Spring crime reading: World Noir series

Spring has sprung here in Wales, and we’ve already had a few sunny days to reacquaint ourselves with the pleasures of reading outside in the garden, park, or by the sea. Bliss.

Left: one of my favourite reading benches in Tenby, Wales.

I’ve been getting on well with my research (more on that later), and in my spare time have been catching up with new releases in the ‘World Noir’ series from Europa Editions in New York. There are around 20 titles available from all around the globe (see below), of which I’ve now sampled three from France: Jean-Claude Izzo’s Total Chaos (translated by Howard Curtis, originally published 1995); Philippe Georget’s Summertime, All the Cats are Bored (translated by Steven Randell, first published 2009), and Jean-Denis Bruet-Ferreol’s (aka Mallock) The Cemetery of Swallows (Steven Randell again, first published 2012).

Image courtesy of World Noir / Europa Editions

Izzo’s Total Chaos – ‘This first installment in the legendary ‘Marseilles Trilogy’ sees Fabio Montale turning his back on a police force marred by corruption and racism and taking the fight against the mafia into his own hands’. Beautifully written, it’s also the story of three boyhood friends – Ugo, Manu and Fabio – and the pursuit of justice in a tough, imperfect world. The novel has a very masculine feel, with women relegated to the role of victim, mother figure or prostitute-with-heart-of-gold, but I can forgive this, because it’s so very good, especially in its exploration of the migrant experience. I’m keen to get my hands on the other two now.

Georget’s Summertime – ‘It’s the middle of a long, hot summer on the French shore and the town is full of tourists. Out of the blue a young Dutch woman is brutally murdered and another disappears without a trace. Gilles Sebag finds himself thrust into the middle of a diabolical game. If he intends to salvage anything he will have to forget his suspicions of his wife’s unfaithfulness, ignore his heart murmur, and get over his existential angst’. Like Total Chaos, this novel quickly immerses the reader in its Mediterranean setting, while drawing the reader into a complex and compelling police investigation. See Bernadette’s excellent review over at Reactions to Reading

Mallock’s The Cemetery of Swallows: ‘One day, Manuel Gemoni travels to the other end of the world to kill an old man. Manuel can only explain his bizarre actions by saying “I killed him because he had killed me.” Unable to comprehend why an ordinary family man would go to such lengths to murder a man he didn’t know, Police Commissioner Amédée Mallock decides to investigate. In order to save Manuel, Mallock must traverse the harsh tropical jungles of the Dominican Republic and the snow-covered streets of Paris’. I’ve just started this one, and am enjoying the intriguing nature of the case, the characterization of the investigator and the Dominican setting. There is a hint – just a tiny, subtle hint – of Vargas, but with the quirkiness dialed down. 

In sum: this is a quality series, showcasing the best of classic and contemporary noir, and we are promised another three to four titles each season. It could be time to hide the credit card, especially as the novels are so beautifully presented.

Thanks to Europa Editions for sending me these review copies from the World Noir series

German crime research update: I’ve had a fascinating time looking at crime fiction under National Socialism. To my surprise, there was lots produced between 1933 and 1945, and it wasn’t greatly censored until 1939, when authors were instructed to produce crime novels featuring policeman as heroes of the state. However, only a few overtly referenced Nazi ideology, which suggests that crime fiction was viewed more as a benign form of popular entertainment than as a tool for indoctrination. The research carried out by Carsten Würmann has been invaluable for getting an insight into this period.

I’ve also been delving into the Soziokrimi (social crime novel) or ‘new German crime novel’, which emerged in the late 1960s, and was influenced by both the student movement and Swedish writers Sjöwall and Wahlöö. There are some very interesting texts that explore the social causes of crime and the negative impact of capitalism on society. While some are quite earnest, others use humour to get their message across: Horst Bosetzky’s 1972 Einer von uns beiden (One of the Two of Us), depicts a blackly comic battle of wits between a smug, middle-class professor and the working-class student trying to blackmail him. The 1974 film adaptation was quite successful, and can be seen in German on YouTube here. Jürgen Prochnow, the actor playing Ziegenhals, went on to star in 1981’s Das Boot. 


15 thoughts on “Spring crime reading: World Noir series

  1. Mrs. P – Thanks for the very interesting update on your research. I can’t wait to read your final findings. I find it fascinating how crime fiction is as much of anything else a reflection of a culture. And isn’t it lovely to be able to enjoy fine weather and a good book? Thanks too for the suggestions of world noir to read (not that my TBR needs any additions *sigh*).

    • You’re welcome, Margot. I feel like I’m learning a huge amount, and am able to see lots of connections that weren’t clear to me before. All good. Yes, crime as a reflection of a culture, but sometimes mingled in with others (such the Swedish social crime novel tradition in the case of the Soziokrimi). Fascinating to see how those influences are absorbed and turned into something distinctively ‘German’.

      I have SO many books to read right now. An Everest of a TBR pile 🙂

  2. Your German crime research sounds utterly intriguing!
    And I love the World Noir series. I’ve read Izzo (in French though) and absolutely loved him, especially the second volume in the series, Chourmo. I’ve read, enjoyed and reviewed Summertime All the Cats Are Bored (how can you not love a title like that?) over at CFL. And I haven’t yet read the Mallock (I think it’s being sent to me as we speak), but will get to meet and hopefully chat to Mallock at the Quais du Polar in Lyon this weekend – can’t wait! I’m so excited about the whole event I could give a little yell!

    • Many thanks, MarinaSofia – I’m really enjoying the research. German-language crime has a much richer history than people sometimes think – some wonderful gems there.

      I’ve just been salivating over the other World Noir titles and have decided that I WANT THEM ALL.

      I’m enjoying the Mallock – please send him my regards when you see him in Lyon. Have a wonderful time and look forward to hearing all about it once you’re back.

      I’ll check out your review of Summertime asap – thanks for flagging it up.

  3. It is great that you are spreading the word for this series. I wish I could have all of them too. Beautiful editions. I do have several, two by Kerrigan, and several others. I read Total Chaos several years ago and at the time found it too dark for me. And maybe the role of women worked against it too. But it was a very good picture of the migrant experience and that alone is reason to read it.

    • Thanks, TracyK. From what I’ve seen, I think it’s a really outstanding series, and yes, aren’t they beautiful? They just ooze quality. You’re right – Total Chaos is very dark, but I thought it was very moving too, and a touching hymn to male friendship. I’m not too surprised about the depiction of the women (typical of noir?). It’s not that they aren’t positively depicted (most of them are), but that they’re so stereotypical. But I’m very keen to read the other two now – the trilogy is clearly an important part of French noir crime.

  4. Thanks for the kind words Mrs P and also for highlighting other books in this world noir series – I don’t really need to add to my groaning wishlist but if the others are as good as Summertime was then I shall definitely be looking out for them (though I continue to think publishing people really don’t understand the meaning of noir…Summertime was not what I’d call noir).

    I love the look of your outdoor reading spot.

    • You’re welcome, Bernadette – thanks for writing such a fine review!

      I think you’re right that the concept of noir is quite a stretchy one these days – perhaps simply being used to signal that there are dark / hard-hitting elements within the narrative. Out of the three mentioned in the post, I think Izzo’s Total Chaos is probably the most traditionally noir, in terms of its depiction of the seedy underbelly of society and the corruption of the police, leaving one ‘good cop’ to fight for justice against the odds.

      My outdoor reading spot: I was lucky enough to spend some time in Tenby recently, which is a lovely little coastal town in Wales. There’s no such thing as a bad view there…

  5. Lovely post here about more good books. Groan. My TBR Mt. Everest is like a phone book now, don’t know if it can hold any more titles. However, I will read Summertime, perhaps in the summertime when I’m bored.
    Very glad to see you’re spending your sabbatical on such productive and enjoyable reading.
    If I were you, I’d put my name on that bench in Tenby. It’s a perfect spot for reading.

    • I know – sometimes our cup runneth over! I like the idea of reading in tune with titles (summertime/bored). Izzo’s Total Chaos when housework runs out of control etc.

      That bench is just one of the perfect spots for reading in Tenby! It’s a very reader-friendly town with an excellent bookshop. I was very lucky to be able to spend some time there.

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