2013 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize longlist has distinctly criminal dimensions

The 2013 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize longlist has just been announced and features a pleasing number of works that draw on crime genre conventions.

The prize was set up in 1990 and ‘honours the best work of fiction by a living author, which has been translated into English from any other language and published in the United Kingdom’. It also makes a point of splitting the £10,000 prize money between the winning author and the translator, which highlights the crucial and often overlooked role of translators in allowing us to access fine international writing.

Four longlisted novels by Dutch, French, Danish and Colombian authors have a ‘criminal dimension’ and are described as follows on the prize and publisher websites:

Gerbrand Bakker’s The Detour (translated from the Dutch by David Colmer / Harvill Secker)

A Dutch woman rents a remote farm in rural Wales. She has fled from an unbearable situation having recently confessed to an affair with one of her students. In Amsterdam, her stunned husband forms a strange partnership with a detective who agrees to help him trace her. They board the ferry to Hull on Christmas Eve. Back on the farm, a young man out walking with his dog injures himself and stays the night, then ends up staying longer. Yet something is deeply wrong. Does he know what he is getting himself into? And what will happen when her husband and the policeman arrive? Gerbrand Bakker has made the territories of isolation, inner turmoil and the solace offered by the natural world his own. The Detour is a deeply moving new novel, shot through with longing and the quiet tragedy of everyday lives.


Laurent Binet, HHhH (translated from the French by Sam Taylor / Harvill Secker)

Two men have been enlisted to kill the head of the Gestapo. This is Operation Anthropoid, Prague, 1942: two Czechoslovakian parachutists sent on a daring mission by London to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich – chief of the Nazi secret services, ‘the hangman of Prague’, ‘the blond beast’, ‘the most dangerous man in the Third Reich’. His boss is Heinrich Himmler but everyone in the SS says ‘Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich’ [Himmlers Hirn heißt Heydrich], which in German spells “HHhH”.

All the characters in HHhH are real. All the events depicted are true. But alongside the nerve-shredding preparations for the attack runs another story: when you are a novelist writing about real people, how do you resist the temptation to make things up? HHhH is a panorama of the Third Reich told through the life of one outstandingly brutal man, a story of unbearable heroism and loyalty, revenge and betrayal.


Pia Juul, The Murder of Halland (translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken / Peirine Press)

Denmark’s foremost literary author turns crime fiction on its head. Bess and Halland live in a small town, where everyone knows everyone else. When Halland is found murdered in the main square the police encounter only riddles. For Bess bereavement marks the start of a journey that leads her to a reassessment of first friends, then family.

Why Peirene chose to publish this book: ‘If you like crime you won’t be disappointed. The book has all the right ingredients. A murder, a gun, an inspector, suspense. But the story strays far beyond the whodunit norm. In beautifully stark language Pia Juul manages to chart the phases of bereavement. P.S. Don’t skip the quotes.’ Meike Ziervogel

Maxine Clarke’s review of this novel is available on the Euro Crime blog.


Juan Gabriel Vásquez, The Sound of Things Falling (translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean / Bloomsbury)

No sooner does he get to know Ricardo Laverde than disaffected young Colombian lawyer Antonio Yammara realises that his new friend has a secret, or rather several secrets. When Ricardo is shot dead on a street corner in Bogotá by a guy on the back of a motorbike, Antonio is caught in the hail of bullets. Lucky to survive, and more out of love with life than ever, he starts asking questions until the questions become an obsession that leads him to Laverde’s daughter. His troubled investigation leads all the way back to the early 1960s, marijuana smuggling and a time before the cocaine trade trapped a whole generation of Colombians in a living nightmare of fear and random death. Juan Gabriel Vásquez is one of the leading novelists of his generation, and The Sound of Things Falling, which tackles what became of Colombia in the time of Pablo Escobar, is his best book to date.


The shortlist for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2013 will be announced on 11 April. The full longlist can be found here.

Looking forward to sampling some of these soon!

15 thoughts on “2013 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize longlist has distinctly criminal dimensions

  1. The Sound of Things Falling sounds most interesting to me out if this bunch, and thanks for reminding me to check out the just-released long list!

  2. The Murder of Halland sounds quite good, although sad. Maxine Clarke had recommended it so I wrote it down on my TBR list.
    And The Detour, which is new to me, also sounds interesting. I’ll see if it gets to my neck of the woods, or across the pond.
    Again, as happens as Spring approaches, we’re being besieged with a lot of new books. The problem, as always, is for them to reach the States in paper form and not costing a ransom.

    • Thanks very much for reminding me about Maxine’s review, Kathy. I’ve included the link in my post now.

      Hopefully some of these will make their way over the pond to you for a decent price. I’m having similar frustrations in relation to Australian crime fiction, which is often extremely dear here in the UK (as I know it is in Oz itself). There are lots of novels that I’m really keen to read but that threaten to break the bank!

  3. Yes like Kathy I have The Murder of Halland on my bookshelf after Maxine’s review. HHhH wasn’t for me but it’s been widely praised.

    • I picked up HHhH in a bookshop the other day, but hestitated… I’m sure I’ll read it eventually, but wasn’t immediately drawn. Why wasn’t it for you, Sarah?

      • I haven’t read it, but my hesitation comes from knowing what happened next/in response…with that background, I’m not sure I want to follow the assassins – wanting them to “succeed” is not necessarily a position I feel comfortable with under the circumstances. (I hope that’s spoiler-free enough for a historical comment!)

      • Yes indeed – thanks, Lauren. That’s a very good point you make. I wonder how the author deals with this…

  4. The Detour is the one that attracts me most, but I must go and check out the entire long list because I’m conscious how little translated literature I read and exploring this award seems like a good way of doing something about that.

    • I agree, Alex – the longlist is a very good way into translated fiction, and there’s an impressive spread of works from all over the world, including a Syrian novel that was banned following publication, presumably for being too politically critical.

  5. I find it hard to get crime fiction by women writers in Oz. However, somehow I’ve managed with a little help from Australian writers and bloggers, who are incredibly generous.
    Additionally, I have bought books from Amazon US, although the waiting can be long. Relatives bought me books from Oz via Amazon UK. Also, I’ve ordered some from the Book Depository.
    Text Publishers in Australia sells Angela Savage’s and other books, but hers will be more widely available this year.
    The library system has purchased some of them, as works by Kerry Greenwood, Felicity Young, Malla Nunn
    Awesomebooks sells some of the books by Katherine Howell and Kathryn Fox; they ship free within Britain. Abe Books, which is in Canada, is a good source for me, but I don’t know if they ship abroad. I emailed them, asking that question.
    It is a project to find books from Oz. I have been able to locate some good ones, but so many are written about at blogs that I wish I could find.

    • Thanks very much, Kathy – some very useful sources highlighted in your comment. I’ll bear those in mind next time I’m on the hunt for some Australian, or indeed other crime fiction.

  6. These books souns great, I immediately orderd HHhH from the library; also really like the sound of The Detour. Also very interested in above discussion about getting certain crime fiction from other countries – just the other day I was searching our library database for a book by Katherine Howell – no sign of it, but thanks to Kathy d above I now have a lead!

    • Thanks, Blighty – yes, some very interesting looking ones there (and on the main list too). HHhH appears to have had a bit of an uneven reader response, so I’ll look forward to hearing what you made of it.

      Kathy is a great source of information – a very handy list, I agree!

  7. Pingback: Nominations, shortlists and stacks of crime | Mrs. Peabody Investigates

Please leave your comment here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.