By Daniel Magennis, M.A. Candidate, Queen’s University, Belfast
Thrillers which take Troubles-era Ireland as their subject matter form a distinct genre in their own right. The Troubles Thriller, or Troubles Trash, as it is sometimes known, has become the primary form of literary representation of Northern Ireland and its benighted capital Belfast (which has itself been described as “the noirest city on earth”). While the novels might be didactically unremarkable and have done little to challenge the tabloid representations on offer, some met with considerable commercial success both within and outside of the English-speaking world.
Eric Ambler, Journey into Fear, Pocket Book, 193, New York (1943).
Journey into Fear was first published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1940. It was later published in paperback by Pocket Book, in New York, in 1943
Original Edition, Hodder & Stoughton, 1940.
Nothing ever is permanent, and neither are books of crime fiction. Of course. One could argue that their obsolescence and expiration are programmed from the moment they are published. Or even, in many cases, written. One thing is to understand notionally that the lifespan of books of crime fiction is short. Quite another is to see containers for thrillers, in a recycling site designed for household waste. The size and amount of containers for discarded books is intriguing. Apparently, on this evidence, people are at the moment getting rid of more than twice as many books as clothes. Did they have twice as many in the first place? Are these books being replaced by other books on vacated shelves?
Our AHRC project Visualising European Crime Fiction, with its historical dimension, might have a wider societal significance than we measure. Maybe one could read in it, as a cultural subtext, an anxiety to recover physical traces of old popular books and series, before they are wiped off our horizons.
(With thanks to François Rivière)
The “Troubles Thriller” is an international genre. Albeit peripheral, and taking place in a small country, the conflict in Northern Ireland has generated a flurry of crime novels set there during the Troubles. In addition to the several hundreds Crime and spy novels written in Britain and in America on the ” Troubles” in Northern Ireland, there have been a number of novels written on this subject by European Crime authors and published in their own countries. These works have very rarely been translated into English (nor, as a rule in many other languages), as they primarily targeted their own domestic market, and sought to offer there a similar fare to the Tom Clancy, Jack Higgins and others who dominated the genre. They might be derivative, but this in itself does not make them redundant. Their take on the conflict is often highly idiosyncratic. They are controversial, but they were read by hundred thousands, if not by millions of readers. The political views they display and the representations of Ireland which they carry are of interest, making the books precious sources for a cultural history of European responses to the situation in Ireland. Continue reading