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Anarchy Crime Fiction

 

 

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Colección El Séptimo Círculo: The first 120 Titles

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(Click to enlarge)

The first 120 volumes in the  Seventh Circle (Septimo Circulo) series were selected by Borges and Bioy Casares, both practitioners and very well- informed observers of the crime genre and its developments since the 1930s. It is well known that the pair had previously co-written, under the pseudonym of Bustos Domeq the ultimate armchair detection classic, Six problems for Don Isidro Parodi, published in 1942. The Septimo Circulo series reflects their tastes (even though, unlike Borges, it favours novels over short stories) and views on crime fiction aesthetics. Given the global status and influence of Borges especially, the vision of a canon of international crime fiction which emerges from this selection is interesting. The visualisations below show which authors were published, between 1945 and 1954 in the series’s first 120 volumes, and highlight their relative importance there. 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

Art for the Millions : The Signet Books covers

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(Iconographic Source; http://bookscans.com/Publishers/signet/signet.htm)

The New York based publisher, The New American Library was formed in 1948 and soon became the biggest American publisher of paperbacks. Both of its founders, Kurt Enoch and Victor Weybright had experience with the European pioneers of the mass market paperback industry, the British Penguin and the German Albatross, which Enoch had launched  in 1932 and directed. Signet fiction was a particularly successful imprint of The New American Library. The paperback reprints it published included (but were by no means restricted to) a number of classics in the noir genre. The series’ distinctive visual style owed much to the influence of the artist James Avati. Dubbed “The Rembrandt of Paperback Book Covers”, often reminding one of Hopper’s bleak style, he drew many of the series’ covers and inspired the other illustrators commissioned by Signet.

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Two Shilling Yellowjackets

Creasey Hodder 1954

John Creasey, Inspector West Cries Wolf, Hodder & Stoughton, 1954

Hodder & Stoughton original Yellow Jacket series were published in England from 1926 until 1939. A second series was launched in 1949. Each book cost 2 shillings. The covers remained yellow until 1957, when the series gave way to Hodder Pocket books.  Uber-prolific English author John Creasey  (1908 – 1973) published there some of the six hundred novels he is credited with (under twenty-eight pseudonyms). Hodder & Stoughton published  notably   books with his Inspector Roger West , and his eccentric,  aristocratic,  “Saint”- like character, the “Toff”, a sort of later days Arsène Lupin.  The Toff was created in 1938.  Charteris’s The Saint was also published and republished in the same series, as were many successes from the first,  interwar series : Wallace,  Oppenheim and Sapper amongst many others. Or  Patricia Wentworth, with her upper-class compatible, governess-detective, Miss Silver.  The yellow covers signal classicism, in the detective novel or the thriller traditions.

Yellow covers in Spain : The Biblioteca Oro

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Sax Rohmer, El Diabolico Doctor (Biblioteca Oro, 35, 1935

It was not long before  a Spanish publisher introduced the  1920’s fashion of Yellow Crime Fiction booklets to Spain.  Only a few years after Mondadori in Italy,  the Barcelona publisher Molino proposed in 1933 (the year of the publishing house’s creation),  a series of Crime Fiction  pulps with yellow covers in its series Biblioteca Oro. Like the Italian series, this Spanish counterpart would become a landmark series, publishing the most representative authors in the genre.  The books were on average some 100 pages long and cost 0,90 cts.

 The first period of the series starts in 1933 and finishes in 1936, the year of the civil war.  In its original period, the series published 25 authors, accounting for 68 books (see list below).  The authors who saw the most of their books translated  in the series were Oppenheim (8), Martyn (7), Christie (6) and Van Dine (5).  Christie published there in that period the following books, whose translated title remain close to the original    (this was not always the case in French)  as can be see here : Continue reading

The other life of French Crime Fiction Authors in Portugal

  Groc Torres

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

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

Maps on the Backs : Dell Books and the Cartography of Crime

 Hammett homicides Dell

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With thanks to Benoit Tadié

The crime scene map is a  feature commonly associated with  1920’s  Crime Fiction.  Detective novels of the Golden  Age tended to favour the spatial representation of  the mystery to be solved. The maps appended to the novels were data visualisations, as they presented the plot in one  easy (and appealing)  overview. Typically,   a locked room mystery, or a  secluded place mystery  (remote manor, island, lighthouse…) could handily be mapped on one page. Such cartographic paratexts not only accompanied the novel, but often preceding it,  they led into it. They were printed in the first pages of the volume, and at times on the cover itself,  inviting the reader to a symbolic and cognitive journey.  They  helped visualize the information relevant to the solution of the case presented in the book.  But at the same time, as they established a sense of location, they dematerialized it into a projection, and  an abstraction.  They became  thus metaphors of the detective novel as an intellectual construct. Imaginary, simplified spaces, stages for schematic problems, disconnected from referential realities.  This view was further corroborated by Chandler’s dichotomy, distinguishing between  the realistic, gritty, hard-boiled genre, which he and Hammett represented, and the delicate, but ultimately insubstantial, de-realized Mystery genre incarnated by Christie, Carr, Sayers and co.   Associated  with  golden age detective fiction,  maps would then paradoxically seem, from this point of view too,  to indicate less referential substance, rather than more. Continue reading