The beauty of International Crime Fiction Cover Art


Cornell Woolrich, The black path of fear,  The Crime Club, Doubleday, Doran, 1944

The Big data approach and instruments,  which inform this blog, do not only allow to study globally a population of  popular writers  who, in an international effort and over many decades invented Crime fiction.  It  also helps to envision the books they produced in a material way, in their condition as objects, commodities and fetishes. The  juxtaposition of hundreds of book covers from different countries reveals their semiotics,    with their recurring motifs and their serial patterns.   Books covers can thus be read  as sites where developments in international cultural industries, the specialisation of narrative genres, the publishers’ distinctive strategies and the evolution of popular representations and tastes all  intersect.  The  available metadata linked with each cover also recalls  that Crime Fiction series fostered some of  the past  century’s greatest artists.  This post  displays  a very short selection of some Crime Fiction cover art, as milestones in a cultural history of the international imagination of crime, and its visualisation.

Poe rua-morgue

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Maps of Contempt


(Click to enlarge)

Edgar Allan Poe (1 occurrence)

Le Monde ‘s Data Visualisation team (Luc Bronner & Maxime Vaudano)  have produced a fascinating and revealing interactive map of French Schools names ( http://www.lemonde.fr/les-decodeurs/article/2015/04/18/l-ecole-francaise-prefere-saint-exupery-a-voltaire_4617519_4355770.htm)
Based on publicly accessible data and the names of 67105 French Schools (public and private, and at all levels) it shows, without surprise, that many of these schools (some of them 200 years old) chose the name of a writer. But there are great disparities between writers, and the data tells about the omission of Crime fiction authors. It indicates an apparent stigma attached to this specific type of authorship, as Crime authors fare considerably less well than other, even much lesser known authors.  Edgar Poe, admitttedly not a French author is named only once. Gaboriau, the author of the first crime novel, zero.  Victor Hugo, by contrast (who invented with his inspector Javert a very memorable policeman, but  definitely not considered a crime author) had his name chosen by 365 schools.    It is more than surprising that some of the most read, most popular and internationally famous French authors (such as Gaston Leroux, the author of the Phantom of the Opera) don’t seem to have been deemed worthy of such distinction. When will a French school be named after  him, one of France’s more gifted writers? Or after Eugène Sue, or Frédéric Dard ?

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aNGOISSE             logresse1

The “Angoisse” Series comprised 261 novels,  published by Fleuve Noir between 1954 and 1974.  Much in the same ways as Gallimard’s Série Blême offered a different blend of noir and suspense from that of its more successful sister, the Série Noire, Angoisse is a series devoted to Stories of Dread, and Psychological Suspense.  The heritage of Edgar Poe is manifest. Albeit putting greater emphasis on terror and fantasy literature, this series is in many respect a companion to the great Special Police series by the same publisher. Books in the Special Police Series carried advertisements  like the above for the “Angoisse” series.   “Angoisse” was the place were classics such as   J. Redon’s Les Yeux sans visage (Eyes Without a Face“, “Angoisse” number 59, later a famous film by Franju) were first published. Many distinguished authors published in Angoisse : Marc AgapitMaurice Limat, Kurt Steiner, B.R. Bruss,  and  André Caroff.



Non verbis, sed rebus : a Farewell to Honoré


Philippe Honoré was killed yesterday in Paris. He was one of the victims of  the attack on Charlie Hebdo, the bloodiest terrorist attack in the French capital since 1835’s “machine infernale” on the Boulevard du Temple. He was loved by French Fans of Crime Fiction, who found his drawings in Charlie Hedbo, and in publications such as Le Magazine littéraire,  Le Monde and Les Inrockuptibles. In the monthly mainstream literary magazine Lire, he published his famous Rebus, the  “Rébus d’Honoré”. They mainly consisted in pictograms representing names of authors, title of literary works, or famous quotes in rebus form. The following (see below) is for example Honoré’s representation of the American inventor of Crime Fiction. Continue reading