The Gravedigger’s Bread, a review.

A book review by Jonas Rohe, Queen’s University Belfast

gravediggers bread

Fredéric Dard – The Gravediggers’s Bread (translated by Melanie Florence), Pushkin Vertigo, 28/06/2018. Original title Le pain des fossoyeurs, 1956.

Then I went and sold the butcher a stupendous coffin lined with silk, which would have made someone who loved comfort positively want to die! (P. 145)

Blaise Delange is down on his luck. Without a job or money, he finds himself in a small town in the French countryside far from his home in Paris. The only thing keeping him from leaving this miserable nest is a mysterious blonde woman, whose bulging purse he finds on the ground. Fascinated by this unknown beauty, he discovers that she is in fact the local undertaker’s wife, and proceeds to return her lost possessions. Impressed by his apparent honesty, the undertaker offers him a job as his assistant. Even though Delange has neither the interest for nor any experience in the gravedigger’s trade, his desperate financial situation and growing interest in the undertaker’s young wife mean he accepts.

What follows is a story of jealousy and passion, with a deadly sting at the end. Delange, whose surname is a misnomer and evokes a genealogy of titles and characters in Dard’s bibliography, establishes himself as a ruthless and pragmatic coffin salesman and wins the trust of his employer. But in secret he longs to be alone with the beautiful Germaine and starts to wonder if his trusting adversary must live forever…

Typical for Dard’s narrative style, the story unfolds slowly with a rounded establishing of the characters and the compelling setting in the French provincial town. As the narrative progresses, however, the novel picks up pace and thrills with a variety of plot twists and unsuspected turns in the story, that make up for the familiar formula of a tale, which, as Dominique Jeannerod noted in his Foreword to the Omnibus edition of Dard’s Novels of The Night (2014), is strongly reminiscent of James Cain’s The Postman always rings twice (1934).

Indeed, Dard’s novel is not a classic whodunit, but rather a noirish study of the psychology of the criminal and his efforts to escape justice in the tradition of Cain, but also of the likes of A.P Herbert´s House by the River (1920) or Anthony Berkleey’s The Second Shot (1930). Like Herbert or Berkeley, Dard offers a thrilling view into a criminal mind; one that cares little about others, and seems to lack even a shred of a conscience. In some cases, ranging from the cultured and sympathetic Tom Ripley (1955) from Patricia Highsmith’s series, to Walter White’s compelling downward spiral in Breaking Bad (2008) the perspective of the criminal can be presented so well that we as readers find it easy to identify with even the most horrible of criminals. In The Gravediggers’s Bread though, easy identification is not so forthcoming. Blaise Delange as the autodiegetic narrator establishes himself as a thoroughly unlikeable character, whose evident misogyny and social Darwinism make it hard for the modern reader to identify with his struggles to escape the consequences of his crimes.

But as a saving grace, Dard´s novel is still compelling if you don’t root for the protagonist, but rather hope that he finds his well-deserved downfall. If not for his crimes, then for his unbearable personality. If you can see through this flaw The Gravediggers’s Bread is a quick and enjoyable read for fans of the classic crime genre, with an interesting setting, a familiar but exciting theme and several well-placed plot twists.


The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books



Martin Edwards –The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, The British Library, 2017


A book review by Jonas Rohe, Queen’s University of Belfast



Martin Edwards’ The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books (2017) offers a literary history of crime fiction of the first half of the 20th century, focusing mainly on the British tradition. The hardcover book is beautifully edited with an artfully designed cover and includes several high gloss pictures of different classic crime fiction book covers. Edwards, as a successful crime fiction author himself, has selected a wide variety of stories that cover the “Golden Age of Crime” of the thirties to the post-World War II crime fiction period.

The diversity of the crime genre is well represented in Edwards’ anthology. His carefully balanced selection points out the genre defining works such as Agatha Christie’s The Murder at the Vicarage (1939), but also many lesser known stories which offer an interesting change in narrative perspective or move away from the classic detective formula. For readers who are interested in classical crime fiction, the book offers new perspectives on well-known narratives as well as trivia about the behind-the-scenes lives of writers of the genre. Edwards’ work is a great way for both novices and experts of the genre to discover new stories from this period. This anthology of whodunit remains spoiler free, and Edwards keep the surprises of all the plots he succinctly presents intact for future readers. Edwards’ book is not only a great source for rediscovering classic but often almost forgotten detective stories. It also provides the reader with an illustrated history of the classic age of crime fiction as a genre.  A selection of notable works, mainly British, starting with Doyle’s The Hound of Baskervilles (1902) and ending with The 31st of February (1950) by crime fiction writer and journalist Julian Symons, shows the different aspects of this classical period, inscribing it firmly within the first half of the 20th Century and anchoring it in a distinctively British cultural landscape. The book is structured in 24 chapters which follow roughly the chronological order of the works published. The first few chapters contextualize crime fiction writing in the early 20th century,  the golden age and the early 1950’s. The majority of the later chapters follow the various approaches and tropes of classic, crime fiction, tracing the evolution of the genre, separating fiction from fact, exploring cosmopolitan crimes or the psychology of crime fiction. With his structure Edwards follows the different shifts in style in crime fiction writing through the century and provides a good overview of the genre. Each chapter starts with a general overview of the topic, before going into detail on the individual texts.

As an example, in Chapter One “A New Era Dawns”, Edward describes how after Sherlock Holmes’ alleged death on the Reichenbachfall in 1893, crime fiction authors were struggling to fill the vacuum and began to experiment with a variety of new types of detective characters. In this period some of the better-known female detectives were created, like Baroness Orczy’s Lady Molly of Scotland Yard (1910), the unlikely chief investigator, who only pursues her detective career to free her husband from Dartmore prison. However, not only did the characters change, but also the genre’s typical medium. Short stories, which were highly popular due to Doyle’s success, were gradually replaced by the detective novel that would become the predominant text form of the 20th century. The full length of a novel presented crime writers with the challenge to maintain the suspense and an air of mystery throughout the text and prompted them to emphasize more on long-term character development and a more complex plot.

In the more trope-oriented later chapters Edwards goes through a variety of topics and styles of crime fiction writing, for example, the psychological aspect of crime. With the rising public interest in psychoanalysis in 1920s, focusing on the behavior and psychology of the criminal became a popular trope within crime fiction writing. Certainly one of the first novels with a focus on the mind of the murderer appeared already, almost simultaneously with the first crime novel, Gaboriau’s  L’Affaire Lerouge,  in Fjodor Dostojewski Crime and Punishment (1866).  There, the reader empathizes with the murderer Raskolnikov and his attempts to cover up his crime and escape justice. But Edwards shows that this kind of crime fiction, which focuses not on who did it, but rather on the depths and abysses of the human mind, found a deep resonance in the classic age,  starting with The House by the River (1920) by A.P Herbert. Thus, with reference to works ranging from Anthony Berkeley’s The Second Shot (1930), to the highly popular The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955) novels by Patricia Highsmith, Edwards describes the development and the rising success of the psychological crime story.

Overall Edwards’ The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books offers a varied and interesting selection of classic crime stories, displaying an extensive knowledge of the many individual titles presented. The expertise of the author and his passion for crime fiction writing is evident throughout the text and provides the reader with an interesting and rewarding inside view on the classic crime genre. The text is well structured, and the development of the genre can be traced throughout the book. Although in some cases it would have been interesting to know why exactly Edwards choose specific titles for the different chapters, as well as taking some more time to explain his thought process to the reader. Another small complaint is that Edwards as a crime fiction expert mainly focuses on British crime fiction and only devotes one chapter to the American branch of the genre. But to be fair the inclusion of the whole French and American tradition from 1900 onwards would most certainly require a much more extensive anthology than Edward can provide in his thoroughly enjoyable 280-page text. Save for this small criticism, The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books is a rewarding and entertaining read for anyone interested in the crime fiction genre and serves as a convenient guide for discovering unknown classic crime stories.

The book is part of the internationally acclaimed Classic Crime series of the British Library, which republishes a selection of previously hard to come by classic crime stories. Unfortunately, not all the stories discussed in Edwards’ book are part of the series, but readers who want easy access to classic crime fiction can find many popular titles there. The British Library classic series can be found here:


About the Author:

Martin Edwards is an award-winning crime writer best known for his Harry Devlin and Lake District novels. He is series consultant for British Library Crime Classics, Chair of the Crime Writers Association, and President of the Detection Club. The Golden Age of Murder, his study of the Detection Club, was published in 2015 and won several awards for the year´s best book about the crime genre. You can find our review here:

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



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:

Firstly – series were created in which both ideologically ‘suitable’ and perhaps less safe authors were published together.

Then, in order to add credibility to such novels, introductions or epilogues were included explaining how to read the text ‘correctly’, preventing the possibility of creating subversive impressions.

Lastly, the unifying of cover designs helped to wipe out differences between good and bad titles and genres, affording all titles the same level of artistic attention. The same approach was used for designing film posters. Hence the top designers and illustrators of that time created what became a symbol of Czech film production between 1960 and 1980 – film poster designs of high artistic value. These same artists also often designed covers of crime novel series.

Crime aesthetics

Film posters and crime novel covers of that period were at the highest level of artistic production, combining graphic collage and other popular techniques of the day, and using imagery typical for this genre, such as motifs evoking thrills or violence and contrasting colours.

Covers within series adhered to a prescribed look. To ensure their easy identification, artists had to work according to a unified cover layout and follow a specific graphic model. This periodically changed alongside changing tastes, but without any significant change of the original concept. The most original design concept in the sphere of crime literature were the green pages of the Smaragd (emerald) series. The green colour of the pages became symbolic of the crime genre in Czechoslovakia, and other series as well as individually published novels used green as their main genre identifier.

The Smaragd series

[A list of all titles with photographs of the book covers is on:]

Let’s take the Smaragd series as an example. The concept was created in the late 50s and the first of 133 titles was published in 1958. It was the classic novel by Robert Louis Stevenson The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Following titles were by the well-known Czech crime literature authors Edouard Fiker and Emil Vachek. These titles were seen as ideologically safe and were followed by several novels by ‘approved’ western authors. ‘Approved’ meant they were either dead or that no critical attitude towards the Communist regime could be found within their work – such as Agatha Christie or Emile Gaboriau. Also acceptable were books that contained criticism of Western society.

The cover design of the first 29 titles had a band of three colours running up the right hand edge, containing the title and author’s name. The rest of the cover was filled with an illustration, often in one or two colours, and in dark tones. The techniques used were various – linocut, etching or dry point.


Cover illustration by Václav Sivko (presentation of his graphic work:


Emil Vachek
(1889 – 1964)
Černá hvězda, 1959. A Inspektor Klubíčko Mystery, Cover illustration by Václav Sivko


John Cecil Masterman, An Oxford Tragedy (1933),  1961, Cover illustration by J. Balcara

From the publication number 30 (which was Raymond Chandler’s Lady in the Lake) published in 1965, the green colour of emerald (smaragd) made its first appearance. It was later used as the background colour and branding. The colour band was exchanged for a circle and semicircle in the top part of the cover with the title set horizontally in the circle and the author’s name vertically in the semicircle. Positioned vertically on the top left edge, the title of the series now also appeared. Realistic drawings were replaced by collages but the dark colour schemes remained.


Graham Greene, The Ministry of Fear (1943) Cover illustration by Václav Sivko


Cover illustration by  Jaroslav Fišer (presentation of his graphic work:


Cover illustration by Jaroslav Fišer

The most significant change came with title number 46 – Sébastian Japrisot’s Trap for Cinderella. With it the series design achieved its famous look, which has often been imitated. On a green background, an emerald crystal (which became the symbol of the series) was positioned in the top left corner. The rest of the top third contained the title and author’s name, most often in a combination of white and black. The remaining two thirds were filled with an illustration in a black frame. Until title number 123, only the image changed, with the rest of the cover remaining the same. In most cases the illustration was an ink-drawn graphic collage or a photomontage, but other techniques could be found too. The most fundamental change that the 1970s brought was in the colour scheme. The colours were brighter, with contrasting selections and combinations as was the contemporary aesthetic model.


Cover illustration by Jaroslav Fišer


Cover illustration by Jaroslav Fišer


Cover illustrations by Jaroslav Fišer


Cover illustration by Jaroslav Fišer


Cover illustration by Jaroslav Fišer


Crimes en trompe l’oeil
(Prix du Quai des Orfèvres 1991) Cover illustration by Václav Kučera (presentation of his graphic work:


Despite the fact that the series published 133 titles, the number of designers and illustrators working on the covers was small. The leading name of the initial period was Václav Sivko (1923-1974) who, after title number 30, was followed by Jaroslav Fišer (1919-2003). Fišer was in charge of the Smaragd series design until 1989 and at the same time was one of the most famous film poster designers in Czechoslavakia between 1960 and 1980.

The end of the Smaragd series

The last change came with the early 1990s. Due to his age Jaroslav Fišer stopped working on this series. After the fall of the Communist regime, cover design ceased to be one of the very few ways for graphic designers and artists to earn a living, and the quality of cover designs of that period bore a sad testimony to this. Under the free market system (before a system of grants for various publishing projects became available) many publishing houses faced bankruptcy and they abandoned financially demanding projects. This was the fate of the Smaragd series. Following nine titles published after 1989, the series was discontinued in 1993 and left the field open to products of the free market, which appeared to give preference to poorly translated American crime novels with little aesthetic ambitions. And so, in the 1990s, after thirty years in the spotlight of continuous care, crime literature returned to its original place, on the lower levels of Czech literary production.


Databáze knih: Smaragd. smaragd [online]. Česká republika, 2015 [cit. 2015-07-10].

Databáze knih: Jaroslav Fišer. Jaroslav Fišer [online]. Česká republika, 2015 [cit. 2015-07-10]. )

Databáze knih: Václav Kučera. Václav Kučera [online]. Česká republika, 2015 [cit. 2015-07-10].

Databáze knih: Václav Sivko. Václav Sivko [online]. Česká republika, 2015 [cit. 2015-07-10].

Filmový plakát. STEGER, Ondřej. [online]. Česká republika [cit. 2015-07-10].

Národní knihovna České republiky: Katalogy NK ČR. Národní knihovna České republiky: Katalogy a databáze [online]. Česká republika, 2012 [cit. 2015-07-10].

Obálky knih. [online]. Česká republika, 2013 [cit. 2015-07-10].

Terryho ponožky: Plakáty. [online]. Česká republika, 2008 [cit. 2015-07-10].

Crime At The Crescent

As part of Belfast Book Festival, five  Irish crime authors will  identify and discuss how crime writing reflects society, and examine how writing about traumatic events can be used to reflect and heal.


14:00 – 15:15

Brian McGilloway is the New York Times bestselling author of the critically acclaimed Inspector Benedict Devlin and DS Lucy Black series. Brian’s fifth novel, Little Girl Lost, featuring DS Lucy Black, won the University of Ulster’s McCrea Literary Award in 2011 and was a New York Times Bestseller in the US and a No.1 Bestseller in the UK. His new novel, Bad Blood, the fourth in the Lucy Black series, was published in May 2017.

Anthony J Quinn is the author of seven novels, including Disappeared (Mysterious Press, 2012, and Head of Zeus, 2014), Border Angels and Undertow (Head of Zeus November 2017). His debut novel Disappeared was a Daily Mail Crime Novel of the Year, and was shortlisted for a Strand Literary Award in the Us. It was also picked by Kirkus Reviews as one of the top ten thrillers of the year.

Claire Allan  is a former journalist and Irish Times bestselling author from Derry. She has previously written eight women’s fiction titles, published by Poolbeg Press. In 2016, she decided to make the leap to writing full time, and also to unleashing her dark side. Her Name Was Rose is her debut psychological thriller and it will be published by Avon, an imprint of Harper Collins, on June 28. It will also be published in Canada and the US. Claire spent 17 years as a reporter for the Derry Journal.

Sharon Dempsey‘s crime debut Little Bird was released July 2017 with Bloodhound Books. She has published four health books. Sharon is working on the follow up to Little Bird, and a collection of dark short stories. Her contemporary women’s fiction novel, A Posy of Promises, will be published in June.

Andrea Carter has written a series of crime novels set in Inishowen. Death at Whitewater Church was published in 2015, Treacherous Stand in 2016 and The Well of Ice in October last year.

Blood on the Table

“Blood on the Table: Essays on Food in  International Crime Fiction”, edited by Jean Anderson, Carolina Miranda and Barbara Pezzotti, is the first book to focus explicitly on the semiotics of food in crime fiction. Tackling the subject from a multicultural and interdisciplinary perspective, it includes approaches from cultural studies, food studies, media studies and crime fiction studies.  The collection offers readings, across a range of media, of twentieth- and twenty-first-century crime fiction from Australia, Cuba, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Sweden, the UK, and the US. Authors studied include Anthony Bourdain, Arthur Upfield, Sara Paretsky, Andrea Camilleri, Fred Vargas, Ruth Rendell, Stieg Larsson, Leonardo Padura, Georges Simenon, Paco Ignacio Taibo II, and Donna Leon. Television productions analyzed here include the Inspector Montalbano series (1999-ongoing), the Danish-Swedish Bron/Broen (2011[The Bridge]), and its remakes The Tunnel (2013, France/UK) and The Bridge (2013, USA).
Jean Anderson is associate professor of French at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand where she founded the New Zealand Centre for Literary Translation in 2007. She is also a literary translator, with a dozen book-length translations published. Carolina Miranda is the director of European and Latin American languages and cultures at Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand. Barbara Pezzotti teaches Italian Studies at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia and is an Honorary Research Associate of the Australasian Centre for Italian Studies (ACIS). She is the author of three monographs on Italian crime fiction

For more information:

“Murder, She Tweeted: Crime Narratives and the Digital Age”



University of Tampere, Finland, August 23-24, 2018

Keynote speakers: Andrew Pepper (Queen’s University Belfast) & Fiona Peters (Bath Spa University)

First Call for Papers

Murder tweet

The advent of new technologies and digital media have transformed society and influenced cultural narratives. The changes brought about by technological innovations, digitalisation, and globalisation have affected not only the subject matter and themes of contemporary crime narratives but also the production, distribution, and consumption of crime fiction on the global market, as well as the analytical tools, techniques, research methods, and theories available to scholars. These changes are readily visible in detectives’ digital investigations or in how criminals employ digital technology in committing cybercrimes such as online stalking or theft. Moreover, the potential of digitalisation in modifying crime narratives nowadays ranges from podcasts such as “Serial” to Sherlock Holmes fan fiction to transmedia narration in “Sherlock” and the Twitter adaptation of Agatha Christie’s The Body in the Library.

We invite proposals for paper presentations on crime narratives and the digital age from different language and cultural spheres. The conference’s approach to crime and the digital context is wide and covers a variety of contemporary crime narratives (e.g. novels, films, TV series, adaptations, true crime, fan fiction, vlogs, blogs and other social media) that can be examined in a number of ways.

We would like to welcome proposals which address one or several of the following topics (please note that the list is by no means exhaustive):

– production and the global market of crime narratives
– crime narratives, participatory production and fan practices
– new modes of narration and serialised storytelling in crime narratives
– multimodality and transmedia crime narratives
– remakes and social media adaptations of crime narratives
– social media and mobile technologies in or about crime narratives
– crimes and criminal agency
– criminal networks and transnational crime
– crime and thriller narratives and digital geopolitics
– policing, detective agency and (digital) methods of detection
– true crime narratives and cold case archives
– digital humanities and the study of crime narratives
– crime and digital culture in the postcolonial world
– virtual crime
– ecology, crime and digital technologies

Participants may contribute with individual presentations (20 min) or panel proposals (three presenters).

Please submit your proposal (max 300 words for individual presentations; for panels, please submit titles and abstracts of each paper) and a short biographical statement (including name, email address, institutional affiliation) to and as attachments in rtf or doc format by March 20, 2018.

Conference fee: there is a conference fee of 70 euros (coffee, lunches, reception) and participants are expected to cover all costs for travel, accommodation and subsistence themselves.

Organising committee:

Dr Helen Mäntymäki, University of Jyväskylä, Finland.
Dr Maarit Piipponen, University of Tampere, Finland.
Dr Aino-Kaisa Koistinen, University of Jyväskylä, Finland.
Dr Andrea Hynynen, Finland.

DETECt – Horizon 2020

The International Crime Fiction Research Group is delighted to share the good news about the European funding secured for our project “DETECt -Detecting Transcultural Identity in European Popular Crime Narrative”, as part of the Horizon 2020 – Societal Challenge 6: “Understanding Europe: Promoting the European Public and Cultural Space” framework. The project is led by the University of Bologna and involves 18 institutions from 11 European Countries.  DETECt addresses the formation of European cultural identity as continuing process of transformation fostered by the mobility of people, products and representations across the continent. Because of the extraordinary mobility of its products, popular culture plays a decisive role in circulating representations that constitute a shared cultural asset for large sectors of the European society. The project examines examples of crime fiction, film and TV dramas from 1989 to present, to learn how mobility strategies such as co-production, serialization, translation, adaptation, distribution, and more, have influenced the transnational dissemination of European popular culture. It also investigates how the treatment of specific ‘mobile signifiers’ – including representations of gender, ethnic and class identities – affect the ability of European narratives to migrate outside their place of origin, and be appropriated elsewhere in different and variegated ways. Researching the contemporary history of the crime genre in Europe, DETECt aims to identify the practices of production, distribution and consumption that are best suited to facilitate the emergence of engaging representations of Europe’s enormously rich, plural and cross-cultural identity. The knowledge acquired through a detailed research programme will be used in cultural, learning and public engagement initiatives designed to prompt the elaboration of new transnational formats for the European creative industries. These activities will profit from a set of experimental research and learning resources and innovative collaborative tools, aggregated and organized on DETECt Web portal which will be introduced here. A range of activities will be addressed to the general public and announced here. In particular, the development of a Web mobile app tools will allow users to contribute to the creation of a collaborative atlas of European crime narratives. Watch this space for updates.