Series

From feuilletons to romans policiers and to TV series

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[1]. 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[2].

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”[3], 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[4]) 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[5]).

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[6]. 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.

I 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.

Bibliography

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.


[1] 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 ».

[2] See Pellini in Vanoncini André, « Balzac et la ténébreuse naissance du roman policier », Romanische Studien, 3 (2016): 260-273.

[3] 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

[4] 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.

[5] See Stéphane Benassi, Séries et feuilletons T.V. : pour une typologie des fictions télévisuelles, Liège: CÉFAL, 2001, p. 104 and p. 107-108.

[6] 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

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Andrea Camilleri, 1925-2019

commissario-montalbano

 

Andrea Camilleri has died today, in Rome, aged 93.  True internationalist and international crime fiction icon, world-famous for his charismatic detective, Sicilian Commissario  Salvo Montalbano,  but also known for his outspoken political consciousness, Camilleri is one of the most influential authors of crime fiction in Europe. Acknowledging inspirations such as Simenon, Sciascia and, of course, Montalbán, and with his own novels widely translated and adapted across the continent and beyond, he has come to represent the quintessential European Author. Here are a few obituaries from different European countries paying  homage to his international legacy,  selected from the great many published this morning all over the world.

https://www.repubblica.it/robinson/2019/07/16/news/andrea_camilleri_morto-231343655/?ref=RHPPTP-BH-I231368817-C12-P1-S1.12-T1

https://elpais.com/cultura/2019/07/17/actualidad/1563347589_267750.html

https://www.lemonde.fr/disparitions/article/2019/07/17/l-ecrivain-andrea-camilleri-pere-du-polar-italien-est-mort_5490273_3382.html

https://www.dn.pt/cultura/interior/morreu-o-escritor-italiano-andrea-camilleri-11120233.html

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jul/17/andrea-camilleri-obituary-inspector-montalbano

https://www.spiegel.de/kultur/literatur/andrea-camilleri-italienischer-schriftsteller-stirbt-mit-93-jahren-a-1277687.html

https://stirescu.ro/actualitate/a-murit-scriitoruil-italian-andrea-camilleri-9907.html

 

Belfast-Munich-Dublin: An Interview with Ellen Dunne

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Interview with Ellen Dunne

Ellen Dunne. Wie Du PNG

 

 

[Dominique Jeannerod] What made you decide to set your first novel (Wie Du mir, 2011) in Belfast ?

[Ellen Dunne] I became interested in the Northern Irish Conflict aged 17, when I watched the movie “In the Name of the Father” by Jim Sheridan, in early 1994. The story of the Guildford Four upset me so much, I wanted to understand the real background. So I endlessly read articles and books and watched TV documentaries. I always have been writing, and after a while, a story formed in my head, and intuitively I chose Belfast as location.

How would you introduce your protagonist, Patsy Logan? Why does she work in Munich ?

Patsy Logan is Irish-German, lives in Munich but has an Irish father with whom she spent many summers in Dublin. Her stories are set in Munich and also in Dublin. Why? I have been living in Dublin for 13 years and lived in Munich for a year, and to me, the two cities have almost nothing in common, apart their size. Munich is a very affluent, balanced, well-groomed and orderly city, with often grumpy inhabitants. To me, Dublin is much rougher, with a lot more social differences (and thus problems) and a somewhat chaotic setup. A contrast that mirrors Patsys inner conflict and intrigued me.

How would you describe the genre of Crime Fiction to which your novels belong? And do you see an evolution between the first and the most recent ones?

 I always was more interested in characters and their motifs than in plot twists. I guess it is fair to say that my stories are mixtures between crime and contemporary literature.

 

Who are the top ten main International Crime Fiction writers in your personal Pantheon?

I read mainly British/Irish as well as German speaking crime writers, so here goes, without a particular ranking: English speaking: Tana French, Adrian McKinty, Kate Atkinson, Stuart Neville, Dennis Lehane, Eoin McNamee German speaking: Simone Buchholz, Friedrich Ani, Oliver Bottini, Jan Costin Wagner            

How did you discover Irish Crime Fiction?

Initially, through my interest in the Northern Irish conflict.  

Who are the Irish Crime authors who might have influenced you?

I hope I developed my own voice by now, but I guess it’s hard to not be influenced by writers you enjoy. For example, I adore Adrian McKinty’s Sean Duffy series and also Tana French’s novels, but also like Stuart Neville’s thrillers. Also enjoyed Eoin McNamees Resurrection Man and The Ultras a lot. As I do read a lot of non-crime fiction, it is a short (but growing) list, sorry.

Had you heard of them before settling in Dublin?

 Eoin McNamee, yes – all the rest I only found out about while living here.

 Have you contacts with other writers of Irish Crime Fiction?

Much less than I would want to; mainly due to the fact that I write in German.

What is Irish Crime Fiction all about, according to you? And Northern Irish Noir, as you arguably write both?

 I haven’t read enough of Irish Crime fiction to comprehensively comment on this. Coming from abroad, to me there is this two-faced quality to Ireland, with so many friendly and easy-going people, which makes its social problems and organised crime underbelly all the more jarring – and a good source for stories. There a lots of stories about the crisis and its fallout still. And for Northern Ireland especially the conflict, which writers only in recent years start to really explore. I am excited to see that it gets more attention internationally, too.

Could you tell us a bit about Eire Verlag? Is there a market for Irish Crime Fiction abroad?

Eire Verlag is a very small German press; the publisher has a personal interest in Ireland and we got in touch over private connections.
In general, there is definitely a market for Irish Crime fiction in the German speaking market. Many writers are translated into German, there is a big interest in Ireland as a country.

Do you go to Crime Festivals and meet many authors?

I do attend literary and crime writing festivals regularly. It is a great way to get in touch with authors and network. It is important to network among writers, it’s a lonely job.

Did you write Cigarette Break – A Short Belfast Story directly in English?

There was a German version first, so the English version was between a rewrite and a translation. I did it all myself, with an Irish proofreader to check.

What made you decide to set this story in Belfast (again)? And did you feel the need for a prequel to your first novel?

As it is not a real prequel but a short story that gives background to my first novel, Belfast had to be the logical location. I wrote the story as part of a World Book Day promotion.

To what extent was the timeline important? Will there be other Belfast or Troubles novels?

 There is nothing planned yet, but who knows? I have never stopped being interested in the topic, and the recent tragic events around Lyra McKee’s murder show that the Troubles still effect the whole island.

How much reading/documentation does it take you to write novels set during the Troubles?

 I’d say a lot, it is a complex set-up. It’s hard to tell for me though, as I first got interested in the topic and the story developed naturally out of it. So I guess I did much more “research” than necessary.

 Who are you readers? Where do you meet them? Do you interact with them online? Do they comment on your stories?

My readers are usually people that read a lot and are ready for “something different”; often not the typical crime readers. I meet them often online in book groups or at book fairs, or they write to me after reading the book and tell me how they liked it. Mostly these interactions are great, I enjoy them.

What are the languages in which your books are translated?

I have one of them translated in English, “The Lost Son”

lost son 37635327

 

What are the four Crime Fiction novels you recommend to your friends?

Available in English:

The Sean Duffy series by Adrian McKinty
The Dublin Murder Squad series by Tana French
The Chastity Riley series by Simone Buchholz
Light in a dark house by Jan Costin Wagner

 

Is there any question you would have liked me to ask? Sorry for not mentioning it…. Please do now…

This was a very comprehensive interview, it was fun. Thank you!

 

Thank you, and looking forward to your next book! To be followed

Book Cover Design and the Legitimation of Crime Fiction in Czechoslovakia (1960- 1980) – The Smaragd Series

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by Marcela Poucova, University of Brno

 

After the 1948 coup which brought the Communist Party to power in Czechoslovakia, the cultural climate changed considerably. Before then, there had been a number of publishing houses whose production covered various literary fields. With the dictatorship of the proletariat, the Soviet cultural model came to the fore. Socialist Realism was the order of the day, together with its vision of culture as a means of educating the masses. Private publishers gave way to several state-run ones led by the most devoted party members. Not only some authors, but even certain genres became undesirable.

Both high-brow literature of the highest quality (unless of Soviet provenience) as well as paraliterary genres fell out of favour. Works from the other side of the Iron Curtain without any strong leftist tendencies were deemed to be propaganda. Popular fiction, namely the ‘lower’ genres such as westerns, romances, and crime or spy novels were considered unworthy of the new builders of Communism. Of these, it was only crime and spy literature which managed to ‘turn coat’ and find its place under the new regime, albeit by adapting to the new political order by capitulating to its demands. As a result, from the 1950s, the vast majority of spy novels depicted the uncovering of clandestine activities of imperialistic countries whose ‘prime interest’ was to destroy the new  (Communist) democracies. Similarly, crime novels portrayed individual criminal activities of people who could not identify with the revolutionary ideals of the new society.

In the 1960s, the political scene began to change and editorial policies were relaxed. Culturally, this decade was the most interesting part of the era. As for domestic crime novel production – talented authors emerged for whom the genre brought an interesting challenge and a novel way to describe the reality of society. At the same time, the number of translated novels also increased. Naturally, in the spy genre these were by authors from the Soviet bloc. However, the crime and detective genre started to open up to more global influences. The reasons for this were clear. The public was hungry for a relaxing read that was not burdened with ideological content and, economically, this genre was profitable. Nevertheless, in a socialist state, when it came to ideology, profitability was pushed aside. Publishing houses with devoted party members at the helm created a number of measures designed to select the ‘right’ authors, novels and genres: Continue reading

The”unknown author” who sold 200 Million Books

Souris défunte

 

An encouraging article by Dalya Alberge in The Observer marks the first publication in English of one of the “Novels of the night” (romans de la nuit) by Frédéric Dard. The much anticipated Bird in a Cage, (Le Monte Charge), translated by David Bellos, is out this month, published by Pushkin Vertigo. Continue reading

Blood and Sex: Violence and sexuality in Greek crime fiction series of the 1970s.

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By Nikos Filippaios (PhD candidate, University of Ioannina, Greece)

Since its beginning, crime fiction in Greece has usually been distributed by publishers in multi-volume series. The first series of crime fiction translated into Greek were published from the 1910s to the 1930s, initially outside of Greece, in the Ottoman capital of Istanbul, where many Greek-speaking people lived, and some years later in Athens (Kassis, 165). Before long however, it centred exclusively around publishers, translators and writers based in Athens. In addition to series of novels and short stories, many magazines appeared dedicated exclusively to crime fiction and the successful family magazines of the era often featured detective stories. Following the difficult decade of the 1940s, in which Greece was wracked by the Second World War and a civil war, the crime, and popular fiction publishing industry in Greece in general, prospered. After the mid-1950s however, something of a “golden era” for popular literature in Greece, a slow decline began, culminating in a defeat by the cinema, TV and, finally, digital media (Filippaios 2015, 5-19).

Cover of Greek edition of 'Berlin, Check-point Charlie' by Gerard De Villiers. It was published in 1975 as volume 533 of the “Viper” series by Papyros. Translation was by Tasso Kavvadia, an actress, radio producer and translator. She was an important figure during this time in Greece.

Cover of Greek edition of ‘Berlin, Check-point Charlie’ by Gérard De Villiers. It was published in 1975 as volume 533 of the “Viper” series by Papyros. Translation was by Tasso Kavvadia, an actress, radio producer and translator. She was an important figure during this time in Greece.

A compelling phenomenon visible in the evolution of Greek crime fiction of this time is an increasing shift towards violence and sexuality, a trend which began during the early 1970s and lasted at least until the end of the decade. This shift became evident between 1968 and 1972, with the appearance of three new series. The most important of these was the “VIPER Series of crime fiction novel by Papyros (English: “papyrus”) Publications, a publishing house established in 1936 in Athens, which expanded into the crime fiction genre in 1968. This series was so successful that, not only did it continue publishing until the early 1990s, but some volumes can still be found in kiosks and bookshops around Greece today (Koskinas, 21/01/2014). “VIPER” initially followed the trend of other famous crime fiction series, including mainly classic writers such as Agatha Christie and James Chase. But from 1975 onwards, its publisher turned chiefly to Gérard De Villiers’ SAS novels. After Ian Fleming’s James Bond, SAS’s Malko Linge was the next most famous literary spy who fascinated Greek readers with his violent and erotic adventures.

The Greek edition of SAS à l'ouest de Jérusalem by Gérard De Villiers. Also translated by Tasso Kavvadia, it was published in 1976 as volume 610 of the “Viper” series. Its weathered cover shows the connection between popular literature and the everyday life of its readers.

The Greek edition of ‘SAS à l’ouest de Jérusalem’ by Gérard De Villiers. Also translated by Tasso Kavvadia, it was published in 1976 as volume 610 of the “Viper” series.
Its weathered cover shows the connection between popular literature and the everyday life of its readers.

In fact, Papyrus Publications’ interest in a more hard-core subgenre of crime fiction, such as the spy novel, probably influenced two other, smaller series. Although both featured fewer volumes and were distributed by smaller publishing houses, they followed the trend of “blood and sex” from inception. The first of these was “Fascinating Pocket Books” and was published by Panthir (English: ‘panther’) Publications. Probably active between 1970 and 1973, Panthir Publications was created and curated by Dimitris Chanos, a writer and publisher who began his career in the iconic crime fiction pulp magazine Mask (Chanos, 221-240). From its very first volumes, Panthir adopted a very specific approach: (a) focusing on “hard-boiled” crime fiction writers, mainly Mickey Spillane, and (b) replacing older cover illustrations, usually with photo collages of scantily clad women, an aesthetic which borrows elements from soft-core pornography. Along the same vein, “Modern Pocket Books”, one of the first attempts from Kampanas Publications and also circulating during early 70s, adopted a similar approach to its covers, but with slightly more conservative images. The main writer featuring in “Modern Pocket Books” was Anthony Morton, a pen name of John Greasy. Particularly popular were his spy novels featuring “the Baron”.

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First of 2076 : inaugurating the Special Police Series

Jean Bruce

150849

With thanks to Didier Poiret

This novel by Jean Bruce is the first book published in the famous “Spécial Police” series by Fleuve Noir. It was published in Paris in August 1949 some four years after the launch of the Série Noire by Gallimard, of which it would be a strong competitor, albeit with a different model (publishing French authors rather than Americans in French translations) and targeting a much broader readership. While the Série Noire celebrates its 70th birthday this year, Spécial Police was discontinued in 1987. By then, it had published 2076 novels, from 155 authors. The illustrator of the cover reproduced above was artist Michel Gourdon, who would illustrate some 3000 covers in the series (including re-editions). Gourdon, as the illustrator of all the original covers from the first  (above)  to No 1402, gave the Series its distinctive flair and largely contributed to its success.