Arabic fiction has thematized crime ever since the classical period. However, the existence of detective stories or, more generally, of crime fiction as a genre within Arab culture has yet to be fully acknowledged. This book therefore offers both a theoretical reflection on this genre in its context and a set of studies on instances of crime fiction in the Arab world. Covering a vast historical and geographical range, it tackles famous writers as well as authors of young adult fiction, deals with the current practitioners of noir as well as with classical detective stories, and also focuses on the adjacent fields of film and television production. Arabic Crime Fiction / Le récit criminel arabe thus fills a theoretical and historical gap in current scholarship. Bringing together specialists of Arab literature and cinema and/or crime fiction, it provides an overview of a rich and varied genre, at the crossroads between the narrative, philosophical, and legal traditions of the Arab world, the realities of contemporary society, and the international forms of crime fiction. It thus demonstrates that Arabic crime fiction does, indeed, exist, even though it is not yet fully recognized by the publishing market and academic institutions. (From the publisher’ s website;)
Exactly a 100 years ago, on the 21st January 1921, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the first novel by Agatha Christie was published in the UK. It had been published first in the USA in October 1920 by John Lane, who also co-founded Bodley Head, the UK publisher. Since then, Christie’s two most prominent detectives, the Belgian Hercule Poirot and British Miss Marple have been investigators in 45 novels for 46 years and all over the globe: in the Caribbean, in the Middle East, but most of all in Europe and especially in England. We took this anniversary as an opportunity to have a closer look at the different dimensions of space in these 45 novels and how the places where homicides were committed have evolved over the course of Christie’s career.
Although Poirot and Marple both applied their unique skills in different parts of the world, a predominant number of Christie’s novels are set in England, most of them in Devon (10) or London (7). Besides Three Act Tragedy (1935), set partly in Cornwall but for the most part in Yorkshire and Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (1938) also in Yorkshire, all other novels are set in the Middle or South of England. It is therefore not surprising that the majority of the investigated murders happened in London (19) or Devon (15). Only 8 murders were committed north of England’s capital (Three Act Tragedy (1935): Bartholomew Strange, Margaret de Rushbridger; The A.B.C. Murders (1936): George Earlsfield; The Big Four (1927): Mr. Paynter; Elephants Can Remember (1927): Dorothea Jarrow; After the Funeral (1953): Cora Lansquenet; Sad Cypress (1940): Mary Gerrard, Laura Welman).
With regard to the distribution of locations in Poirot and Marple novels, it is noticeable that most novels are set in a rural location (41,66%) and only 22,91% take place in an urban environment. Miss Marple has an even higher percentage of rural settings (66,66%), which is due to the fact that her small hometown, St. Mary Mead, in fictional Downshire, South-East England, is located in a rural area and the crime scene of several murders. Famously, ‘there is a great deal of wickedness in village life’. By contrast, Hercule Poirot lives in the metropolitan area of London and consequently moves in more urban settings (27,77%) than his female counterpart.
When looking at the rural settings, one English county stands out: Devon, home of several Agatha Christie landmarks, from her native Torquay, to Greenway House, to Burgh Island (And then, there were none), Hampsley/Kents Cavern (The Man in the Brown Suit) and Elberry Cove (The A.B.C. Murders). Unlike Poirot and Marple, who always manage to find the solution in the end, readers and researchers find it often challenging to try and locate the places of murder in their cases. Many locations, for starters, are fictional. While some fictional locations like St. Mary Mead, functioning as the typical English small town (the TV adaptations have located it in Kent) are the setting for multiple novels (The Murder at the Vicarage (1930), The Body in the Library (1942), The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side (1962)) others refer to actual cities like St. Loo (in Peril at End House (1932) and Evil Under the Sun (1941)) which is most probably the famous bathing resort and Christie’s hometown Torquay.
Regardless of the geographical basis of their settings, there are recognizable patterns for the places of murder. Only about a quarter of the crimes happened outside (27,27%), most of them happened in confined space (53,72%), such as houses in the countryside. And inside these houses, as to be expected, locked rooms and confined spaces do indeed feature prominently: the library, the bedroom. Also, while travelling, quarantine-like situations, with passengers locked in a train, on a boat or a plane, and separated from the outside world. The trademark combination of rurality and separation manifests itself already in the first chapter of the first novel:
I descended from the train at Styles St. Mary, an absurd little station, with no apparent reason for existence, perched up in the midst of green fields and country lanes […] The village of Styles St. Mary was situated about two miles from the little station, and Styles Court lay a mile the other side of it. It was a still, warm day in early July. As one looked out over the flat Essex country, lying so green and peaceful under the afternoon sun, it seemed almost impossible to believe that, not so very far away, a great war was running its appointed course. I felt I had suddenly strayed into another world. (The Mysterious Affair at Styles)
The apparent serenity of such microcosms is deceptive. It contrasts with the affects of those who inhabit them. Christie explores how people interact when confined together: resentment, passions, violence, and ultimately murder. As in And then there were none, hers are novels about being locked down with quite insufferable and potentially hateful and harmful people.
Her novels, even when set in distant countries she knew very well such as Iraq (1936), Egypt (1937), and Jordan (1938), or in the Caribbean (1964) on the whole, do not really engage with exoticism, as they are more inward-looking, focused on the psychology of very vivid characters and their interactions. Characters nearly always seem more colourful than settings.
Does this make Christie’s work essential reading during confinement? As Walter Benjamin perceptively observed, Crime Fiction works as an exorcism and an antidote to our fears, by projecting them. It is not only the fear of the unknown, the outside and the intruders that are coded in Crime Fiction, but as Christie exemplifies, family abuse and domestic violence can also be projected in this way.
The seemingly high number of murders perpetrated in domestic, confined spaces in Christie’s novels should not be dismissed as pure fantasy either. These are actually eerily similar to today’s official (pre-confinement) numbers. The Homicide Index which shows where victims in England and Wales were killed from March 2018 – March 2019 confirms this for the male victims (39%). Female victims were killed in or around the house at an even higher percentage (71%). Of course, account needs to be taken here of the spread of urbanization since the publication of The Mysterious Affair at Styles
The meaning of confined spaces, houses, dwellings on the one hand and boats, trains or planes on the other, is inverted in Christie’s world. They are changed into places of danger rather than shelter, and of stasis rather than movement. From tokens of wealth and freedom, they are turned into symbols of restrictions and closure. They epitomise the feeling of being trapped. Nobody can get out. Additionally, vehicles are most often in motion and project their occupiers in life-threatening spatial environments (sea, sky, etc.). These circumstances confront the possible victim with a situation where there is no escape. Christie used those settings in her novels The Mystery of the Blue Train (1928), Murder on the Orient Express (1934), Death in the Clouds (1935) and Death on the Nile (1937).
Despite Benjamin’s intuition, reading about confined family murders (often the case in Christie’s books) while confined with your family actually might not always help to keep tragic projections and domestic fears at a distance. But because of the focus on interiors and interiority, her novels, which have been branded as “escapist”, seem on the face of it to represent rather the opposite, a sort of ‘captivism’. Not so much a literature of escape but one of captivity. One which thrills readers with literary fantasies of captivity. What captivates us here is the very dysfunctional society of very strange characters stuck together for the duration of the novels. And also the fact that there is a release on the horizon, provoked first by a crisis, the crime, and then by its resolution. Reason and lucidity always triumph over madness, even if justice is not always served. So as a “Captivist” literature, Agatha Christie’s novels seem to be very apt confinement literature, addressing both the perils of this unnatural proximity to other people and the hope for the restauration of a form of normality.
He’s making a list, He’s checking it twice, He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice
Since we are in the throes of another quasi-lockdown, and with Christmas shopping in mind, I thought I’d blog about my favourite reads of 2020, the year that shall never be named henceforth. While we battled a pandemic – every dystopian novel I have ever read seemed to come alive before my very eyes – books were my go-to safe place. As a child of the Troubles I was used to seeking refuge in between the pages of prose. During the seventies I lived in Enid Blyton safe places of ginger beer, bouncy heather beds, caves and coves and boarding schools. Come the eighties I progressed to Stephen King and a different type of horror while Belfast blazed around me. While the world burned, I have found my reading time has decreased – but hey ho we’re in the midst of a pandemic and have probably experienced the most important election American has ever seen. Yet, still I have found solace in my beloved crime fiction genre, reaching for old favourites and finding new loves among the face masks and hand sanitiser.
Here’s my recommended reads from the latter half of 2020:
I read True Story by Kate Reed Petty during the hottest summer week and loved it for being inventive in from and its meditation on what it means to reclaim your own narrative following sexual assault.
Chris Whitaker’s, We Begin at End, near enough broke me during the first lockdown. A murder mystery with a big heart and an unforgettable heroine in the form of Duchess Day Radley ( my kids should be relieved that they already exist for I would have named one of them after Duchess) is the kind of book that transports you and makes you feel on a whole new level.
One of my all-time favourite writers, Tana French, has gifted us The Searcher, a much-lauded mystery set in Ireland that offers both atmospheric and character-driven storytelling driving towards a devastating ending.
Northern Irish crime fiction has a huge place in my heart so in no particular order these guys distracted me through the great toilet roll rush of 2020: Kelly Creighton, with special mention for Problems with Girls, a sharp, insightful read that has made me hunger for more DI Harry Sloane.
Brian McGilloway’s The Last Crossing, a book that made me ache for the sins of our past and reminded me what Northern Irish crime fiction does best – calls the ghosts of the past to account for their sins.
Claire Allan with Ask No Questions (coming to a bookshop near you soon) a lose yourself in the dead of the night type read that showcases the character of journalist Ingrid Devlin and has a heart-racing dénouement that made me gasp.
The Traveller by Stuart Neville, a collection of short stories and a novella that oozes the macabre and tingles with horror just below the surface.
Other notable releases in 2020 were Steve Cavanagh with the pulsating Fifty-Fifty, taking Eddie Flynn to a whole new twisty level. The Chain by Adrian McKinty was a plot-propelled exploration of chain styled kidnappings. Liz Nugent’s My Little Cruelties showcases her trademark style and preforms a psychological autopsy of the worst of human nature.
My Dark Vanessa, by Kate Elizabeth Russell, a disturbing book exploring a relationship between a teacher and his student, which I listened to on audio book while on my lockdown walks.
Coming this month, Anthony Quinn’s Turncoat promises to be haunting and unsettling, and is set on the pilgrim island of Lough Derg and I am looking forward to reading it.
Shout out also to NI crime fiction comrades Simon Maltman who published Witness, James Murphy who concluded his Terror trilogy with Dark Light, and Catriona King who is on her twenty-fourth Craig Crime Series novel.
What’s to come: Looking to 2021 I can promise you that there are some amazing books waiting in the wings.
I have been fortunate enough to get my hands on a copy of Abigail Dean’s Girl A and believe me, it lives up to the hype. Part true crime feeling and memoirish it takes the reader to place of pure darkness that is impossible to turn away from.
Jane Harper returns with The Survivors, a book that promises to consolidate her as one of the best crime writers around.
The Girls Are All So NiceHere by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn asserts itself to be the Mean Girls of our time with a college reunion, slick with secrets. I am really looking forward to reading it.
Kate Bradley’s forthcoming book, What I Did is an addictive and emotional psychological thriller about the darkest family-held secrets. I had a proof copy of this intense, heart-racing story and it kept me reading through the night. The Shadow Man by Helen Fields, claims to be a tightly plotted tale of obsession and manipulation, and is out in February.
The Last House on Needless Street claims to be the Gothic thriller of 2021 with Stephen King declaring it ‘a true nerve-shredder that keeps its mind-blowing secrets to the very end. [I] haven’t read anything this exciting since Gone Girl.’ Yeah, I’m sold Stephen so if Viper want to send me a proof copy, as an early Christmas present, I’m waiting beneath the tree.
Also look out for Who Took Eden Mulligan? my new release in Spring 2021, with Avon Harper Collins, described as ‘Readable. Addictive. Edgy. Intelligent,’ and ‘a crime novel that is as insightful as it is addictive.’
Hi! My name is Ciara Gorman and I’m a first-year PhD student at Queen’s University Belfast, in the department of French. My research is focused on the representations of female villainy in twenty-first-century French crime fiction.
I’ve been fascinated by crime fiction my whole life; I grew up reading Agatha Christie, watching detective serials on TV, playing Cluedo… This might be relatable, because crime fiction – in all its multi-media forms, from film to TV to podcasts – is attractive to many people. In France, crime fiction is an institution; in 2014, one in every five novels sold there was a polar, and sales of crime novels account for around 17% of all novels sold per annum in France. The ‘crime novel’, like the genre itself, is wonderfully diverse, and all of its subgenres are popular in France – from the classic roman policier or detective novel, to historical mysteries, to noir thrillers. General literature has also been infiltrated by crime tropes, as they make appearances in books not technically or typically classified as ‘crime fiction’. Several of these crime subgenres are represented in the corpus of my thesis. I’m working with four books, the covers of which you can see on this slide, all published in the last ten years or so. Fred Vargas is one of the most prolific and popular crime fiction authors in France, same with Karine Giebel; Pierre Lemaitre, who wrote Alex in 2011, is a Prix-Goncourt laureate and so is Leïla Slimani, who won that same prestigious prize in 2016 for this novel, Chanson douce. All of these novels tell different stories, all of them have different generic forms, but they’re all united by one character: a female perpetrator. That character, too, exists on a scale in these novels: in one, she’s a serial killer, in another a murderer of children; she’s a young woman, an old woman, a nanny, a professional assassin. I’m interested in three specific aspects of the representation of these female criminals: why and where they commit crime, and what imagery is associated with them.
My thesis currently has a four-part structure, as you can see here. Chapter One evaluates the role of villains, and of villainy itself, in crime fiction. Villains are really an integral component of any narrative: they throw the heroine’s ‘goodness’ into relief by their ‘badness’, and their evil deeds are often the motor that propels the story forwards. Their actions cause us to reel back in horror, and yet we are compelled to keep looking. This is right at the heart of what makes crime fiction itself so popular; Louis Vax describes it as a simultaneous process of attraction and repulsion. If you’ve ever watched a crime drama where a murder is shown, you’ll know what I mean: you want to look away, because it’s uncomfortable, but you can’t, because it’s part of the story, and you want to know the story ends. This sort of morbid fascination with villains in crime fiction can be increased when the perpetrator is a woman because it’s not what we might be used to seeing – we need only look at the popularity of shows like Killing Eve, or Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl as evidence. We know that fictional characters often reflect or interrogate societal realities, and teach us lessons about how to be in the world – that’s why we talk about characters as ‘role models’ or ‘examples of what not to do’. So what do female villains, specifically, have to say about issues like gender, justice, policing, capitalism, desire, hatred, love? What messages do we, the reading public, glean from their behaviour as we unconsciously evaluate it for tips, tricks, limitations, warnings – as we do with all characters in fiction? These are the questions at the heart of my thesis – questions about representation, feminism, fiction and reality.
In Chapter Two, I want to look at the motives assigned to our female perpetrators; put simply, why do they commit their crimes? The answer is double: vengeance and breakdown. In Alex and Quand sort la recluse, our female villains murder six and ten people respectively, as an act of vengeance for unspeakable abuse, vengeance that was long in the planning and exquisite in the execution (if you’ll pardon the pun). In Chanson douce, Louise, our perpetrator, murders the children she cares for as a result of a breakdown in her mental health, which has been slowly collapsing over the course of the novel. Louise’s motives for murder have as much to say about capitalism, motherhood and the exploitation of care workers as they do about crime. None of our female villains have ‘simple’ reasons for murder; this is part of what makes their characters so complex.
In Chapter Three, I shift my focus to the places associated with female villains in the novels: where do they commit crime? What spaces do they move through, and what can we learn from this? There are three important places to consider in my corpus: the carceral space, the domestic space, and the city. In the hardboiled crime novel, the city – in its anonymity, its violence, its corruption – is as central a character to the story as the private eye. In Alex, the anonymity of the city harms her when she is kidnapped right off the street and it’s almost impossible for the police to track her down, amongst all the people who go missing in cities every day. Later, that same anonymity hides her, when she’s trying to escape detection by those very police. This is particularly striking when we consider that Alex is a woman, and the city is so often coded as dangerous to women – but here, Alex is the danger. She’s as anonymous and unpredictable as the city, and that’s a significant element in how we understand her as a villain.
Finally, there’s Chapter Four, which will examine the particular imagery associated with each of our female perpetrators. A great example here is Irène, the villain in Quand sort la recluse. She is closely linked to the image of the recluse spider, not only because her weapon of choice is spider venom, but because she remains mostly out of sight in the novel, lurking in the background in her web of deceit. What can we learn from this association between spiders and women – a long-standing one, with its roots in Greek mythology – resurging in contemporary crime fiction? How does the animalisation of Irène contribute to her character as a woman seeking justice outside of the law? This leads me to the larger questions which inform my research work. We might use this particular notion of the vengeful woman as an example – because Alex and Irène are taking long-planned revenge against a group of people who participated in their rape, assault and prostitution as young children. Does that knowledge change how we think about their crimes, about their likely punishment? I think it does, and this is significant considering that how we deal with allegations of historical sexual abuse is a topic very much in the limelight. Engagement with this issue in contemporary crime fiction is channelled through the figure of the female villain who is also a survivor of abuse. This is what Di Ciolla and Pasolini (2018) describe as the ‘two-way traffic’ between crime fiction and real life; as the fiction draws its inspiration from real life crime, criminals and general society, so we learn to think differently about that real life through engagement with the fiction. And so these contemporary female villains seem to push us beyond the film noir stereotype of the beautiful, deadly, shallow femme fatale; they push us into the territory of philosophising on what justice looks like, what a society that continually disbelieves and denigrates women who speak up about sexual violence has to reckon with when those same women decide to seek their own kind of recompense, outside of the system that pays only lip-service to the ideals of equality and the zealous pursuit of justice that it claims to uphold. It’s my firm belief that these characters move the dial in discourses of justice and accountability in crime fiction, and that we need to pay attention to where the needle is now pointing
 Louis Vax, ‘Le sentiment du mystère dans le conte fantastique et le roman policier’, Les Études philosophiques, Nouvelle Série, 6(1), 1951, p 65. Please note that in the video recording, I mistakenly attribute this citation to Marc Lits, another scholar of crime fiction studies.
It is with sadness that we read of the recent passing of veteran French crime fiction author Georges-Jean Arnaud, who died at the end of April, aged 91. Arnaud was the author of over 400 novels during his lengthy career and wrote under various pen names. His first novel, 1952’s Ne tirez pas sur l’inspecteur (Paris: Hachette), won the Prix quai des Orfèvres in the same year. An enormously prolific author, Arnaud wrote on average 15 novels per year (once writing more than 27 in a single year) and his texts cross numerous genres; crime fiction, spy thrillers, adventure novels, fantasy, sci-fi, suspense, as well as erotic fiction.
‘La Compagnie des glaces’ which first appeared in 1980, was republished in 2018 by French Pulp.
Arnaud’s varied and imaginative narratives brought several of his protagonists to Ireland over the years. First in 1958, with the opening novel of the popular ‘Luc Ferran’ series Luc Ferran du N.I.D. (Paris: L’Arabesque) written under the pseudonym Gilles Darcy. Arnaud returned to the Irish subject matter during the years of the Troubles, with his serial secret agent hero Commander Serge Kovask in 1972’s Le Commander et le Révérend and 1980’s Colonel Dog, both part of publisher Fleuve Noir’s long-running ‘Espionnage’ series. Writing as Ugo Solenza, Arnaud published 15 erotic novels between 1974 and 1976 that were set in Ireland during the 18th century featuring sensual revolutionary, Marion.
Perhaps the most celebrated of Arnaud’s works is his science-fiction series ‘La Compagnie des glaces’, which comprised almost 100 works published between 1980 and 2005. Several works of this series, along with other crime fiction texts and thrillers have recently been republished by French Pulp.
Regardless of genre, however, Arnaud’s works stand out for their astute political critique
Arnaud’s espionage hero, Serge Kovask, in the 2014 edition of ‘Le fric noir’, originally published in 1981.
of the French state and Western society. The CIA, America’s guard-dog of the West, was a particular target for Arnaud: “Qu’est-ce qui m’intéresse au départ ? La CIA, démolir la CIA, montrer son rôle néfaste dans le monde.” (“What was it that interested me at the beginning? The CIA. Demolishing the CIA and showing its harmful role in the world”) Writing during a time when many of Fleuve Noir’s authors were politically far-right, Arnaud’s novels stand out for avoiding the reductive representations and reactionary political stances that were commonplace among his contemporaries. However, in light of more than healthy sales and a favourable critical reception, Fleuve Noir continued to publish Arnaud’s many texts.
Arnaud’s work stands out equally for its humour and readability, imaginative plots and characters. His contribution has enriched fiction for many years and will be sorely missed.
The 2018 edition of Arnaud’s 1982 thriller ‘Bunker parano’.
Participants wanted for online survey about European crime TV!
Do you like watching crime series on TV or on streaming services? If so, the DETECt project needs you! Our DETECt colleagues in Rome and Aarhus want to find out which crime shows you like, which are your favourite detectives and which elements of crime series keep you glued to the screen. The survey is completely anonymous.
European History and Politics in Contemporary Crime Narratives
Monica Dall’Asta, Jacques Migozzi, Federico Pagello, Andrew Pepper eds.
To talk about the crime genre—as opposed to detective or spy or noir fiction—is to recognise the comprehensiveness of a category that speaks to and contains multiple sub-genres and forms (Ascari, 2007). In this volume, we want to uncover the ways in which the crime genre, in all of its multiple guises, forms and media/transmedia developments, has investigated and interrogated the concealed histories and political underpinnings of national and supranational societies and institutions in Europe, particularly after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
Two most popular expression of the crime genre, the detective novel and the spy novel, have long been identified as ‘sociological’ in their orientation (Boltanski,2012). These forms often tackle enigmas or uncover conspiracies that are concealed by and within states, asking searching questions about the failures of democracy and the national and international criminal justice systems to deliver just societies. Similarly, following the example of U.S. hard-boiled fiction, the ‘noir’ variant of the genre has also established itself as a ‘literature of crisis’ (according to Jean-Patrick Manchette’s formula), where the shredding of official truths and of ‘reality’ itself ends up revealing dark political motives that elicit an even starker set of ethical and affective interrogations (Neveu, 2004). While the obvious links between the ‘noir’ and the ‘hard-boiled’ traditions of crime fiction (e.g. between Manchette and Hammett) suggest an American-French or trans-Atlantic connection, we are keen to stress that the sociological and political orientation of the European crime genre—especially since 1989 and the corresponding opening up of national borders and markets—requires examining both global/glocal and multi-national (and state-bound) issues and challenges. It is here that the European dimension of the proposed volume is best articulated because, to do justice to this context, we need to pay attention not just to discreet national traditions, but the ways in which contemporary iterations of the genre interrogate the workings of policing, law, criminality and justice across borders and nations (Pepper and Schmid, 2016).
The transnational framework of the DETECt project (Detecting Transcultural Identities in Popular European Crime Narratives) is necessarily and acutely concerned with civic and ethical issues linked to the construction of new European new identities. The proposed volume aims to explore the ways in which these new identities are formulated and thematised in European crime novels, films or TV series, particularly in relation to the interrogations raised by the uncovering of hidden aspects of both the historical past and the contemporary political landscapes. Contributions are encouraged which look at particular case studies or identify larger national and/or transnational trends or synthesise the relationship between individual texts and these larger trends. It is envisaged that the volume will be organised into the three sections outlined below. Prospective contributors are invited to identify where their articles might sit within this structure as well as to outline the particular focus adopted by their essay in relation to the general topic. The list of topics in each section is to be regarded as indicative rather than exhaustive.
Crime Narratives and the History of Europe
European crime narratives from the last thirty years have frequently referred to collective traumas and conflicts that have torn European societies apart throughout the 20th century. Contributions are invited that look at the ways in which these fictional works have restaged and critically reinterpreted some of the most tragic pages in European recent history, including (but not limited to) the following iterations of violent rupture and social breakdown:
The Civil War and Francoist dictatorship in Spanish crime narratives (e.g. Montalbán, La isla minima);
Fascism, surveillance and the police-state (e.g. Lucarelli, Gori, De Giovanni) and the role of oppositional memory (e.g. Morchio, Dazieri) in Italian detective fiction;
Fascistic/right-wing nationalist movements in interwar Scandinavia (e.g. Larsson, Mankell);
The Third Reich as the historical biotope of crime fiction (e.g. Kerr, Gilbers);
The constant presence of wars as a breeding ground for crime in French crime novels: World War I and II, collaboration, the Algerian War, colonisation, post-colonisation (e.g. Daeninckx, Férey);
The heavy presence of Cold War images and axiology in spy novels and films, including those appeared after the fall of the Berlin Wall, both in Western and Eastern Europe (e.g. Kondor, Furst);
The ‘Troubles’ in Irish and British crime fiction (e.g. Peace, McNamee).
Crime Narratives and the Present of Europe
Our present time is characterized by a number of social, political, financial/economic crises that threaten the construction of a cosmopolitan pan-European identity in line with the EU’s founding ideals. Crime narratives attempt to offer realistic representations of such contemporary crises by putting in place a number of ‘chronotopes’ that symbolise social divisions and peripheral and marginalized identities. We encourage essays that examine the ways in which post-1989 European crime narratives have represented the emergence of nationalisms, xenophobia, racism and other threats to the social cohesiveness of European democracies. We also invite contributions that use the trope of the crisis to explore how the links between crime, business and politics have polluted or corrupted the democratic imperatives of European social democracies and institutions from the outset. Topics might include:
The Kosovo War, and more broadly the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s, as the first signs of a generalised geopolitical chaos (e.g. in French noir novels);
The financial crisis of 2008 and its devastating consequences for individuals, communities and whole societies (e.g. Bruen and French in Ireland; Markaris in Greece; Dahl in Sweden; Lemaitre in France);
The migrant crisis (within and outside the EU) and the emergence of new anxieties about belonging and/or otherness (e.g. Mankell, Dolan, Rankin);
Climate change, pollution, and environmental destruction (e.g. Tuomainen, Pulixi);
The blurring of crime and capitalism and the depiction of crime as a form of social protest vis-à-vis the effects of global capitalism and neoliberal deregulation and privatisation (e.g. Manotti, Carlotto, Heinichen, the TV series Bron);
Inquiries into the effects of contemporary forms of patriarchy, gendered violence and misogyny and their links to other forms of oppression and domination (e.g. Lemaitre, Slimani, Macintosh, Gimenez-Bartlett Larsson, McDermid).
Crime Narratives and the Future of Europe
European crime narratives explore a broad range of social and cultural identities across different scales: from the more stable identities attached to local contexts through the new mobile, precarious and mutating identities fostered by the dynamics of globalization. This section will look into how these different identities and their complex interplay can suggest ways to frame the future of Europe. Contributions could address how crime narratives try to make sense of the complex, if yet perhaps contradictory, set of representations circulating across different European public spaces and collective imaginaries. On the one hand, we might ask whether something like a European crime genre even actually exists, given that these works typically demonstrate suspicions about ‘outsiders’ and only rarely offer positive representations of post-national transcultural identities. On the other hand, however, the genre does give us glimpses into what might be achieved through cross-border policing initiatives, organised under or by Interpol and Europol, in the face of organised crime gangs involved in transnational smuggling and trafficking networking. Contributions to this final section are encouraged to reflect upon how crime narratives produced by and in between the discreet nation-states frame the hopes and limits of European cohesiveness and the continent’s future or futures. Essays could focus on one or more of the following topics:
The interplay between local, regional, national and transnational identities as represented through specific narrative tropes, such as in particular the local police station, the interrogation room, the frontier or border, and so on;
The connection between social deprivation at the local end of the geopolitical scale and different global systems and networks at the other end;
The role of borders, cities, violence, rebellion, policing and surveillance in producing new identities and subjectivities not wholly anchored in discreet nation-states. Attention could also be given to formal innovations insofar as these allow or enable the expression of new identities;
The hope and consolation offered by the resilient community or village (Broadchurch, Shetland) or the extended family (Markaris’s Kostas Charistos series) in the face of the messy, brutal contingencies of a world ruled by criminal and business elites;
Social banditry as a form of contestation directed against social inequalities produced by capitalism (Carlotto’s Alligator series; La casa de papel).
If you are interested in submitting a proposal to be considered for inclusion in this volume, please send an abstract of no more than 300 words and a short biography to email@example.com by May 31, 2020. We would encourage you to identify the section of the proposed volume where your essay would be best situated. We are looking to commission up to 14 essays in total of 7000 words each including footnotes and bibliographic references.
This year NOIRELAND Festival will take place on the 28th March.
Bestselling authors including Liz Nugent, Mark Billingham and Ann Cleeves are scheduled, as well as a special screening of Odd Man Out, the original Belfast Noir, and a creative morning for aspiring crime writers. This year’s NOIRELAND will also feature exclusive early releases from Steve Cavanagh, Brian McGilloway and Jane Casey. Plus, a preview of Adrian McKinty’s new Sean Duffy novel at Jack-a-noir-y.
[Dominique Jeannerod] How did you come to write The Lammisters?
[Declan Burke] “The very first inkling came to me in Dungannon, as it happens, when I was teaching a one-day course on crime fiction writing. I was going through a list of what aspiring writers should and shouldn’t do when it occurred to me that I was interfering with the attendees’ most precious resource, their imaginations. There and then I decided I was going to write a book that broke every rule I was ever taught. That’s not strictly possible, of course, but it did give me a huge amount of freedom to write whatever I wanted to, and especially when I quickly realised that no one would ever want to publish the book I was writing.”
What was your original idea?
“I usually start with a setting, and then begin to people it with characters, and then give them a story to work with. I’d always wanted to set a book in Glenveagh Castle, in Donegal – it’s a beautiful setting, and I was fascinated by the idea that, in the 1930s, artists of all kinds would come from all over the world to stay at Glenveagh (Greta Garbo was probably the most famous). And I’d recently fallen head-over-heels for the work of PG Wodehouse, who I’d only very belatedly discovered. So the original and very vague idea was for a Jeeves and Wooster-style story set in Glenveagh; but when I sent my Bertie Wooster, aka Sir Archibald l’Estrange-B’stard, to Hollywood to bring a few movie stars back to Donegal, Archie refused to come back. And so The Lammisters is set in Hollywood, in 1923, amid the bootleggers, film stars and movie moguls of the Prohibition Era …”
John Connolly, with whom you co-edited a few years ago what I consider the best anthology of world crime fiction (Books to Die For, Hodder & Stoughton, 2012) has recently devoted a book to Stan Laurel. Now you are exploring Hollywood in 1923 and portraying characters, real or invented, representing that mystique, like Cecil B. DeMille and “Vanessa Hopgood”. What is it that fascinates you both with early Hollywood Cinema?
“I can’t speak for John, of course – I loved his Stan Laurel book He, by the way; a quiet masterpiece, I think – but I’ve always loved the classic movies. I’ve earned a living as a film critic for 25 years now, and I’ve always been fascinated not just by the films of Hollywood, but Hollywood itself. And especially early Hollywood, which was a true melting-pot. Anyone who has read Gore Vidal’s Hollywood or Budd Schulberg’s What Makes Sammy Run?, say, knows that Hollywood was never just about making movies – it was about myth-making, and the unholy alliance of money, politics and culture. A heady brew. Also, I love the idea that silent cinema was not only obliged to communicate increasingly complex stories without dialogue, but that that very absence of dialogue allowed the movies to appeal to a global audience.”
Who is the inspiration for the mysterious Vanessa Hopgood ? Is it Clara Bow?
She isn’t really based on any one person. More a hazy ideal of what the platonic ideal of a Flapper movie star might be. In the back of my mind she’s very similar to the young Norma Desmond, before she got old and the screens got too small …
Is it fair to say that in that book you have sought to bring together both your experience as a literary critic and as novelist?
“It certainly is fair to say that, although it’s probably fair to say that that’s true of most of my books (and probably everyone’s books) – it’s impossible, I think, when you’re writing, not to respond, consciously or otherwise, to whatever it is that constitutes your reading. That said, The Lammisters is far more influenced by what I might call my extra-curricular reading, or the reading that isn’t commissioned for review. Over the last four or five years I’ve been reading back into the past, and discovering, or in some cases rediscovering, writers like Dickens and Austen, and Cervantes, and Henry Fielding, and totally falling in love with literary styles that might be considered outmoded today. The Lammisters is a comic novel, and I loved the incongruity of hardboiled gangsters and movie stars talking to one another as if they’d just stepped out of Pride and Prejudice, or Tristram Shandy. The Lammisters’ style is also, I guess, a commentary of sorts on the way the language of public discourse, and certainly at the political level, has been debased and upended and turned inside-out over the last decade or so. But that’s a story for another day, perhaps.”
What interested you more in the process? Telling a great story or almost forensically dismantling the art of storytelling?
“This question made me laugh out loud. It’s always terrific fun to write a new story, and to try to make it as original as you can – I’m still a little bit awestruck by the idea of creating something from nothing. With The Lammisters, I didn’t set out to tell a story about telling a story; that was just the way it evolved. The story is told by a narrator who has been abandoned by his author and left to his own devices, and so the narrator is keen to prove his credentials by reminding the reader about the various aspects of the storytelling craft. Sadly, the narrator has yet to learn that less is more …”
I remember meeting with you in the IFI in Dublin, after the publication of The Lost and the Blind (2015): you were saying how much this book had taken from you and even considering it might be your last novel. How did the writing of The Lammisters happen in that context?
“You’re right, Dominique – I did feel very drained after writing The Lost and the Blind: it was a pretty traumatic year, personally and professionally, and that book was the one that gave me the least pleasure when I was writing it. And as far as I was concerned, at the time, if I wasn’t having fun, then there was no point to writing. The Lammisters was the complete antithesis to that – I wanted to write a book purely for myself, that wasn’t written according to any genre conventions, or any deadlines, or anyone’s expectations. And I wanted it to be fun, because it seemed to me – as a result of Brexit, for example, and Donald Trump’s election, and what seems like the inexorable rise of far-right extremism, with its racism and antisemitism – that the world was becoming a darker place. I wanted to be able to cheer myself up on a daily basis. The book certainly delivered on that front.”
How much does this new book still owe to Crime Fiction?
“Well, it’s a comic novel, and I’d hate for any crime fiction reader to pick up and feel cheated by the fact that the story plays very fast and loose with the expected conventions. That said, I love the crime novel, in virtually all its variations, so there’s certainly elements of crime fiction involved – the characters go on the lam, as the title suggests, and one of the main characters is not only a bootlegger and a bank robber but the terror of all right-thinking Republicans everywhere. The Lammisters isn’t a crime novel; but I don’t think I’d have been able to write it if I hadn’t written my crime novels first.”
Are there shadows of Crime authors you felt looming in particular over the book?
“Definitely, yes. The first writer I fell madly, deeply and hopelessly for was Raymond Chandler, because of his language, his style. I’ve always said that if Chandler had written science fiction, or romantic fiction, I’d probably have ended up writing that. So Chandler’s hardboiled style is an important jumping-off point for The Lammisters. But I also love crime writers with a comic sensibility – Carl Hiaasen, Barry Gifford – and there’s no doubt that their approach is a factor too.”
You are a keen reader and commentator of European Crime Fiction: what are your main discoveries in that area over the past few years?
“It’s been mainly Scandinavian reading for the past while, I’m afraid. One of my recent discoveries – and apologies if this is old news to anyone – is Antti Tuomainen, who reads a lot like the Finnish Elmore Leonard. Again, it’s blackly comic crime fiction, which I adore. I read Stina Jackson’s The Silver Road earlier this year, and I thought it was a superb meditation on grief. I thought Jo Nesbø’s Macbeth was a flawed but very interesting contemporary take on Shakespeare, although my favourite of the Norwegian writers – of any of the Scandinavian crime novelists – is Karin Fossum. Her The Drowned Boy is one of the best novels I’ve read in the last decade, in any genre. Of the non-Scandinavian writers, David Torrans introduced me recently to Pascal Garnier, who is superb; and Hannah’s Dress, by Pascale Hugues, is one of the most fascinating books I’ve read in years.”
To what European authors do you feel more related, and at what level?
“This is a bit of a loaded question, I think, because once I start naming writers it’s going to sound like I’m comparing myself to them, which is certainly not my intention. If I can put it like this: I love reading Umberto Eco, and especially his wilder flights of fancy (Baudolino, say), because it seems to me as if he cares very little for any rules or regulations of writing. The same applies to Italo Calvino – when I read If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller many years ago, it made a huge impression on me. I guess I’ve always loved writers who are prepared to take chances, to go beyond the accepted and the expected – as a young man, for example, I loved Milan Kundera’s books, because they seemed to challenge everything I had read up to that point.”