ocean acidification, and ecocide?
Formal re-configurations of the crime genre:
- Re-imaginings and re-workings of the tropes of crime.
- Re-configurations of the archetypal detective/criminal/victim triad.
- Challenges to the gendered and racialized assumptions of conventional crime narratives.
- Crime, Modernism, and/or Postmodernism (and beyond).
- Crime, Surrealism, and the Avant-Garde.
- Hybrids and intersections with other genres.
Changing technologies and how they influence crime, crime detection, and crime writing
- The technological pre-conditions for the emergence of the genre.
- Historic changes or ruptures wrought on the genre since its inception by technological innovations in transport, communications, and weaponry.
- Cyberspace, Artificial Intelligence, and the elaboration of new kinds of crime and new modes of investigation.
- Digital Humanities, Big Data, Digital Gazetteers, Crowd Sourcing; New technologies for Crime Fiction Studies.
- Apps, Immersive Narratives and technology-supported Crime Fiction Tourism.
- The place of YouTube, Social Media, podcasting, and other online platforms in the publication of crime narrative.
- New technologies and new experiences of reading Crime Fiction.
As in previous years, we also welcome submissions that do not fall neatly within the above categories (or that expand them), and we are open to research questions that are themselves ‘infractional’ in respect of the critical paradigms that have grown around crime genre scholarship.
Submissions can be centred on crime fiction and/or film, but we also welcome submissions relating to true crime and that analyse other forms of media, as well as examinations of relevant topics within fields such as history, criminology, anthropology etc. Our guiding objective since our first conference in 2005 is to bring together scholars from a diverse range of areas with a view to highlighting and exploring the points of convergence (and divergence) that emerge.
Organising Committee Chair Dr David Conlon (MU). Committee members Dr Dominique Jeannerod (QUB); Dr Kate Quinn (NUIG); Dr Marieke Krajenbrink (UL).
Please send your abstracts to one of the following by November 29th 2018:
Bianca Alecu, University of Bucharest
Romania belongs no doubt to countries that are not considered the founders of the crime genre, but where the crime fiction phenomena is still an enigma, both in its contemporary and past shapes. Unlike better known areas of Crime Fiction production, such as France, North America or Britain, the beginnings of the Romanian crime fiction scene are still somewhat obscure, and remain challenging to track down. Over the decades, there have been numerous more or less successful attempts at publishing popular fiction series including detective novels. From these attempts, eventually, crime fiction series would be developed, especially during the communist regime. This article will tackle both the historical backdrop of these series and elements of book cover design, since their connection is symbolic: “when a text is published and the book is designed and printed, it becomes a physical manifestation not just of the ideas of the author, but of the cultural ideals and aesthetics of a distinct historical moment” (Drew and Sternberger, 2005, p. 8, apud Gallagher, Patrick).
At the beginning of the past century, the Kingdom of Romania experienced one of its most significant moments of cultural and economical growth. Its literary scene was heavily influenced by the French fin-de-siècle. At the end of World War I, Romania gained the territories of Transylvania, Banat, Bukovina and Bessarabia, unifying all of the Romanian-speaking provinces. Only northern Transylvania was retained after the Second World War. Soon after, Romania became a socialist republic under a Stalinist type of communist totalitarianism that ended in December 1989, with the execution of the dictator.
Interwar popular fiction series.
In the first half of the century, more precisely in the 1930s-1940s, popular fiction started to garner more commercial success. One example of this is the Aventura (eng. “adventure”) series, published between 1937-1941 by Adevărul Publishing House and sold with their newspaper, Adevărul (eng. “truth”). Newspapers and books would be sold together at a reasonable, fixed price. The readership knew what to expect from the motto of the series: “Romane de Acțiune și Pasiune” (eng. “Novels of Action and Passion” – Fig. 1).
Each 15th of the month a new such novel would be published, that usually followed the conventions of popular fiction. The total number of books in this series is 50. Out of these, only around 8 are written by non-French authors (British or American: H. Melville, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jack London). Crime or mystery novels were included in this series, but they were only occasional features, since the main focus of the series was „adventure”, which usually meant discovery-scenarios with unexpected turns in exotic scenery.
Fig. 2. A special Christmas edition of the newspaper, from 1939
The cover design of the series is typical for rather cheap paperbacks, using the strategy of illustrating a pivotal point of the narrative (Fig. 2), while the background color is a paper-yellow, the nuance of which is difficult to tell because of the age of the books that survived (Fig. 3). The font of the titles varies with the content of the books and cover illustrations, while the title of the series and the motto are placed in the top central part of the cover. Another recurrent element of the cover is the price (8 Lei, top left corner), which was then a typical strategy for selling popular fiction (Fayard 65 centimes, Dime novels, Penny Dreadfuls...).
Another series published in the same period was dedicated to crime fiction, as the name reveals: Romanul captivant polițist (eng. Thrilling detective novels). It was published by Ig. Hertz Publishing House, one of the most prestigious publishing houses of interbellum Bucharest. It also published another series of popular fiction called „Colecția celor 15 lei” (i.e. The 15 lei series, i.e costing twice the price of the cheap adventura 8 lei series). There is some uncertainty regarding these two collections, as it is possible they might have merged into one at some point in the 1930s. One of the first Romanian crime fiction novel was published in 1935 in the former series: „Cazul doamnei Predescu” (eng. The case of Mrs. Predescu, Fig. 4) by Petre Belu. The second edition sold between 31.000-45.000 copies.
Unfortunately, a lot of the books published in the interwar period ended up in the great „recycling” projects of early communism. Both what was considered to be major and minor literature was liable to be „cleaned” and censored, including popular fiction, crime and romance series that could be found in the bookshelves of the bourgeoisie. These books, and especially those which were taken by hundreds and thousands to the „recycling” furnace are now very rare, and can seldom be found, even in the archives of national libraries.
Crime fiction series under the communist regime.
During the communism area, another Aventura series was published by Tineretului (1967-1969) and Albatros (1969-1985) publishing houses. There is no recognizible connection with the interwar series, neither in terms of book cover design, nor content. Both international and Romanian authors were published in this series, which was a collection on its own and not a periodical magazine as before. The first and last books published in this collection belong to a renowned Romanian crime fiction author, Leonida Neamțu. In terms of book cover design, the first version of the series as published by Tineretului proposed a white handwritten silhouette of the letter „a” (from Aventura) against various bold, solid background colors (Fig.5). Inside the „a” the information about the book was written in a constant, minimalist font, in bold (the title) or underlined (the author). This contributed to the overall homogeneous aspect of the series, the design of which was very modern and forward-thinking for the time. After the series was transferred to Albatros (Fig.6), the design of the series was changed to a more varied one, containing both the classical „a” in the top left corner and thematic illustrations. Keeping the small version of the previous design is both an economical and symbolic decision, since the series were very popular with the public and this was the way of keeping the readership throughout the transition of the editorial project.
Fig. 5. Colorful and minimalistic book cover design of the series as it was first published by Editura Tineretului
Fig. 6. Book cover design of the series continued by Albatros
The most successful and renowned crime fiction series of the communist period (and may still be well-known to this day) is Enigma, published by Univers Publishing House from 1969 to 1990. During the 1990s some titles were republished in a new series called Enigma Z, with new cover design. This series never matched the fame and readership acclaim of the original one. The covers of some of the most famous titles of the communist Enigma can be viewed at https://archive.org/details/ColectiaEnigma-EdituraUnivers. As crime and spy novels began as yellow paper-backs in most European countries, yellow and bright colors (orange, green) remained one of the visual ways to inform the reader, even unconsciously, about the nature of the contents of the book. This can be seen in the cover design of the previous series, but it is fully-fledged in Enigma (Fig.7). Some of the graphic elements of the cover are similar to Albatros’ Aventura series, namely the collage-like illustration and the colorful background of the title box. However, one of the things that set apart the design of this series is the changing of the font of the title according to some symbolic connotations of the contents of the book (or even according to the length and phonetics of the title). The most recurrent color is, by far, yellow, followed closely by orange, mustard, green and pink. An anthology of crime fiction short stories was also published in this series, in two volumes that can be seen in the top right picture below. The design of these is distinct from the rest of the series, while in keeping with the overall ratio and aspect of the covers (square lines, central illustration, title box in the lower half of the cover).
Fig. 7 Enigma
This collection was among the lengthiest ones, counting 89 titles, 15 of them published in 1969, the numbers decreasing rapidly. From 1974 to 1978 only 5 volumes were published in a year. During he last years (1987-1990), only one volume was published per year. Only international authors were published, out of which the most numerous ones were soviet authors, particularly during the 1972-1980 period (approximately). Most of the titles were of world-renowned crime fiction writers, mostly British (Agatha Christie, Anthony Berkeley, Eric Ambler, Michael Sinclaire), American (Raymond Chandler, Dashiel Hammett, Edgar Wallace, Leslie Charteris, John Ball), French (Gaston Leroux, San-Antonio, Georges Simenon, Maurice Leblanc, Sébastien Japrisot, , Emile Gaboriau) and others. There is no distinguishable correspondence between the background colors and the nationality of the author or the fictional contents of the books. Neither is there a recurrent, constant pattern of the colors, the order of which is hazardous, yellow and orange accounting for more than a third of the covers.
The case of Soviet writers.
The first volume of soviet crime fiction published there was only the 31st of the series, in 1972, three years after the collection started. It was written by Dmitri Tarasenkov and called “Omul din gang” (The man in the gallery). All the volumes published subsequently in 1972 were written by Soviet writers, as follows: Iulian Semionov, E. Braghinski, Joe Alex, K. Kwasniewski. The last two are the pen-names of the Polish translator and writer Maciej Słomczyński. This period corresponds to a wave of censorship and sovietization of the whole book industry, as well as the literary products themselves. Eugen Negrici identifies four distinct chronological attitudes towards literature during communism, that are especially prevalent in the writing, commercializing and reading of prose: stalinism (’48-’53), formal destalinisation (’53-’64), relative liberalization (’64-’71) and communist nationalism and re-indoctrination (’71-’89). As Soviet crime fiction authors were prevalent in 1972 and the years that followed, featuring constantly alongside to more household non-soviet, occidental names in the genre (Bogomil Rainov is published next to Michael Innes or Dashiell Hammet, in 1973), one can assume that this was a consequence of the reinforcement of ideology after a short period of ease. However, the preparations for this began early in the 1960s, when there was a “search for artistic vehicles to carry emancipatory messages to the masses”, as Caius Dobrescu points out. Moreover, there are similarities between this and the Soviet exploitation of different popular genres as means of propaganda as early as the Avant Garde artistic and literary phenomena.
Some of the Soviet writers published in the series were already well-known in the Soviet Union for their interest in the spy genre, including literature and screenplays, cinema, and Theatre plays. Yulian Semionov (1931-1993) took part in publishing two dedicated crime fiction magazines, „Detective and politics” and „Top secret”. He is considered to be one of the pioneers of investigative journalism in Soviet Union. He was a member of the Union of Soviet Writers and enjoyed critical acclaim for his works of journalism, which were published in many newspapers. Two of his detective stories are published in the Enigma series, the first one,“Valiza cu amprente”, (“The suitcase with fingerprints”) in 1972 and the second one in 1975, “Ogariov Street, No. 6”. Dmitri Tarasenkov and Emil Braginsky worked as screewriters, among others, and were involved in the development of many Soviet films. The former later immigrated to USA in 1978, where, later on, he worked as a journalist for Radio Liberty. Other Soviet writers include Mihail Heyfetz, Arkadi Adamov, Arkadi and George Weiner. Authors from the Soviet block were also published, such as Maciej Słomczyński and Jerzy Edigey (Polish), Bogomil Rainov (Bulgarian), Eduard Fiker, Vaclav Erben, and Ladislav Fuks (Czech), Rejto Jeno (Hungarian). For a detailed representation, see Fig. 8.
Dobrescu, Caius (2013), „Identity, Otherness, Crime: Detective Fiction and Interethnic Hazards”, in Acta Universitatis Sapientiae, Philologica, 5, 1, 43-58. Available at https://goo.gl/EfNK4k
Forshaw, Barry (2007), The rough guide to crime fiction, London, Rough Guides Ltd
Drew, N., & Sternberger, P. (2005). By its Cover: Modern American Book Cover Design. New York, NY, USA: Princeton Architectural Press. Retrieved from http://www.ebrary.com, apud Gallagher, Patrick (2015), The look of Fiction: A visual analysis of the Front Covers of The New York Times Fiction Bestsellers, Thesis, Rochester Institute of Technology. Available at https://goo.gl/5gV26P
Negrici, Eugen (2006), Literatura română sub comunism. Proza, București, Editura Fundației Pro
http://romania-inedit.3xforum.ro/post/369954/2/B_Colectia_interbelic_259_AVENTURA_-_Romane_de_actiune_si_pasiune_/ Romanian forum dedicated to discussing and publishing electronical, scanned versions of old books. Available only in Romanian. All the books from the interwar Aventura series are available for downloading thanks to individual efforts of numerous people who still had some of the books in the series. A list of all the titles is also available.
http://romania-inedit.3xforum.ro/post/504019/1/Colectia_Romane_Politiste_-_Topic_recuperat/ Romanian forum dedicated to crime fiction, spy novels and pulp fiction series published since communism. Available only in Romanian. Most of the books are scanned and can be downloaded.
https://goo.gl/9RgDn6 The Facebook page of the same forum contains a photo album with the cover of all the books from the Enigma series. This is useful for getting an overall picture of the chromatics and design of the series.
 Carte rară din colecțiile Bibliotecii Științifice Universitare: contribuții bibliografice, Fascicula 3, collected by Scurtu, Elena, Nagherneac, Ana, Bălți, 2008. Available online https://en.calameo.com/read/001133349e22fadf634e7
 A good salary (of a clerk) was 9000 lei in 1928, one volume would cost aprox 0.1% of this salary
 A complete list of the volumes published in this series, as well as the digitized version of most of them can be found at http://romania-inedit.3xforum.ro/post/369954/1/B_Colectia_interbelic_259_AVENTURA_-_Romane_de_actiune_si_pasiune_/
The International Crime Fiction Research Group is delighted to share the good news about the European funding secured for our project “DETECt -Detecting Transcultural Identity in European Popular Crime Narrative-“, as part of the Horizon 2020 – Societal Challenge 6: “Understanding Europe: Promoting the European Public and Cultural Space” framework. The project is led by the University of Bologna and involves 18 institutions from 11 European Countries. DETECt addresses the formation of European cultural identity as continuing process of transformation fostered by the mobility of people, products and representations across the continent. Because of the extraordinary mobility of its products, popular culture plays a decisive role in circulating representations that constitute a shared cultural asset for large sectors of the European society. The project examines examples of crime fiction, film and TV dramas from 1989 to present, to learn how mobility strategies such as co-production, serialization, translation, adaptation, distribution, and more, have influenced the transnational dissemination of European popular culture. It also investigates how the treatment of specific ‘mobile signifiers’ – including representations of gender, ethnic and class identities – affect the ability of European narratives to migrate outside their place of origin, and be appropriated elsewhere in different and variegated ways. Researching the contemporary history of the crime genre in Europe, DETECt aims to identify the practices of production, distribution and consumption that are best suited to facilitate the emergence of engaging representations of Europe’s enormously rich, plural and cross-cultural identity. The knowledge acquired through a detailed research programme will be used in cultural, learning and public engagement initiatives designed to prompt the elaboration of new transnational formats for the European creative industries. These activities will profit from a set of experimental research and learning resources and innovative collaborative tools, aggregated and organized on DETECt Web portal which will be introduced here. A range of activities will be addressed to the general public and announced here. In particular, the development of a Web mobile app tools will allow users to contribute to the creation of a collaborative atlas of European crime narratives. Watch this space for updates.
Please visit The DETECt website