The InterCriPol research network, whose mission is to reopen and solve cold cases of fiction, organizes an international conference on mythology on 3-5 March 2023, in Athens. The conference has as its starting point Pierre Bayard’s recent book, Œdipe n’est pas coupable (Minuit, 2021), in which Sophocles’ solution is questioned. The two-day conference will be followed by a visit to the crime scene and a reconstruction.
As many readers, first and foremost Voltaire, have pointed out, the investigation that is the subject of the Oedipus Rex tragedy, concluding that the king of Thebes is guilty, is carried out in a hasty manner and is based on incomplete and contradictory testimonies. A persistent, confusing and unanswered question is how many attackers were present when Laius was killed. Therefore, as many ambiguities remain with regard to the murder of Laius, the guilt of Oedipus cannot be taken for granted. The play’s inconsistencies need to be detected, with the help of goodwill and willing researchers / detectives. Four articles that reexamine the case are already available online: http://intercripol.org/fr/thematiques/critique-policiere/grand-dossier-de-contre-enquetes-sur-la-culpabilite-douteuse-d-dipe-2.html.
Aidan McQuade, The Undiscovered Country, London, Undercover, 2020
An Interview with Aidan McQuade
Dominique Jeannerod: I have just recently read your novel, The Undiscovered Country. I have loved it and I keep recommending it to friends. Could you please say a word on the title?
Aidan McQuade: As I was writing the book I went to see a Royal Shakespeare Company production of Hamlet, which has become quite celebrated, with Paapa Essiedu as Hamlet. That particular production impressed on me the devastation that revolutions can inflict on innocents, like Ophelia, who through no fault of her own, gets caught up in the machinations. That was an echo of the play I wanted to catch in my book.
The title, of course, comes from the “to be or not to be” soliloquy in Hamlet. For Hamlet “the undiscovered country” is death, which made it, I thought, an apt title for a book about a murder. But it had the additional resonance, I thought, for the characters who were fighting for the establishment of another undiscovered country: a future Irish Republic.
I found your novel very cinematic. Maybe because of the strong presence of the characters and the dialogue. But also because it is set at a time which has, so far, been more represented in films than in Irish Crime Fiction. Your novel is set roughly at the same time as Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins and Ken Loach’s The Wind That Shakes the Barley. And like in John Ford’s adaptation of Liam O’Flaherty’s The Informer, there is a sense of threat, suspicion and even paranoia linked to the presence of informers. How important was the choice of time period for you when writing this novel? And what were your points of reference – not only in historiography (you mention some key monographs in your acknowledgments), but also in fiction ? Were there also influences you deliberately wanted to reject?
Very kind of you to say you felt the novel was very cinematic. The film rights are still available if Neil Jordan or Stephen Spielberg is reading.
I suppose I had an interest in war forced upon me as a child growing up in South Armagh during the Troubles. That probably contributed to my choice of profession – working in community development and humanitarian response in various parts of the world, many of them in conflict or post-conflict. That, in turn, deepened my interest in war, to better enable me to do my job, which included planning humanitarian operations for war-displaced people and managing staff security in Angola, for example.
So, I think I’ve wanted to write about war for quite a while. But, I felt, it would have been highly presumptive of me to place such musings in a context like Angola, a country that I love but which I simply don’t have the same depth of knowledge that I have for my own country. My interest in the Irish war of independence has, almost, been life-long, certainly since my teenage years, and it seemed to be a context that provided the opportunity for ruminations and reflections that transcended their geographical and historical specificities and relate more generally to the human condition.
I also wanted to write about the morality of war in a way that people might read. And there are, of course, plenty of fiction writers who have shown just how that can be done in crime or thriller genres. The best Graham Greene – sometimes even the worst Graham Greene – is always about something more than the dynamics of the plot. The same can be said for Eric Ambler and Raymond Chandler and their reflections on the morals of their honest, often tarnished, protagonists in corrupt worlds. One of the great modern exemplars of that was, of course, Philip Kerr, who turned that idea all the way up to eleven with his Bernie Gunther novels – the bruised and brutalised gumshoe who did his best to find some modicum of justice amid the horrors of Nazi Germany.
The novel opens with a note discussing the archival status of the (fictional) text. How accurate did you want your novel to be as a document and to what lengths did you go to ensure this?
I’m sure professional historians of the period will find plenty of errors. But I wanted it to be as rooted in the historical evidence as I could make it. So, I read widely in the history of the time, including the published personal accounts of IRA commanders such as Ernie O’Malley, Tom Barry and Michael Brennan, and other personal accounts in the Bureau of Military History, including Cahir Davitt’s account of his experiences as a Republican Court judge.
I only allowed myself one deliberate historical anachronism: an approach to prisoner management, that, according to a Sunday Times Insight Team report from the 1970s, was first used by the British Army in Korea, but was put into practice by the IRA in their raid on Hazebrouck Barracks in England in 1955. In my book an enterprising IRA officer already knows the approach in 1920.
The absence, or the suspension of the Rule of Law in the exceptional circumstances of war time is very strikingly described in The Undiscovered Country. To what extent did this suspension, and the possibility to describe a sort of Hobbesian world of unfettered aggression, motivate you to set your novel during the Irish War of Independence ?
I quote Cicero at one point during the book: “In times of war, the laws fall silent.” There was certainly truth of that during the Irish war of Independence and some took it as a carte blanche knowing that there would be no recourse for any of their excesses. In his book On Another Man’s Wound, Ernie O’Malley described how he murdered three British prisoners close to the end of the war of independence. And of course the term “Black and Tan” is still a by-word for unfettered brutality.
But many take the opportunity of the silence of laws to abuse their power in every other conflict in human history. At this very moment Vladimir Putin has torn up swathes of international law to allow him to wage unfettered war against Ukraine. So in that regard I hope that readers will recognise that in my book the Irish war of Independence is an exemplar for all wars.
Did the prospect of shedding light on less heroic aspects of the Irish War of Independence worry you, or were you encouraged by the prospect of contributing to a counter-history of this period, of giving a fuller picture, away from the national celebrations?
The War of Independence, certainly in nationalist Ireland, is generally regarded as a just war, including amongst those who repudiate the Provos’ campaign. But one of my characters, Eamon, says at one point, “Even a just war is an evil thing.” So while there are particular resonances of that insight with Irish history and contemporary politics, it is again, I think, an important general point. It is particularly so when you see war nostalgists in Britain and Ireland treating their favoured conflicts as if they are things to be celebrated and those who fought in them as moral paragons, irrespective of what they have actually done.
Your two main protagonists are both educated and political. They are literary, and socially-minded. How representative did you want them to be of young IRA volunteers around 1920?
The IRA of 1920 was a mixed bag regarding class and education and indeed politics. There were socialists and conservatives, and a few who, it transpired in later years, were proper fascists. Certainly the majority would have been rural and urban working class people. But there were more middle-class volunteers too. Ernie O’Malley, for example, had been a medical student and would tramp across Ireland with the Flying Columns with a volume of Shakespeare’s sonnets in his back pocket.
The character of Eamon in my book has got his senior certificate from secondary school, but he is mostly an autodidact. So there is a hint of Abraham Lincoln about him: a person who has decided not to allow his lack of formal education from enabling him to learn.
It is their love of books that is the foundation of the two characters’ friendship. So, it is the fact that these two are a bit less representative of the mass of IRA volunteers of the time which I hope and think makes the nature of their friendship credible.
By contrast, the novel shows two characters invested with the highest authority, military and spiritual, as very questionable individuals, to say the least. How would you describe the IRA commander and the Parish priest?
One of the themes I wanted to convey in the book was that unchallenged power corrupts. It is that, I think, rather than any particular individual’s role in any particular structure or organisation that poses the greatest threat to the vulnerable.
It is this moral imperative to find the truth and challenge power that draws my third protagonist, Sophia into the orbit of my other two. As the writing evolved she became, in my mind, very much the moral centre of the book.
While the corruption of the figures of authority might evoke Hammett, their language and that of all the other protagonists, certainly evokes Chandler in their use of a hard-boiled vernacular. How important is this deliberate nod to the conventions of the genre for their characterisation?
I suppose what have become conventions of the crime genre now were not conventions when Hammett and Chandler first used them. Then they were seen as sometimes shocking and, particularly Hammett, cynical. But I think they were trying to write their truths in a way that stripped away certain myths and engaged readers to think anew about their contemporary society, particularly how power, and corruption, worked in their contemporary world.
So, even though mine is a historical novel, like Chandler and Hammett, I wanted the readers to think anew about certain things that they maybe would otherwise take for granted, and to do it in a way that would engage and entertain my readers.
With my dialogue I was trying to write something that was true to my experiences of the stresses of life and work during wartimes. Some people have found the coarseness of some of the language problematic. But there is nothing there that I did not learn in the playground of Belleeks primary school in the 1970s. I reasoned that this was probably the way that people had talked for decades, probably longer. Indeed, in Hamlet, Shakespeare has been accused of using the filthiest pun in all of English literature.
How likely are characters such as Jack O’Riordan, the battalion commandant, to have been able to act, without checks and balance and in all impunity at the time? And during subsequent campaigns of the IRA, throughout the 20th Century?
Certain IRA commanders, and later, National Army officers, committed atrocities during the War of Independence and subsequent Civil War. But many did not. A lot depended on the choices of individual commanders and there was little sanction if there were excesses committed. During the War of Independence Collins and Mulcahy were keen to get action going everywhere and do not appear to have been too critical of any excesses that transpired. During the Civil War the provisional government were quite indulgent of National Army excesses as they were aware that the National Army was the only thing that was keeping the Irish Free State from tipping into the status of failed state.
In Ireland still some sections of the Loyalist community venerate war criminals from their community, and some sections of the nationalist community will immediately resort to whataboutery when reminded of revolting atrocities committed by “republican” paramilitaries. But again these things, distasteful as they may be, are not exceptional. Recently in Britain we had the spectacle of Theresa May, when she was Prime Minister, promising that no British soldier would ever be held accountable for breaches of basic international standards of human rights. And Boris Johnson has moved to grant British soldiers immunity for any atrocities they were involved in during the Troubles.
Some people can’t help themselves when it comes to romanticizing war and indulging those who wage it.
You mention Elmore Leonard as a stylistic influence. Are there other authors, especially in Crime Fiction who were important inspirations in general and at the time of writing?
Leonard, Greene, Chandler and Philip Kerr were certainly big influences on what I have written. Since completing The Undiscovered Country I have discovered Mick Herron and am in awe of what a superbly grotesque anti-hero he has created in Jackson Lamb. I’m trying to work out if I can emulate some element of that magic in my future work.
Maybe because you have, like Jonathan Littell, worked for a long time for Humanitarian NGOs before writing your novel, I thought frequently, reading it, of his brilliant, Goncourt Award winning The Kindly Ones. Not least for the amount of cultural references in both your books. Littell’s SS officer was reading Blanchot, and your IRA detectives have read Freud. How likely was this in 1920s Ireland and did you look at Freud’s reception in Ireland in order to make a point?
I didn’t look at Freud’s reception in Ireland… and now you make me wish I had! I thought that it would not be unreasonable for a character like Mick in my book, the former student, to have come across something by Freud during his hours in the library, but, being a very young man, to have been shocked by anything he might have read.
Mick and Eamon’s shared reading does cover Shakespeare and some of the Greek Tragedians. There is a small echo of Friel’s Translations here, and its depiction, historically accurate, of the study and opinionated debate of Latin and Greek classics in such establishments.
I know, like Eamon and Mick, I still talk about books down the pub, including classics, and I don’t think I’m alone in this. (Some of the most important conversations in history about literature down the pub occurred when Seamus Heaney and Co. used to meet in the Bottom Bar in Queen’s Student Union to discuss poetry. I hope at least some Queen’s students are still doing that.)
I’ve only recently come across Jonathan Littell and haven’t read anything by him yet, though I am looking forward to. Certainly, my experience in humanitarian work, for many years in many different parts of the world, was the only thing to do in the evening was to read. So I amassed a considerable chunk of reading during those years. I imagined the same to be the case for people like my character Eamon, returned to Ireland after years in the trenches. As George McDonald Fraser describes in his memoir of the war in Burma, a lot of reading would be done, Shakespeare included, by men of all ranks between the battles.
When did you write the novel and how long did it take to write? And to be published?
I stopped and started writing a couple of times, and completed the first draft over the course of about a year. The publication was a more tortuous process: I published with Unbound, which is a subscription model of publishing. So effectively I had to market the book before it was published. That took about two years.
The novel remains slightly open-ended and the reader is able to decide whether there has been an even bigger betrayal than the one seen by the two young detectives. This serves to highlight the unlikeliness for justice ever to be served in these precarious times, but could also suggest that the deception from the religious powers might be even greater than the violence meted out by the IRA. This could also open the door to a sequel, in which the character of the priest is revealed more fully even?
I don’t want to say too much about the ending, but one of the things that I wanted to convey is that once you start shooting you can never be too sure that it is only the guilty that get hurt.
Are you working on a new novel at the moment ?
I have spent most of the last year writing a professional book, Ethical Leadership, which is due out in June 2022. So that has rather interrupted my fiction writing career. But now I am working again on a sequel to The Undiscovered Country, tentatively entitled Some Service To The State. It is 1925 and Mick is just out of jail in Northern Ireland. He’s contacted by a figure from his past who asks his help in trying to trace a missing girl…
Conference : “Screening Crime in the Arab World” 4 – 6 May 2023 Saint Joseph University of Beirut
This conference will focus on Arab crime films and TV series, by which are meant, broadly, works of fiction centering on crimes, criminals and criminal investigations (by law enforcement agencies or ordinary citizens), from the beginning of Arab cinema to the present. The term “Arab” is understood in a broad sense, as referring to any film or series produced in the Arab world and/or having Arabic as a main language. The aim of the conference is not to impose a rigid taxonomy on these crime dramas, but to read them in their historical contexts of production and reception and to reflect on the multiple dimensions – narrative, cultural, social, legal, political, etc. – of crime and, where appropriate, of criminal investigations in Arab movies/shows. The film industry in the Arab world took up the themes of crime and its investigation from an early stage. Since its rise in the 1950s, Arab cinema, particularly in Nasser’s Egypt, has featured a plethora of crimes, criminals, magistrates and investigators. The themes and atmospheres of Arab crime films are often reminiscent of American or French film noir: featuring black-and-white cinematography and dramatic music, mixing melodramatic crime stories (often murder stories) with social realism, it gives pride of place to desperate situations in which injustice, disorientation, madness and fate take centre stage. The same applies to TV series, which were very successful long before the development of pay platforms and complex series, and often foreground criminal investigations. Parolin’s observation about Egyptian series applies to the field in general: “Enigmas or crimes often constitute the central narrative device of whole shows that are not necessarily identified as belonging to the same genre” (Parolin 2021a). The prominence of these enigmas or crimes is today reinforced by the emergence of platforms such as Shahid VIP, which were conceived under the influence of Netflix. These contribute to revitalize popular genres and to root the crime genre in the television habits of Arab audiences. The substantial corpus of noir films and police or crime series, their place in the movie/TV landscapes of the Arab world, the formal or aesthetic expressiveness to which they aspire, the sometimes complex and elaborate discourses which they formulate on the world of crime, their appropriation of thematic or stylistic motifs from other cinemas (notably Hollywood), their critical reception and popular success: all these aspects invite us to think of them in terms of genre and to investigate their contexts, their codes, their characteristics, as well as the variety of readings they allow.
A few cinematic and serial milestones
Early cinematic representations of crime include such milestones as Rayā wa Sakīna (Raya and Sakina, 1953) or al-Waḥš (The Monster, 1954) by director Salah Abou Sayf, based on scripts by Naguib Mahfouz. Although investigations may be haphazard, the pursuit of the culprit at the head of an organized criminal system and the suspense that characterise them bring them close to the gangster film or film noir. These films also show that, while rooted in a local context, the cinema of the Egyptian classical period explicitly refers to certain Hollywood authors and codes. This trend can also be seen in Youssef Chahine’s Bāb al-ḥadīd (Cairo Station, 1957) or al-Iḫtiyār (The Choice, 1971). More recently, the German-Danish-Swedish production The Nile Hilton Incident, a multi- award-winning film by Swedish-Egyptian director Tarik Saleh (2017), has been largely perceived as “true film noir” in the Egyptian style (Jean-François Rauger, Le Monde, 2017). Crime films appeared in the Maghreb in the mid-1970s, but only gained international visibility at the turn of the millennium. Thus Nour-Eddine Lakhmari’s Casanegra (2008, in Moroccan dialect) or Faouzi Bensaïdi’s Bay‛ al-mawt (Death for Sale, 2011) are powerful testimonies to the breakdowns and vulnerabilities of Arab societies. Literature helps to fuel the cinema with tales of enigmatic murders. The Franco-Algerian film Morituri (2007), directed by Okacha Touita, is adapted from the novel of the same name by the writer Yasmina Khadra. The Egyptian Ahmad Mourad wrote the screenplays for the films adapted from his own noir novels: al-Fīl al-azraq (The Blue Elephant, 2014) and Turāb al-mās (Diamond Dust, 2018), directed by Marwan Hamed. In Morocco, Abdulillah Hamdoushi wrote a screenplay based on his novel al-Ḥanaš (al-Ḥanaš, 2017). Crime drama on television is also on the rise in some Arab countries, especially during Ramadan. This is the case, for instance, with Egyptian series such as Man al-ǧānī? (Who is the culprit?, 2015); Istīfā (Preliminary Report, 2015); Kalabš (Handcuffs, 2017) or Ḍidd maǧhūl (Unsolved Case, 2018). In Syria, Luġz al-ǧarīma (The Mystery of Murder, 2003); Ḫaṭṭ al-nihāya (The Path to the End, 2002-2017) or Kašf al-aqni’a (The Masks Fall, Ramadan 2011) are among the leading shows. In Morocco, al-Qaḍiyya (The Affair, 2006-2007), al-Ġūl (The Ogre, 2016) or al-Sirr al-madfūn (The Buried Secret, Ramadan 2020) illustrate the criminal phenomenon. And the list is long.
Guidelines for conference papers
The following dimensions and issues may be addressed during the conference:
The noir/crime/detective dimensions of Arab films and series. What kinds of crimes are committed? What are the roles/functions of criminals, victims and investigators? On what principles and methods are investigations based and what do they reveal? What are the value systems, the ideologies, the historical, socio-political, economic and psychological motives, the dominant points of view, the visual style, the narrative characteristics of these crime films and series?
The place and popularity of the crime genre in the production and distribution systems of Arab films and series, possibly in comparison with those of other countries within the region and beyond.
The relationship with true crime. Some real stories have made the headlines and given rise to fictional adaptations – whether in films, radio or TV shows – such as the famous case of the two sisters Rayā and Sakīna (1919-1920) or, more recently, the murder of Suzanne Tamim (2008), which has inspired a number of television series, including Layālī (2009), Ahl Cairo (2010), al-Murāfaʿa (2014) or the above-mentioned film The Nile Hilton Incident. It would be interesting to address the perceptions of such cases, their fictional narrativization, the link between crime fiction and history, or to investigate the social contexts in which such adaptations are rooted.
The many interactions and relationships between Arab crime films/series and foreign works. One may, for example, seek to shed light on their kinship with film noir or series in other countries, as well as on the specific modalities of investigation in the case of transnational transpositions, as for example in such shows as Grānd Hotel (2016) adapted from the Spanish series Gran Hotel, or Zayy iš-Šams (2017) adapted from the Italian Sorelle.
The comparative study of literary crime fiction and its film or television adaptations. Major directors such as Salah Abou Sayf or Tawfiq Saleh were inspired by novels by Naguib Mahfouz (al-Liṣṣ wa-l-Kilāb, 1962) or Tawfiq al-Hakim (Yawmiyyāt nāʾib fī l- aryāf, 1969). (Parolin 2021b).
The role of writers and screenwriters in the creation of these works and in the cumulative perception of a noir/crime/police genre in the Arab world.
Presentations may choose to take a panoramic view, or to focus on a particular country or historical period, or on specific creators or works, all of which are relevant to the conference.
Abstracts in Arabic, English or French and of no more than 400 words, should be received by 15 May 2022. They should include, in a Word document, the author’s name, position, institution, e-mail address and a brief biographical note. They should be sent to Katia Ghosn: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org and to Benoît Tadié: email@example.com Early June 2022: sending of the scientific committee’s opinion to the authors for acceptance of the communication proposal.
Participants are responsible for their own transport and hotel expenses. They are invited to ask their research center for reimbursement. Languages: French-English-Arabic.
Scientific Committee: Karl Akiki (Saint Joseph University of Beirut) ; Katia Ghosn (Paris 8 University) ; Toufic El-Khoury (Saint Joseph University of Beirut) ; Gianluca Parolin (Aga Khan University) ; Benoît Tadié (Rennes 2 University) ; Dork Zabunyan (Paris 8 University).
Bibliographie indicative / Select bibliography
Ahmed Bedjaoui et Michel Serceau (dir.), Les cinémas arabes et la littérature, Paris, L’Harmattan, collection Images Plurielles, 2019.
Pierre Beylot et Geneviève Sellier (dir.), Les séries policières, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2004.
Luc Boltanski, Énigmes et complots, Paris, Gallimard, 2012.
Raymond Borde et Étienne Chaumeton, Panorama du film noir américain (1941-1953) (1955), Paris, Flammarion, 2004.
Denise Brahimi, 50 ans de cinéma maghrébin, Paris, Minerve, 2009.
Ian Cameron (ed.) The Movie Book of Film Noir, Londres, Studio Vista, 1992.
Claude-Michel Cluny, Dictionnaire des nouveaux cinémas arabes, Paris, Sindbad, 1978.
El-Khoury Toufic, Aliénation et déterminisme dans le film noir classique (1944-1949), Paris, L’Harmattan, collection Champs Visuels, 2020.
Jennifer Fay et Justus Nieland, Film Noir. Hard-Boiled Modernity and the Cultures of Globalisation, Londres et New York, Routledge, 2010.
Jane Gaffney, «The Egyptian Cinema: Industry and Art in a Changing Society », in Arab Studies Quarterly, Vol.9, N°1, Belmont, 1987, p. 53-75.
Katia Ghosn et Benoît Tadié (dir.), Le récit policier arabe/Arabic Crime Fiction, Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz verlag, 2021.
Terri Ginsberg and Chris Lippard (eds.), Historical Dictionary: Middle Eastern Cinema, Lanham, Scarecrow Press, 2010.
Nathaniel Greenberg, The Aesthetic of Revolution in the Film and Literature of Naguib Mahfouz (1952-1967), Lanham/Londres, Lexington Books, 2014.
Sebastien Layerle et Monique Martineau-Hennebelle (dir.), « Chroniques de la naissance du cinéma algérien », Collection CinémAction, N°166, Charles Corlet, 2018.
Berrah Mourry (dir.), « Les cinémas arabes », Éditions Charles Corlet, collection CinémAction, N°43, 1987.
Fawzī Nāǧī, Waqāʾiʿ būlīsiyya fī l-sīnimā, Le Caire, GEBO, 2012.
Gianluca Parolin, « Bunyat al-Tahqîq fî ‘Yawmiyyât Nâʾib fî ’l-Aryâf’ Bayna al-Riwâya (1937) wa-l-Fîlm (1969) », in Salmā Mubārak & Walīd al-Ḫaššāb (eds.), al-Iqtibās: Min al-adab ilā al- sīnimā. Maḥaṭṭāt fī tārīḫ muštarak, Le Caire, al-Marāyā, 2021c, p. 141-162.
Thomas Pillard, Le film noir français face aux bouleversements de la France d’après-guerre (1946-1960), Nantes, Éditions Joseph K, 2014.
Samir Saif, Aflām al-ḥaraka fī l-sīnimā al-miṣriyya. 1952-1975, Le Caire, General Egyptian Book Organization, 1970.
Galāl al-Šarqāwī, Risāla fī tārīḫ al-sīnimā al-‛arabiyya, Le Caire, General Egyptian Book organization, 1970.
Alain Silver et Elizabeth Ward (dir.), Film Noir. An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style (1979), New York, The Overlook Press, 1992.
Dominique Sipière, Le récit dans les séries policières : d’Hercule Poirot à Mentalist, Paris, Arman Colin, 2018.
Yves Thoraval, Regards sur le cinéma égyptien, Beyrouth, Dār al-Mašriq, 1975.
Sue Turnbull, The TV Crime Drama, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2014.
Shafik Viola, Arab Cinema. History and Cultural Identity, Le Caire, The American University in Cairo Press, 1998 (2007).
Magda Wassef (dir.), Égypte. 100 ans de cinéma, Paris, Institut du monde arabe, 1995.
Memory, crime and tourism in Giannis Maris’ novel The Hands of Aphrodite (1963)
by Nikos Filippaios, University Ioanina
With thanks to Ciara Gorman, Queen’s University, Belfast
The subject of this presentation is the Greek crime fiction novel The Hands of Aphrodite which was written by Giannis Maris, first published in 1963 as a series in a successful newspaper of that time in Greece. The novel and its sociopolitical components will be discussed through a theoretical perspective which selectively combines the scholarship on the historical memory, the literary analysis of crime fiction and also the wider spectrum of sociological and anthropological studies.
Giannis Maris (1916-1979) is considered the father of Greek crime fiction, as he managed to give to this European and US popular fiction genre an undoubtedly modern Greek identity. In his almost fifty crime novels, GM represents – through the structure and the conventions of the crime fiction genre – the contradictions of the post-war urban development in Greece, and particularly in Athens. At his best, Maris combines economic, social and cultural critique with political and ideological analysis. Police officer Giorgos Mpekas plays the role of the crime solver in almost all of these novels. Generally, Maris was influenced by Georges Simenon, thus Giorgos Mpekas is reminiscent of Jules Maigret – however, he has his own unique features. He is presented as a typical portly family man of the 1950s and 1960s in Greece, but behind this banal appearance hides a brilliant detective, who knows how to look at the details of a case, who can psychologize the suspects and even play with their illusions, hopes and fears. Moreover, Mpekas eventually leaves his logic behind and finally becomes involved in the case he investigates, a typical feature of the noir and hard boiled subgenre.
We could say that Maris, following the paradigm of Simenon, utilizes crime fiction in order to criticize the socio-political contradictions of the 1950s and 1960s, as a politically progressive writer who, however, had to avoid censorship of the regime that followed the Greek Civil War (1946-1949). Although in this presentation, there is no time for a complete historical retrospective, it is necessary for the analysis of our subject to mention some crucial events that marked the Greek state from the 1940s up to the 1970s.
From 1941 to 1944 Greece was occupied by Nazi Germany, a period full of mainly human, political and economic loss, but also with an important wave of national guerilla resistance against the occupiers. One of the most dark and tragic events of the German Occupation – an event that plays a central role in the novel we present today – was the dissolution of the long-standing and prosperous Greek Jewish community of Thessaloniki, whose members were sent to concentration camps and, of course, their properties were stolen by the Nazis. In 1944 the Nazis abandoned the country, but soon after a very violent and dreadful Civil War took place between the Right-wing and the Left-wing forces, which is considered the first act of the Cold War. In 1949 the Civil War ended, with the victory of the right-wing forces. The right-wing governments of the 1950s formed a political, social and cultural hegemony of conservatism, ethnocentrism and fierce anti-communism. It is important to note, especially in relation to the novel’s plot, that some of the Greek collaborators of the Nazis not only occupied key positions in the Greek state apparatus, but they also became an important part of the post-war indigenous bourgeoisie. However, from the end of the 1950s, a combination of factors, such as the increasingly steady economic development of the country, the semi-illegal action of the socialist and Left political forces, but also the strong influence of the Long 60s led to a turn in Greek society as a whole towards more progressive and democratic paths. These paths were, however, closed off with the imposition of the dictatorship (1967-1974).
This is a summary of the historical background in which the plots of Maris’ novels take place. The novel under consideration, The Hands of Aphrodite, takes place in 1963 and is mainly influenced by international events. To be more exact, The Hands of Aphrodite is influenced on the one hand by the trial and the execution of Adolf Eichmann, one of the leaders of the Nazi’s Holocaust, by the state of Israel in 1961 and on the other by the initial arrest and the final release of Max Merten, the man largely responsible for the “Greek Holocaust”. Merten visited Greece in 1957 and he was immediately arrested by the Greek authorities, in order to be tried for his crimes; however, after strong reactions from West Germany he was freed.
The novel’s plot is set in 1963, when fictional members of the international underworld hunt for the gold that the German Nazis stole from the Greek Jews during the German Occupation (1941-1944), and then hid it in a secret location. The protagonist of Maris’ crime novels, inspector Giogros Mpekas keeps a close eye on them, in cooperation with an officer from the Israeli intelligence service, Captain Yoel. All the persons involved in the plot travel around Greece during spring and summer and stay in hotels in Athens, but also travel to other tourist destinations in central and southern Greece.
The novel was firstly published in 1963, as a “roman feuilleton” in the Athenian newspaper Evening Post. More specifically, the novel was published as a series in a special strip comic format: images by the illustrator Michalis Gallias, an important artist at the time who made significant contributions to the development of Greek illustration, were accompanied by a sharp and fast-paced narration written by Maris. The novel was republished in its entirety in 1972, edited by Maris himself and in 2013, with introduction by Andreas Apostolidis, an established crime fiction writer and scholar.
Giannis Maris was one of the first European crime fiction writers who introduced the themes of memory and oblivion, and even the censorship of the Holocaust in his work. Apart from the Hands Of Aphrodite, the Holocaust plays a central role in some other of Maris’ novels and short stories, mainly in the novels A Woman From The Past (1964) and Operation: Vengeance (1964). So we could say that Giannis Maris was one of the pioneers of historical crime fiction, especially the kind which deals with relatively recent and particularly traumatic historical events. As we know the historical subgenre of crime fiction, mostly the one that focuses on the 1940s and World War II, has been extremely popular in recent years; for example the Bernie Gunther series (1993-2019) by Philip Kerr and the novel Readbreast (2000) by Jo Nesbø.
However, in The Hands Of Aphrodite, the issue of the Holocaust and its both historical and person al memory is entwined with a rich reference to hotels, motels and generally with the touristic prosperity of Greece in the late 1950s and mainly in the 1960s. We could claim that this combination of the “Greek Holocaust’ and the touristic places is an element of a literary and cinematic trend named “Holocaust Impiety”. In the context of the Holocaust Impiety writers, directors, mainly representatives of popular culture, portray the Holocaust in a subversive way, which does not seem to align with the tragedy of a crime unique in the history of mankind. Contemporary examples of the Holocaust Impiety trend, which seems to oppose the famous phrase by Theodor Adorno “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric”, are the Berlin Noir trilogy by Philip Kerr in the field of literature and Quentin Tarantino’s film Inglorious Basterds in the field of cinema.
The ideological discourse, moreover the ethos, which is formed in the novel The Hands of Aphrodite is based on this antithesis between the present (i.e. 1963) of a flowering wave of tourism in Greece and the recent past of the extermination of the Greek Jews of Thessaloniki and the seizure of their properties by the Nazi.
A more careful and critical reading of the novel reveals the suspicion lurking within tourism development, which especially in the early 1960s was reinforced by the state apparatus with generous funding and advertising. The concealment of the true identity of the criminals looking for the lost treasure of Greek Jews behind the typical figure of the mindless tourist develops into a pattern in the novel’s narrative. Of course the space of the hotel plays a central role in this pattern.
In a representative excerpt of the novel, a Israeli spy visits Greece with the fake identity of a lawyer of a Nazi officer responsible for the Greek Holocaust, who was arrested by the Israeli authorities.The true purpose of his visit is to get in touch with the criminals hunting for the treasure and to catch them, but he appears as a foreign visitor ready for the entertaining and hedonistic adventure of a tourist trip in Greece:
Friedrich Dürrenmatt, a tourist from Lausanne, settled at the Athene Pallas Hotel. He had an ouzo at Syntagma, paid a visit to the Acropolis in the afternoon and asked his waiter if he could listen to “Children of Piraeus” at night. He slept full of Attic light and with a slightly disturbed stomach he woke up the next morning rather late.
He enjoyed from the window of his room the frame of Akropolis swimming in the golden light and then he made two phone calls, both of them rather strange…
Not only the touristic references in this passage (“ouzo”, “Children of Pireaus” – the famous song written by Manos Hadjidakis and sung by Melina Merkouri and Akropolis), but also the carefully selected words and phrases in a strong relation with light (“Attic light”, “golden light”) parody a mentality about Greek tourism, which especially during the 1960s was dominant. As historian Antonis Liakos writes: “since the end of the 1950s, tourism has been massificated (…) without necessarily being related to antiquities”, but – we would continue – as part of “leisure time”, a phenomenon that emerged on a global scale after the Second World War.
Russian theorist Michail Bachtin understands the modern novel as a polyglossic genre, because in most novels an antagonism takes place between the hegemonic language/discourse of the dominant social, economic and political groups and their ideology, on one hand and the emerging languages/discourses, which represent dispersed mentalities stemming from the heterogeneity of the wider social whole, on the other. We could assume (not without doubts, a subject which we cannot analyze this time) that this sociolinguistic interaction takes place even more dynamically in a popular genre, such as crime fiction.
Therefore, in the perspective of a Bakhtinian interpretation of the aforementioned passage, an antagonistic dialogue vividly takes place: the hegemonic political, economic and cultural discourse of a flowering and extroverted Greek tourism is criticized by an alternative discourse, concerning the superficiality of Greek tourism, which evokes a historical and personal oblivion mainly of the traumatic experiences of the 1940s, of the Occupation and the Civil War.
Elements which are inextricably linked to historιcal, ethnic, social and cultural identities that formed the Greek state, but were also delimited by it – from the characteristic Mediterranean nature to the ancient Greek historical memory – are degraded into means of a superficial and commercialized tourist enjoyment. It is very important that Dipermatt doesn’t visit Acropolis, but he watches it through his hotel window.
In this context, the space of the hotel in the novel becomes a non-place according to the term proposed by Marc Augé:
Anthropological place is formed by individual identities, through complicities of language, local references, the unformulated rules of living know-how; non-place creates the shared identity of passengers, customers or Sunday drivers. (…) A person entering the space of non-place is relieved of his usual determinants (…) he tastes for a while –like anyone who is possessed- the passive joys of identity-loss and the more active pleasure of role-playing (…) The space of non-place creates neither singular identity nor relations; only solitude and similitude. There is no room there for history unless it has been transformed into an element of spectacle, usually in allusive texts. What reins there is actuality, the urgency of the present moment (…) Everything proceeds as if space had been trapped by time, as if there were no history other than the last forty-eight hours of news.
Therefore, we could claim that in the novel the hotel spaces act as non-places of both personal and historical forgetfulness, in our case of an oblivion regarding the “Greek Holocaust”. This interpretation comes in line with the general silence or, we could more accurately say, silent censorship that quickly spread after the German Occupation and the Civil War, regarding the tragic events of the extermination of the Greek Jews of Thessaloniki. The reason for this informal censorship? The fact that the Nazis sent the Jews to the concentration camps and confiscated their property in collaboration with their Greek collaborators, some of whom after the war took key positions in the state apparatus.
However, a crucial feature of the historical crime novel is that the role of the crime solver, who is mentally immersed in past events in order to find the criminal and restore justice, meets the role of the historian, who rationally researches the past in order to restore the truth. Academic Ellen O’Gorman in her article Detective Fiction and Historical Narrative (1999) claims that especially in hard-boiled and noir crime fiction, the detective seeks a reconstruction and interpretation of the past, harmonized with his own code of ethics (which often contradicts the hegemonic ideological line), but ultimately – in the pessimistic context of the noir subgenre –is forced to align with the interpretation and reconstitution of the dominant ideology.
Giorgos Mpekas, the police officer in Maris’ novel, undertakes this double role of the detective and the historian, because he drifts into a painful journey in the past of the Occupation, as he chases Nazi criminal officers and their Greek collaborators, a journey that he can endure thanks both to his rationalism and humanity, his almost natural feeling of justice. This double – police and historical – activity of Mpekas leads to a transformation of the hotel space itself: when Mpekas and the Israeli spy, with whom he collaborates, stay in hotels all over Greece, their rooms are turned into spaces where plans are organized in order to bring the criminals to justice. Under these circumstances, the hotel space is not a non-place anymore, as it is dominated by the feeling of security and of the superhuman attempt to restore justice for one of the most despicable crimes in human history, the Holocaust. In the following excerpt, these correlations are presented with an ironic humor, familiar to the noir genre, both in literature and cinema:
And if he does not show up (he means one of the hunters of the Jewish treasure), we will find him, said police officer Mpekas the next day to the Israeli agent.
The two of them – Mpekas and he – were sitting in the room of the small hotel where the Athenian officer had broken down.
– From here, from our room? Yoel teased him
– Yes, answered officer Mpekas quietly. Through our room. (232-233)
Towards the end of the novel, all the people involved in the case, outlaws and defenders of the law alike, gather in a luxurious hotel in the city of Nafplio, which is situated in southern Greece and which was the first capital of the Greek state, even before Athens. Maris’ historical, sociopolitical and cultural commentary is characteristic:
Bourtzi is probably the most original hotel in the world. A small, but strong sea castle that enclosed the port of Nafplio during the Venetian times.
Later, when the Venetians left and Greece became free, Bourtzi hosted the headmen who were executing those sentenced to death in the prisons of Palamidi. These terrible – and unhappy – people (old convicts who chose the profession of the executioner to save their heads) became almost insane in the loneliness of the castle, since they could not go out to the world that hated them.
Once all this was over. And the convicts of Palamidi who were sentenced to death and the guillotines and the executioners. Bourtzi remained a picturesque Venetian monument with awesome stories and fame. Then a clever businessman thought of transforming it into a hotel and Eleanor Roosevelt honored it – and established it – with a brief visit.
Foreign tourists came to feel the shiver of the old days, behind the thick castle gates and its frilled battlements. Film companies have come to make films. Its towers were full of tables and rooms, which were once inhabited by executioners, were decorated with modern furniture, while on their floors that once echoed the heavy armor of the Venetians, tsa-tsa and mambo were danced. From the stairs eaten by the sea, tourists in bikinis dived into the water (193-194)
The readers follow the gradual oblivion of Bourzi as a place conquered by death, violence, madness and fear, as it is transformed firstly into a monument surrendered to the rushed glance of the tourist and finally into a hotel, a non-place dominated by historical oblivion –perhaps better called pseudo-historical memory – as part of a developed leisure industry, in which superficial personal autonomous expression is linked with mass consumption.
Therefore, as scholars Annette Pritchard and Nigel Morgan note, (post)modern hotels are “complex, culturally contested and ideologically laden liminal spaces”, where “dominant discourses of space and wider hegemonic socio-cultural relations are resisted, contested or affirmed”. In The Hands of Aphrodite the dominant discourse and the hegemonic socio-cultural ideology of an exovert and euphoric tourist industry is contested by a critical view.
This critical view probably concerns the general shift of Greek society and economy towards the western models of production and consumption – in short, towards a globalized late capitalism. This shift seems inevitable but it does not lack disadvantages, which also concern the silencing and censorship of traumatic memories of the German Occupation and the Civil War, with political, social, economic and ultimately ideological incentives. However, this critique developed in the novel avoids any tendency towards conservatism, xenophobia and national introversion, as Giannis Maris observes, keeps track and occasionally comments with mastery, skepticism and sarcasm, with a cynical and at the same time stoic look, on the great changes that the post-war Greek state is experiencing.
 Maris G. 2013. The Hands of Aphrodite (Ta Heria Tis Afroditis). Introduction by Andreas Apostolidis. Athens: Agra. The pages containing the excerpts of the novel which are mentioned in the presentation are stated in parentheses, right after these excerpts. Before each excerpt there is the picture which corresponds to the text in the first edition of the novel, in a style combining the strip comic and the roman feuilleton.
This is the text of my presentation at the “International Symposium: Literary Hotels” (9-10 September 2021, Hub Athens), organized by the HOTEMS project (“Hotels and the Modern Subject: 1890-1940”). My presentation was part of the panel “Crime à la Moderne: Memory, Perception, and Mobility in Hotel Crime Narratives” (Friday, September 10).The text is accompanied by a basic bibliography in the form of footnotes and also by pictures, which were included in the pptx. file shown in the presentation.
 Saltiel, L. n.y.. The Holocaust of the Thessaloniki Jews and the role of the bystanders (1942-1943) [online] Fondation De La Mémoire De La Shoah.
 Marwick, A., 2005. The Cultural Revolution of the Long Sixties: Voices of Reaction, Protest, and Permeation. The International History Review, 27(4), pp.780-806.
 For a more detailed and in-depth historical presentation of this specific era, see Clogg, R. 1992. A Concise History of Greece. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, p. 145-168
 Adorno, T., 1983. Prisms. Massachusetts: The MIT Press, p.34.
 For the representations of the Holocaust Impiety in crime fiction see: Berberich, C., 2019. Detecting the Past: Detective Novels, the Nazi Past, and Holocaust Impiety. Genealogy, 3(4), pp.70. and Auer, S., 2015. The Holocaust as fiction. [online] Eurozine.com. Available at: <https://www.eurozine.com/the-holocaust-as-fiction/> [Accessed 8 December 2021].
 After my presentation, a member of the audience remarked that Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1921-1990) was a Swiss writer who was famous in the 1960s. I answered that probably Giannis Maris could have known this writer, however he probably used this name as a typical Swiss one. Τhis subject needs more detailed research.
 Liakos A., 2020. The Greek 20th Century. Athens: Polis, pp. 368
 Bakhtin, M., 1981. Discourse in the novel. In: M. Bakhtin, ed., The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, 1st ed. Austin: University Of Texas Press, pp. 259-422.
 Augé, M., 1995. Non-places: Introduction Τo Αn Anthropology Of Supermodernity. London: Verso, pp.101-104.
 O’Gorman, E., 1999. Detective Fiction and Historical Narrative. Greece and Rome, 46(1), pp.19-26.
 Pritchard, A. and Morgan, N., 2006. Hotel Babylon? Exploring hotels as liminal sites of transition and transgression. Tourism Management, 27(5), pp.762
This call for papers is destined for a book-length publication in the bilingual collection Book Practices & Textual Itineraries (published at Université de Lorraine, France) which traces evolutions in the production, transmission and reception of books and texts over time and across cultural and disciplinary boundaries (more information about the collection here).
Experimented by many novelists from both sides of the Atlantic since the 1950s, the contemporary trend of the ‘‘metaphysical’’ detective novel calls the intrinsic metaphysical value of the genre into question. Shall we consider ‘‘metaphysical detective fiction’’ as a distinct sub-genre? We may legitimately wonder whether existential concerns would not permeate just about any sort of crime-based narrative. Would not the practical questions raised by the detective-character — who, where, when, how, and why? — be essentially linked with more profound interrogations? What exactly is this ‘‘metaphysical shudder’’ of the detective novel that Umberto Eco used to speak about? How would it manifest itself in American and European crime fiction over time? How could its conditions of writing possibly be described? These few questions sketch several philosophical, thematic, and narrative avenues for the enquiry of the metaphysics of crime fiction that this call for papers proposes to discuss.
Please read the complete CFP available below and send your proposals — title and abstract in English or French (400-600 words) — to Estelle Jardon (firstname.lastname@example.org) by 15th December 2021. Final papers in English or French (7,000-9,000 words / 30,000-40,000 characters – space included) will be due by 1st May 2022 with publication anticipated in the fall 2022.
Read complete CFP (English version) below .
Contrary to the ‘‘metaphysical’’ detective novel which has attracted a growing scholarly attention, notably since the publication of Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy in the late 1980s, the broader subject of the metaphysics of crime fiction has rarely been discussed yet. This can be partly explained by the fact that the two approaches seem to contradict each other: on the one hand, the use of the adjective ‘‘metaphysical’’ suggests that other forms of crime fiction are devoid of any metaphysical dimension; on the other hand, the belief in an intrinsic metaphysical value of crime fiction calls the relevance of the label into question. Yet, the American specialists Patricia Merivale and Susan E. Sweeney define the metaphysical detective story as ‘‘a text that parodies or subverts traditional detective-story conventions […] with the intention, or at least the effect, of asking questions about mysteries of being and knowing which transcend the mere machinations of the mystery plot […] by becoming self-reflexive (that is representing allegorically the text’s own processes of composition)’’. From its early beginnings then, with Edgar Allan Poe’s tales of ratiocination, the detective story would have followed another path, overtly philosophical and speculative, notably hinged upon the relative tragic irony which is to befall the detective-character. This particular sort of drama became a favorite of many prominent novelists of the post-war period (J. L. Borges, ‘‘Death and the Compass’’ ; Alain Robbe-Grillet, The Erasers ; Friedrich Dürrenmatt, The Pledge ) and continued to be experimented with by the succeeding generations of postmodernist writers (like the Americans Robert Coover, Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon ; the Englishmen Peter Ackroyd, Martin Amis or Graham Swift ; the Italians Italo Calvino, Leonardo Sciascia or the Frenchman Patrick Modiano). These few examples help demonstrate that the label ‘‘metaphysical detective fiction’’ signals, if not a sub-genre of prestigious unclassifiable novels, at least a genre-breaking class of literary fiction under the guise of detective fiction.
Without neglecting these intellectual appropriations of crime fiction and their influence on the evolution of the genre, there seems to be a good opportunity to question the metaphysical potential of more authentic forms of popular crime fiction, too. One may legitimately wonder if existential pursuits would not be the inner workings of just about any sort of crime-based narrative. Would not the practical questions raised by the investigator — who, where, when, how, and why? — be essentially linked with more profound interrogations? Let us remember some of Umberto Eco’s motivations for writing The Name of the Rose like a detective novel: ‘‘and since I wanted you to feel as pleasurable the one thing that frightens us—namely, the metaphysical shudder—I had only to choose (from among the model plots) the most metaphysical and philosophical: the detective novel’’. These few lines will hopefully provide a good starting point for discussing the metaphysics of crime fiction, not only as an inherent characteristic, but also as a driving force in the evolution of the genre. The proposals to be submitted shall, therefore, focus on examining how exactly this‘‘metaphysical shudder’’ could manifest itself in crime fiction, from Edgar Allan Poe to this day, and from both sides of the Atlantic. The interdisciplinary collection of essays that is envisaged would particularly encourage the points of view of specialists of modern and contemporary philosophy to intersect with the ones of European and American crime fiction specialists in the hope to better question the complex philosophical notion of ‘‘metaphysics’’ from the perspective of crime fiction. In the philosophical domain for example, proposals could concentrate on the metaphysical significance of crime fiction writing, or on the various interpretations and commentaries that the genre’s popularity and its avid readers drew from many twentieth-century philosophers and intellectuals (Bloch, Brecht, Champigny, Deleuze, Jameson, Kracauer, Todorov, etc.). If crime fiction is considered to be inherently metaphysical, how does this metaphysics differ or vary according to the different sub-genres of crime fiction that exist (the puzzle mystery story, the noir novel, the thriller)? Howard Haycraft, who was the first person to qualify crime fiction as ‘‘metaphysical’’, used the term to describe the religious and moral bends of Father Brown’s mystery stories written by the English Roman Catholic writer G. K. Chesterton. In the same way, Ross Macdonald used to say that Graham Greene’s novels This Gun for Hire and Brighton Rock ‘‘were ruthless in the portraiture of their villain-heroes, yet at the same time concerned with the salvation of their souls”. Some Christian writers in the first part of the twentieth century clearly found in crime fiction the best way to explore the nature of evil, crime and guilt. However, other writers often led readers to ponder on the same themes by following different routes, or rather by highlighting the importance that different superior forces play in life, such as strange twists of fate, chance and accident or contingency. These recurring themes of postmodern crime fiction in particularstill remain relevant to this day, like in The Suicide (2014) by Mark SaFranko, who imagines a detective-inspector from New-York, in the recent context of the 9/11 attacks, that the vagaries of his job expose to a suicide which ultimately leads him on the trail of his own culpability. Lastly, one cannot neglect the narrative form of the detective novel — this ‘‘reading-machine’’ (Thomas Narcejac) — prompting readers to be attentive to any trace of the hidden identity to be riddled out and uncovered along the pages.
In the same spirit, proposals should attentively look for this ‘‘metaphysical shudder’’ as fleeting impressions, feelings or less subtle strategies infused within the narrative and which can consequently impact the reading process. Based on these philosophical, thematic, narrative or structural levels of analysis (this list of examples is non exhaustive), proposals could either concentrate on the study of a single novel or a single writer, or privilege a comparative approach of several ones. The different points of view and approaches adopted will hopefully lead to the better comprehension of the divergence between the juxtaposition (‘‘metaphysical detective fiction’’) and the coordination (metaphysics and crime fiction) of the terms in order to challenge the relevance of the former umbrella term and the seemingly arbitrary categorisation of some novels under it. This study will also ultimately aim at highlighting the essential literary value of crime fiction — the quality which makes it the memento mori of our time — as one of the last popular imaginary spaces which directly confronts man to the violence and the anguish of death without any real harm.
This call for papers is destined for a book-length publication in the bilingual collection Book Practices & Textual Itineraries, which is devoted to the study of book history and textual scholarship.
This collection traces evolutions in the production, transmission and reception of books and texts over time and across cultural and disciplinary boundaries. Published at Université de Lorraine, France, under the supervision of an international editorial advisory board, the collection aims at facilitating dialogue between book, text and image scholars and practitioners from France, Europe and the English-speaking world (more information about the collection here). Please send your proposals — title and abstract in English or French (400-600 words) — to Estelle Jardon (email@example.com) by 15th December 2021. Final papers in English or French (7,000-9,000 words / 30,000-40,000 characters – space included) will be due by 1st May 2022 with publication anticipated in the fall 2022.
CFP: Global Histories of Crime Fiction: Redefining a Popular Genre
American Comparative Literature Association 2022 Annual Meeting, 15-18 June
National Taiwan Normal University
Seminar organisers: Jesper Gulddal (University of Newcastle, Australia) and Stewart King (Monash University)
Crime fiction today is a uniquely global genre in the sense of being written, published, sold and read on a significant scale on all continents and in almost every country. It is also global in the sense that it serves across a wide range of locations as an important vehicle for investigating and interrogating relationships between law, crime and justice. This global orientation challenges the persistent notion that crime fiction is predominantly a UK and US phenomenon and that other crime fiction traditions are either peripheral or derivative. Publishers have already embraced the idea of world crime fiction, as evidenced by the large number of crime fiction translations, not only with English as the source or target language, but also between other languages. Similarly, readers around the world have few concerns about reading foreign crime novels, and the combination of familiar forms and unfamiliar, “exotic” content has become one of the major selling points of global crime writing. The scholarly literature has been slow in catching up with these developments, but the last few years have seen lively debate around the concept of crime fiction as world literature. Following on from these discussions, this seminar seeks to overcome one of the last bastions of conventional crime fiction scholarship, namely the tendency to write the history of crime fiction either as the succession of canonical Anglophone formats (classic, hardboiled, etc.) or as accounts of individual national traditions. We pose the question, how can we globalise the historical narratives around crime fiction and move towards an account of the genre that recognises its global diversity and transnational connections.
We welcome papers dealing with any aspects of world crime fiction and the historiographical challenges it presents. Suggested focal points include:
The historiographical challenges presented by world crime fiction
Autochthonous crime fiction traditions in China, Japan, India, the Arab world and elsewhere
Appropriations and localisations of canonical English-language formats around the world
Translation as a means of localising crime fiction
Lateral circulations of crime fiction that bypass the Anglosphere (such as between China, Japan and Korea, in the Mediterranean, and within the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War)
Comparative perspectives on world crime fiction
Formal innovation and hybridisation at the “periphery”
Indigenous and First Nations crime fiction
Reinterpreting British and American crime fiction from a transnational perspective
Digital and data-driven approaches to world crime fiction
Escuela de Estudios Hispano-Americanos, Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)
Instituto Universitario de Estudios sobre América Latina (IEAL)
Universidad de Sevilla
In 2015, the Princess of Asturias Award for Literature winner was the Cuban author Leonardo Padura Fuentes. The jury’s report highlighted, among other achievements, his interest in listening to “popular voices and the lost stories of others” and described his work as “a superb adventure of dialogue and freedom”. For crime fiction lovers, the granting of this award was a real boost since that genre had been questioned many times in different academic circles. Besides, although Padura has cultivated various genres, he stands out especially for being the creator of a series of detective novels starring an unusual hero or anti-hero, Mario Conde.
From his initial appearance in the 1991 novel Pasado Perfecto, Conde will be the key element around which Padura turns the tables on the crime novels written mainly in Cuba during the previous two decades. His critical, sometimes disappointed, but also lucid vision invites readers to review Cuba’s past and present, starting precisely in such complicated years as the early 1990s.
Even though crime fiction had not been profusely cultivated in Cuba before the revolutionary triumph of 1959, some texts deserve at least a brief mention. In 1926, the Social magazine published the collective novel Fantoches. Its plot is focused on the attempted murder of a young woman from a wealthy family. It is interesting to highlight how this work, written by eleven different authors, close to the grupo minorista (Alfonso Hernández Catá, Carlos Loveira, Jorge Mañach, etc.) to a greater or lesser extent, constitutes an avant-garde detective literary entertainment. In fact, it chronologically precedes a similar initiative carried out by members of the London Detection Club, such as Agatha Christie, G. K. Chesterton or Dorothy L. Sayers, captured in the 1931 novel The Floating Admiral.
Among the pioneers of Cuban detective fiction, the work of Lino Novás Calvo also stands out, especially known for the literary biography El negrero.Vida de Pedro Blanco Fernández de Trava (1932) and the non-generic volumes of short stories La luna nona y otros cuentos (1942) and Cayo Canas (1946). Between 1948 and 1952, Novás Calvo published eight crime stories in the Havana magazine Bohemia, of which he was editor-in-chief. These stories are characterised by a noirish flavour, a modality that he had defended in theoretical articles and his collected letters with Professor José Antonio Portuondo –another of the fundamental voices in the conceptualisation of the Cuban detective genre–. In addition, he gives a leading role to crime news and places the narrative focus on the revenge of the victims against their repressors. In 1991, José María Fernández Pequeño compiled these stories in the volume 8narraciones policiales.
After the symbolic date of 1959, we had to wait until 1971 to find a detective novel that would achieve a broad resonance and serve as a pillar for future productions within the genre. We are referring to Enigma para un domingo, by Ignacio Cárdenas Acuña, a book awarded in the 1969 Cirilo Villaverde Novel Competition. Strongly inspired by the American hard-boiled novel, Cárdenas knew how to combine this foreign influence with the ideological defence of the revolutionary project. From now on, a new version of crime fiction (both detective and espionage –or counterespionage, as it is called in Cuba) would rapidly develop, adopting an apologetic tone. Thus, throughout the early 1970s, we witnessed a singular phenomenon: the creation and evolution of a new genre, that we could label as “Cuban revolutionary crime fiction”, sponsored by various government bodies (through literary competitions or mass editions). Furthermore, a corpus of critical texts that defined the genre’s features appeared at the same time, or even earlier, as the publication of the most representative works of this generic modality; works that, indeed, multiplied quantitatively in an outburst that had its epicentre in the 1970s and 1980s. Nonetheless, this multiplication of pieces contributed to its quality reduction. Another reason for the impoverishment of this literature was the excessive weight given to the ideological message. Nevertheless, among this extensive post-revolutionary production, some authors showed enhanced literary skills, as is noticed in novels such as Joy (1978) by Daniel Chavarría and Y si muero mañana (1980) by Luis Rogelio Nogueras.
Present-day contemporary Cuban crime production is characterised by both the survival of the revolutionary and the emergence of neo-noir fiction. For its part, the revolutionary modality prolongs, in essence, the features outlined since the early 1970s and privileged in the competition Anniversary of the Triumph of the Revolution (sponsored by the Home Office), which since then has acted as one of the main instances of legitimisation and is still in force today. Among the authors faithful to this trend, Leonelo Abello Mesa stands out, having won the competition several times with titles such as Miami: otra vez (2006), Misión en Langley (2007) and Nieve en La Habana (2010).
Alongside this continuous revolutionary detective novel, a crime fiction linked to the Spanish-American neo-noir trend emerged and developed that, in Cuba, was initiated by Leonardo Padura Fuentes by creating the National Revolutionary Police officer previously mentioned, Mario Conde. His kinship with the neo-noir side of the genre places him alongside other detectives in Spanish and Latin American literature, such as Héctor Belascoarán, by the Mexican narrator Paco Ignacio Taibo II; Heredia, by the Chilean Ramón Díaz Eterovic; or Pepe Carvalho, by the Spanish Manuel Vázquez Montalbán. This aspect would grow, especially in the 1980s in the Hispanic peninsular and Latin American sphere, when the revolutionary model was still maintained in Cuba, albeit on the wane. The main features of neo-noir fiction allow the reader to look into the depths of the most corrupt and muddied side of the societies in which the crime stories are set. These plots usually place readers in front of a dark and perverse authority, ultimately responsible for the torn situation of, generally, a large city that is harassed by the economic and political upper spheres of the State.
Mario Conde made his name in the tetralogy “Las cuatro estaciones” (1991-1998), in which he had to solve four crimes committed in a Havana marked by corruption and famine in the crucial year of 1989. Subsequently, the trajectory of this character persists through five more titles: Adiós, Hemingway (2001) and La cola de la serpiente (2001; 2011), La neblina del ayer (2005), Herejes (2013) and La transparencia del tiempo (2018). While La cola de la serpiente adds a new case set in the recurring year 1989, the rest of the titles are projected forward in time to the 21st century. These works present various stories where the detective and historical genres intertwine with the life adventures of an increasingly aged Conde, who, having resigned from his job as a police officer, works as an old bookseller and occasional detective.
Other names such as Amir Valle and Lorenzo Lunar Cardedo also enrich the Cuban neo-noir scene. Valle’s biting novels comprise the “Descenso a los infiernos” series (2001-2008), which, through five titles, tells the story of the adventures of the police officer Alain Bec and the old delinquent Alex Vargas in the marginal neighbourhood of Centro Havana. On the other hand, Lunar’s raw vision is reflected in the trilogy “El Barrio en llama” (Que en vez de infierno encuentres gloria, 2003; La vida es un tango, 2005; Usted es la culpable, 2006), set in a suburb of the provincial city of Santa Clara, a series of novels starring police lieutenant Leo Martín. Finally, other writers and animators of the genre, such as Rebeca Murga, Rafael Grillo and Vladimir Hernández, stand out on the current Cuban scene.
In conclusion, the trajectory of Cuban crime fiction shows some distinctive features and others that are common to other Latin American countries. At the beginning of the 20th century, crime fiction, in a relatively incipient way, encountered its first exponents on the island. In this pioneering phase, the influences of the British tradition were mixed with the hard-boiled style, both marked by their desire to adapt the foreign patterns to the island’s atmosphere. In the 70s of the last century, the revolutionary, strongly ideologized, style emerged, which, after a solid hegemony for two decades, from the 90s onwards, shared the stage with the neo-noir style. This last version of the genre in Cuba has grown in line with its treatment in other Hispanic spheres, to the point of having acquired a significant national and international projection.
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Fernández Pequeño, José M. 1994. Cuba: la narrativa policial entre el querer y el poder (1973-1988).Santiago de Cuba: Editorial Oriente.
Gallardo-Saborido, E. J., Gómez-de-Tejada, J. 2017. La literatura policial del Bloque del Este en la revista cubana Enigma (1986-1988). Revista de Letras, 57.2: 53-71.
García Talaván, Paula. 2014. La novela neopolicial latinoamericana: una revuelta ético-estética del género. Cuadernos Americanos, 2.148: 63-85.
Padura, Leonardo. 2000. Modernidad, posmodernidad y novela policial. La Habana: Ediciones Unión.
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Uxó, Carlos. 2021. El género policial en Cuba. Novela policial revolucionaria, neopolicial y teleseries. Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien: Peter Lang. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3726/b17689
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Translated by Laura Cabeza Muñoz
The authors of this piece would like to mention the kind contribution of the Instituto Universitario de Estudios sobre América Latina (IEAL), University of Seville, Spain, in relation to its translation from the Spanish original version. A shorter version of this text (in Spanish) has been used as script for a podcast of the series “Háblame de CSIC”: https://delegacion.andalucia.csic.es/hablame-de-csic/. We gratefully acknowledge that the cover of the magazine Misterio proceeds from an original from the Biblioteca Nacional José Martí, Havana.
Universidad de Buenos Aires, Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas
With thanks to Ciara Gorman (Queen’s University, Belfast)
Argentine literature could be characterized as peripheral in the global domain (at least compared to the literary traditions of European countries). This marginal status could be valid as well when considering crime fiction in a worldly way. However, this country presents a vigorous and complex tradition in the genre. In this sense, the following notes do not intend to provide a complete review of crime fiction in Argentina. They are just some aspects about its history, its problems, authors and works.
I. Main writers of national literary system are linked to crime fiction
One significant aspect of crime fiction in Argentina is that some of the main national writers practiced it. Jorge Luis Borges, the most well-known, not only wrote short stories, such as “El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan” (1941), “La muerte y la brújula” (1942) or “Emma Zunz” (1948), but he also meditated on the genre in brief essays and personal texts: for example, he established his own rules for creating crime fiction (in “Leyes de la narración policial”, available in Spanish here, on pages 48-49: https://ahira.com.ar/ejemplares/hoy-argentina-no-2/), and he even debated about its origins in his controversial argument with Roger Caillois regarding the latter book Le roman policier (Buenos Aires: Editions des Lettres Françaises / Sur, 1941; and Borges’s polemical review and Caillois’s answer are collected in the book Borges en Sur 1931-1980, Buenos Aires: Emecé).
During the twentieth century, other central writers approached the genre in novels, short stories and essays: Roberto Arlt, Rodolfo Walsh, Julio Cortázar, Manuel Puig, Juan José Saer, Ricardo Piglia, and many others. In this respect, researcher and critic Sandra Contreras, in her book on César Aira’s works (Las vueltas de César Aira, Rosario: Beatriz Viterbo, 2002), even posited the presence of a sort of “crime fiction imperative” (the need for any aspiring writer in the Argentine literary field to publish crime fiction).
But despite all this accumulation of literary capital, it is still also true that Argentina was not an exception, in the middle of the previous century, to the sort of sentence that considered crime fiction not to be “real” literature: we can find a proof of this kind of judgement in Adolfo Prieto’s Sociología del público argentino (Buenos Aires: Leviatán, 1956), in which he conceives of the genre as “infraliteratura” (infra-literature, as opposed to high literature). However, crime fiction in Argentina proliferated, as it was given a sense of legitimacy by those writers mentioned above. By the end of the century, in the introduction of his anthology Cuentos policiales argentinos (Buenos Aires: Alfaguara, 1997), the critic Jorge Lafforgue stated that crime fiction is deeply bound up in the roots of all Argentine literature.
II. Three significant periods of the genre
Without being exhaustive, we can mention at least three important periods for the genre in Argentina.
The first one surprisingly started in 1877 (a very early date for such a “young” literature as that of Argentina), when Raúl Waleis, pseudonym and anagram of Raúl V. Varela, published La huella del crimen, the first crime fiction novel written in Spanish (Buenos Aires: Imprenta y Librerías de Mayo [Biblioteca Económica de Autores Nacionales]; and re-edited only 132 [!] years later: Buenos Aires: Adriana Hidalgo, 2009). During the last third of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the next one, we can find short stories in the pens of Paul Groussac, Eduardo Ladislao Holmberg, Vicente Rossi, and Horacio Quiroga (who, despite being born in Uruguay, spent most of his adult life in Argentina, and his works are usually recognized within the Argentine literature). Some of the short stories of these significant contributors to the genre can be read in an anthology edited by Román Setton: El candado de oro: 12 cuentos policiales argentinos (1860-1910) (Buenos Aires: Adriana Hidalgo, 2013). In this period, there is a variety of styles and the genre is still not quite institutionalized (although we can find quotations of international authors: for example, Raúl Waleis, in the introduction of La huella del crimen, notes the inspiration he drew from the works of Edgar Allan Poe and Émile Gaboriau).
We can identify another important period in the decade of 1940, with Borges’s success in implementing and spreading an abstract model of crime fiction (such as the one exposed in “La muerte y la brújula”). Other figures, all of them close to Borges, contributed with works in the line of British mystery fiction: Los que aman, odian (1946), by Adolfo Bioy Casares and Silvina Ocampo; El estruendo de las rosas (1948), by Manuel Peyrou; and even some fictions by Rodolfo Walsh, such as those included in Variaciones en rojo (1953) (soon Walsh concentrated on non-fiction and published Operación Masacre , a few years before Capote’s In Cold Blood ). But the abstract model defended by Borges also included a parody of the genre, with the primary example of Seis problemas para Don Isidro Parodi (1942), by Honorio Bustos Domecq, pen-name for the duo of Borges and Bioy Casares. Additionally, they both directed the collection El Séptimo Círculo (for the publishing house Emecé), which was a significant vector for the spread of crime fiction in Argentina (the editorial side of crime fiction in this country has other important collections, such as La Serie Negra, directed by Ricardo Piglia in the 1970s, among dozens of collections and publishers specialized in the genre).
A third significant period surrounds the decades of 1960 and 1970. During this time, the hard-boiled genre (originated in the decades of 1920 and 1930 in the United States) had its own representation in Argentina, in the form of “tough narratives” (which often contained parodic features). Just to mention some of them: Triste, solitario y final (1973), by Osvaldo Soriano; Los tigres de la memoria (1973), by Juan Carlos Martelli; El agua en los pulmones (1973) and Los asesinos las prefieren rubias (1974), by Juan Martini; “La loca y el relato del crimen” (1975), by Ricardo Piglia; “Orden jerárquico” (1975), by Eduardo Goligorsky; Noches sin lunas ni soles (1975), by Rubén Tizziani; Últimos días de la víctima (1979), by José Pablo Feinmann; and (once again, without being exhaustive) “Versión de un relato de Hammett” (1984), by Juan Sasturain (Piglia’s and Sasturain’s tales are included in the above-mentioned anthology, Cuentos policiales argentinos, probably the best and most complete anthology of crime fiction in Argentina to date).
III. Three conceptual issues
Among the conceptual problems regarding the possibility of an Argentine crime fiction, we could think about three nuclei: the nationalization of the genre; the representations of the police institution and State forces; and the rise of feminist perspectives and gender studies.
In the mid of the twentieth century, many writers posited the question of whether or not “Argentine crime fiction” existed. In the introduction of Los casos de Don Frutos Gómez (1955), a book of hilarious short stories starring the superintendent Don Frutos Gómez, Velmiro Ayala Gauna established that, indeed, it was possible to create a national genre: he expresses that the figures of the rastreador (pathfinder) or even rural men have as much as capacity of observation and knowledge as the European detectives.
Second issue: here we should remind readers that one of the usual names of the genre in Argentina is “policial” (for example: género policial, cuentos policiales, or just policial). This label implies some sort of (debatable) proximity to the name of the police and its adjective in Spanish (noun: policía; adjective: policial), and in extension to the Army and other State forces. This is a very sensitive point: the last military dictatorship in the country (1976-1983) caused many obscure deaths (among many tragic consequences), and, in this regard, many writers, in their critic essays, tend to question the possibility of the genre in Argentina, at least in the form of the traditional whodunit: is it possible to reach the truth if the State hides information and causes deaths? Among many writers and critics, José Pablo Feinmann and Carlos Gamerro addressed this problem and its implications (for example, the trouble of an investigator who belongs to a terrorist State and the need to look for other detective figures separated from public institutions), in two intelligent articles: “Estado policial y novela negra argentina” (by Feinmann, and included in a book edited by Giuseppe Petronio, Jorge B. Rivera and Luigi Volta, Los héroes “difíciles”: La literatura policial en la Argentina y en Italia, Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1991) and “Para una reformulación del género policial argentino” (by Gamerro, and included in El nacimiento de la literatura argentina y otros ensayos, Buenos Aires: Norma, 2006).
Last but not least: the rise of feminist perspectives had its consequences also in crime fiction. During this century, some women writers gained visibility. Probably the most important of them (at least in terms of sales and international circulation) is Claudia Piñeiro, with novels such as Tuya (2005), Elena sabe (2007), Betibú (2010), or the most recent Catedrales (2020), which includes the topic of abortion (linked to a sensitive and recent issue of the public agenda: its legalization). More female writers, with works close to crime fiction, are Mercedes Giuffré (Deuda de sangre, 2008), Tatiana Goransky (¿Quién mató a la cantante de Jazz?, 2008), María Inés Krimer (Sangre Kosher, 2010), Selva Almada (Chicas muertas, 2014) or Alicia Plante (Verde oscuro, 2014), among others. In some cases, fictions even include a feminist perspective, as in the case of Krimer’s 2019 novel, Cupo.