Belfast, Bateman and Bora

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 TrousersI 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.