I thoroughly enjoyed my recent visit to Belfast in Northern Ireland. Highlights included:
The Belfast ‘States of Crime’ Conference…
which was held 17-18 June and featured 60 academics from over 14 countries speaking on a wide range of international crime fiction. The focus of the conference was ‘the state’ and papers explored crime’s treatment of this topic from a number of angles, such as: state authority, state violence, the state and social exclusion, the criminal state, state memories and counter-memories, the welfare state, complicity with the state and resistance to the state. My paper was on the ‘The Nazi Detective and the State’, and examined the depiction of this controversial figure in three texts: Philip Kerr’s The Pale Criminal, Robert Harris’s Fatherland, and the German crime novel Wer übrig bleibt, hat recht by Richard Birkefeld and Göran Hachmeister [published the journal Comparative Literature Studies in 2013].
Other crime writers under discussion included Ian Rankin, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, James Ellroy, Ross MacDonald, Massimo Carlotto, David Peace, Dominique Manotti, Stieg Larsson, Chester Himes and Didier Daeninckx.
There’s a real buzz about crime fiction as an area of academic research at the moment. In the past there’s been some snobbery in academic circles about the value of studying popular culture, and many academics from previous generations felt they had to research crime fiction ‘on the side’ as a kind of guilty pleasure. There’s a significant shift now, with younger academics already writing doctorates on crime fiction rather than waiting until later when they’ve established an academic reputation. It’s a very welcome development, especially given that crime fiction is read by such huge audiences, and has an important cultural influence that merits analysis.
The Belfast Book Festival…
was running at the same time as the conference. Delegates and crime fans joined together for a roundtable with David Peace and Eoin McNamee on Friday evening. Both authors were very eloquent about their work and the kinds of problems raised when writing about real life crimes (the Yorkshire Ripper murders and the Patricia Curran murder respectively). Both also felt strongly that depicting the victims’ stories, so often overlooked in crime fiction, was of paramount importance to their own projects.
Each of the authors read from their works. Peace’s selection of GB84 was especially resonant given the the current economic climate.
The No Alibis Bookstore…
on Botanic Avenue, just around the corner from the university, is a treasure trove of crime fiction from all four corners of the world. But it also has a literary claim to fame, as it’s the same bookshop that’s featured in Belfast crime writer Colin Bateman’s Mystery Man: Murder, Mayhem and Damn Sexy Trousers. I had an illuminating discussion with the owner about what it was like to see your shop, and in large measure yourself, depicted in a work of fiction…
Aside from the fabulous selection of crime fiction, I’d recommend a visit for the following lovely touch: all customers are offered a cup of tea as they browse the bookshelves or read on the highly comfy sofas. What’s not to love?!
A greatly enlarged TBR pile for my own research project on Nazi-themed crime has resulted from those four days away. New reading includes: Dominique Manotti’s Affairs of State, Andreas Pittler’s Bronstein series (largely set in Austria before and during Nazi Occupation and featuring a Jewish policeman, but not yet translated, alas), Camilla Lackberg’s The Hidden Child, and Ben Pastor’s Lumen. The latter, which I’ve just started, is the first in the Martin Bora series, set in Nazi-occupied Cracow in 1939. It’ll be very interesting to compare it to other historical crime fiction set in the same period such as Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series.
So glad you enjoyed your trip. I’m glad you pointed out that crime fiction is gaining respect in academic circles these days. I’ll be very interested to see if that trend continues and if it does, what it means for the way we talk about the genre.
Thanks very much, Margo. There have obviously been some very good academic works on crime fiction in the past – by pioneers like Stephen Knight – but what’s happening now feels like a larger academic ‘wave’ with proper momentum. There’s a sense of a proper academic crime-writing community which is really nice. I’m not sure what it’ll mean for the way we talk about the genre – that’s a very big and very good question. I suppose the plus of academic projects is that they home in on and investigate specific themes like ‘the state’ or ‘justice’ with the benefit of theoretical concepts from, say, sociology, criminology or historiography. But the difficulty is presenting these findings for wider consumption beyond the academic community. I think academics are still trying to work out how to do this.
Good stuff, Inspector Pea.
Thank you, sir!
Wow, this sounds like such a fantastic trip! Academic conferences on crime fiction sound such fun (Barbara Fister’s reports of the Stieg Larsson conference in California were a fascinating perspective). I wish I could go to one. I hope you enjoy Affairs of State, when you get round to it, I thought it was fantastic at portraying a regime riddled with corruption and (topically) endemic power-game sexism. My only gripe was that the female detective did not come into it enough – she was a bit of a “first half only” character.
Yes, it was great (and academics researching crime fiction seem to be exceptionally nice, which is a bonus). I enjoyed Barbara’s report as well. Didn’t have the chance to catch the Nordic crime session in Belfast, alas. There were three parallel sessions and far too many mouth-watering choices to make. I really needed a clone to help me out!
Just finished Affairs of State, which I thoroughly enjoyed for the same reasons you mention. Noria a very intriguing character. Will blog soon 🙂
Dear Mrs. P.!
Unfortunately I came across these your lines only today, but I don´t want to miss the opportunity to thank you for mentioning my Bronstein-series. And if you know somebody who would like to translate those books, please don´t hesitate to give him my e-mail-address. 🙂
Best wishes (and also already seasonal greetings) from Vienna,
Dear Andreas (if I may),
Delighted to hear from you! You have Marieke Krajenbrink of Limerick University to thank for this mention: she gave a very interesting conference paper on your novels entitled ‘Investigating the “State that nobody wanted” – Austria’s First Republic (1918-1934) in Andreas Pittler’s Bronstein Series’. I’m looking forward to meeting Bronstein first-hand (happily I read German), but yes, it’s a shame that the novels aren’t out in English as yet (and I will keep an eye out for that translator for you!). Perhaps a Mrs P. review would be a small step forward in terms of bringing the series to the attention of an international crime readership? 🙂
Very festive greetings to you also,
Dear Mrs. P.
Nearly one year after our little conversation here I´m glad to tell you, that Inspector Bronstein will be translated finally into English. The first volume of the series will be published next march by Ariadne Press in California (http://www.ariadnebooks.com/category.aspx?categoryID=2). So Bronstein will be able to be received by an international audience as well. 🙂
Best wishes to you,
I’m delighted to hear this really excellent news – congratulations! If Ariadne Press has a review copy spare, I’d be very keen to get my hands on it and to help spread the word 🙂
All best wishes, Mrs. P.