Noir

Irish Stew: a heady (French) recipe

A review by Daniel Magennis, PhD Student at Queen’s University Belfast.


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Chers lecteurs … Prenez garde : vous avez bu le seul poison qu’il est impossible de recracher. Les images et les idées que j’ai semées dans vos têtes feront leur chemin, à votre insu. Elles vous investissent sournoisement. Vous ne leur échapperez pas. Vous êtes infectés. [p. 235]

Dear readers … Take care; you have drunk the only poison that is impossible to spit out. The images and ideas I have sown in your minds will burrow deep, treacherously and without you knowing. You will not escape them. You are infected.

Although less well known to international readers than his old friend and occasional co-author Jean-Patrick Manchette (the brooding Godfather of French Néo Noir), the writer, screenwriter and film director Jean-Pierre Bastid has created many remarkable works , in his long, prolific and multimedia career.  His 1999 novel Irish Stew, published by Méréal, is a fascinating French take on the Irish Troubles thriller. Bastid’s serial-killer noir novel, set in 1970s Northern Ireland, does more than simply take the reader through the horrific deeds of the protagonist Tomas Shepherd, a cunning and sadistic killer who masquerades as a seemingly unremarkable accountant at a factory. In retelling Shepherd’s (known to the police as Gugusse – the Joker) terrorising of the small, fictitious town of Providence, the skilfully crafted narrative schools the reader in the art of the obscene as it propels them through a seemingly inevitable succession of scenes of torture and murder. But Bastid does this in such a way that they become aware that their participation, simply through the act of reading, makes them complicit as the basest of voyeurs.

This complicity is perhaps unavoidable given that the novel’s structure results in its conclusion being revealed at the beginning – curiosity cannot be invoked as a motive to excuse the reader-accomplice. The above quotation reveals the protagonist’s revelling at his easy debasement of the reader. The bulk of the novel is a manuscript penned by Shepherd. But this is preceded by a note from the editor, as well as a forward from Superintendent O’Hara, the novel’s all too peripheral RUC inspector, who reveals salient facts of the case.

The political and civil strife of the Troubles in Northern  Ireland serves as a smoke screen which allows Shepherd to operate with impunity. Although he claims he is from a Catholic background, Shepherd does not discriminate along religious lines when it comes to choosing victims.

Shepherd derives distinct pleasure from the infectious nature of violence, the fact that man, woman and even child are only a small degradation away from becoming the sort of monster they might ordinarily detest and fear. This is one of the lasting messages of the novel. In a country such as Northern Ireland in the 70s, the veneer of civilisation is a thin one indeed.

Ô Irlande ! il faut que tu sache que mon œuvre est un rond dans l’eau qui va, toujours s’élargissant, jusqu’à se perdre enfin dans le néant. A toi de comprendre ce qu’il y a au centre de ce tourbillon quelle vérité, et quelle chimère. [p. 219]

Oh Ireland! Know that what I do is a ripple, ever-widening until it loses itself in nothingness. It is up to you to decide what at the centre of this whirlpool is true, and what is false.

Shepherd wraps his appalling crimes in a cloak of artistry and ceremony. The book’s sections open with an ominous quotation from the traditional Catholic, Latin Tridentine Mass, each heralding the coming of a new victim. Shepherd’s creativity and cruelty, which increase with each murder, cannot hide the fact that his crimes are brute acts of power – he himself does not even buy into the mystique and esoterism of his acts. He is a classic example of a sociopathic and untrustworthy, if not compelling, narrator.

Published as part of the series ‘Black Process’, with evocative yellow and black covers, Irish Stew is currently available only in its original French. It is nevertheless a fascinating, if gruesome, addition to a corpus of French crime fiction dealing with the conflict in Northern Ireland. The health warning of sorts given by the book’s blurb (“L’avertissement est éminent, ce livre n’est pas à mettre entre toutes les mains” [“The warning is plain, this book is not to be put into every hand”], looks for a change to be well deserved – this is not a book for the faint-hearted.

Noir writer in the Shadows: Carroll John Daly

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The Man in the Shadows, Grosset & Dunlap, 1928 (1930s reprint)

Carroll John Daly is the inventor of noir, having written a series of hardboiled stories even before Dashiell Hammett. He created the first  Black Mask P.I, Race Williams, before Hammett’s Continental Op (both character debuted in 1923). He was the most popular pulp magazine author and it was said that the sole mention of his name on their covers meant a 15% increase in sales. After the war, Mickey Spillane, whose success with Mike Hammer far surpassed Daly’s, would acknowledge his debt to him; Daly’s was “the first and only style of writing” that influenced him in any way. Despite all this, Daly is now largely forgotten. His books were rarely translated, and are no longer read. Yet, his output was not contained to writing stories for pulp magazines, with 11 hardback crime novels published between 1926 and 1937. Continue reading

Representations of Rurality in Crime Fiction and Media Culture

 

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Whit Harrison (Harry Whittington), “Swamp Kill”, Phantom Books 508, 1952

“Setting the Scene”: Representations of Rurality in Crime Fiction and Media Culture, ICRH, Queen’s University, Belfast 15-16 June 2015
Keynotes :

Professor Benoit Tadié (University of Rennes) “Desperadoes and Backwoods Teasers: the Resilience of Rural Noir in Postwar America

Professor Paul Cloke (University of Exeter)  “Imaginative Geographies and the Production of Rural Space”

Professor Rob Kitchin (NUIM), ‘Place, Landscape and Rurality in Crime Fiction’

Invited Authors:

Brian McGilloway & Anthony Quinn, interviewed by Andrew Pepper : ‘Rurality and rural landscapes in Irish Crime Fiction’,  Monday 15th, 6: 30, No Alibis Bookstore, on Botanic Avenue
The full programme for our conference is now live, and can be accessed at:

 http://www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/InstituteforCollaborativeResearchintheHumanities/Filestore/Filetoupload,508569,en.pdf

ICRH Sts

2500 Years of Noir

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Oedipe roi, adapted by Didier Lamaison, Série noire, 2355,  Gallimard, 2004
 

The Classical Tragedy is the matrix of the noir novel. Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex is the mother (!) of all tragedies. Gallimard’s Série Noire is the most iconic of the series devoted to the noir genre. It thus seemed almost unavoidable that the Série Noire would publish a novelisation of Œdipe roi as a roman noir.  Not only is it the story of an investigation centred on a crime, and on an enigma, but the tragic plot of the devastating fall of a flawed hero, at the hands of both a malevolent fate and his blind ambition, has profound echoes in the noir genre. From his arrival in a city plagued by fear and division (like in Hammett’s “Poisonville”) to his social elevation, followed by the discovery that he is himself the culprit, to the intertwined dimensions of the collective (public unrest, civic duties, public office) and the private (anxieties, name, secret, genealogy, sex) such echoes abound. In all these situations (and to say nothing in particular about the role of transgression, violence, horror and mutilation) tragedy is revealed as a classic form of noir, just as noir appears as a modern expression of tragedy.

What might, however, sound  slightly more surprising is that this novelisation, “adapted from the myth” has become, 25 centuries after the original creation, one of the best-sellers in the Série Noire. It has had various re-editions. One of them was published together with a new traduction of the original tragedy. Continue reading

Harvesting Snakes

                                Snake

Knight, A Snake within my Circle, XLIBRIS,  2014

The construction of  a bibliography based on a database always requires  a methodological reflection on the scope, parameters, terms categories and definition used. It is an incentive not only to compare various sources from which open access metadata can be harvested, but, to probe, too, their competing  objectives and rationale. By cross referencing multiple resources, a better insight into  taxonomies can emerge. The problematic inscription of works into genres becomes apparent.

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This understanding of the construction of the research object  and of the limitations of the tools available is the precondition to any  meaningful use of a database. For example, just compare the following results (harvested, using Zotero from a bookseller online catalog) to the elements of a database generated on the basis of (French) of two types of public records from a specialized library .

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Harry Crews, A Feast of Snakes (1976) Fench Edition, Paperback, 1998

Continue reading

Serpents and Snakes in Crime Fiction : a view from the Database

Prostate cancer deaths fall by a fifth in 20 years

The Database being developed as part of the AHRC funded project Visualising Crime Fiction and in collaboration with the BILIPO will allow to compile comprehensive bibliographies on Crime Fiction. It should enable researchers to find quickly a wealth of reference to primary texts ( mainly international crime novels) dealing with any subject.   For example, snakes. Given the noir genre  historical links with puritanism, its fascination with evil and its continued affinity with a range of  motives and archetypes from the Bible religions,  it is not surprising that an infestation of snakes should be crawling and proliferating in the pages of many novels pertaining to the genre.But how to find them ? And how can one constitute a reliable and representative corpus of international Crime novels representing snakes ? Here is a list  of novels belonging to crime fiction or any of its subgenres and featuring snakes,   playing with their connotations, or using  them as metaphor and  signifier : (for example, there are no snakes in DOA’s Le Serpent aux milles coupures, which refers to the name of an infamous Chinese torture, but there is one on the book’s cover)

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Continue reading