Series

Noir in Catalan : La Cua de Palla Series

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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

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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.

French Authors in the Serie Negra Policial-Misterio

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The paperback Series  Colección Serie Negra Policial-Misterio (Black Series,  Police Mystery) was published in Barcelona by a consortium of publishers (Barral, Tusquets, Península & Laia) between 1972 and 1976. It consisted of 60 classics of crime fiction, from, among others Poe, McCoy, Chandler, and Ruth Rendell. While American crime fiction is very well represented, and English writers a little less so, it is interesting to note that French authors actually form majority in the series. They range from Balzac, to Gaboriau, to Manchette (La Lunática en el Castillo), Klotz, Kassak and Raf Vallet.

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Kââ: An Art of the Title

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Of all the authors in the later period of the famous Fleuve Noir Spécial Police Series, Kââ (Pascal Marignac, 1945-2002) is one of the most interesting. His noir novels are amongst the most literary and sophisticated published in this series. The books are no less brilliant than their titles suggest:

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Silhouettes de morts sous la lune blanche, Fleuve noir, Spécial Police no 1862, 1984 Continue reading

Rae Foley’s Hiram Potter and Chase’s Miss Blandish.

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American author Rae Foley’s (Elinore Denniston, 1900-1978) postwar series featuring the detective Hiram Potter was often described as an American counterpart to L. Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey. In a period when European authors were writing books imitating the American hardboiled genre, Rae Foley was writing, in America, books imitating British Golden Age mysteries. She can thus be seen as a symmetrical counterpart to Peter Cheyney, or James Hadley Chase. Together, Foley, Chase, and Cheyney show both sides of the postwar transatlantic exchange which helped to shape crime fiction. Foley’s success recalls that the exchanges worked both ways. Even at the heights of the noir era, British style mystery books continued to be in demand. And the circulation of Foley’s books in continental Europe blurred boundaries further, highlighting their openness to multiple cultural appropriations. Continue reading

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