Extensive re-run of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Foreign Bodies’ crime fiction series on now!

Thanks to Andy Lawrence for spotting that BBC Radio 4 is re-running episodes from Mark Lawson’s excellent ‘Foreign Bodies’ crime fiction series on BBC Radio Four extra and BBC iPlayer Radio. Most episodes will be available online for a month following broadcast, and offer 15-minute opportunities to delve into the work of key crime writers and traditions from around the world.


The ‘Foreign Bodies’ series are close to my heart for their celebration of international crime fiction, their focus on some of our most interesting detective figures, and their analysis of how crime fiction is used to explore important political and social issues. I was also lucky enough to contribute to two episodes in Series 1 – on the works of Friedrich Dürrenmatt and Jakob Arjouni respectively.

Here’s a list of the ‘Foreign Bodies’ programmes you can listen to via BBC Radio iPlayer, either now or in the coming days. If you’re looking for some gems to add to your reading list, then these programmes are definitely for you.

Series 1, Episode 1  Belgium: Hercule Poirot and Jules Maigret (Agatha Christie and Georges Simenon)

Series 1, Episode 2  Switzerland/Germany: Inspector Bärlach (Friedrich Dürrenmatt… with a contribution from Mrs Peabody)


Series 1, Episode 3  Czechoslovakia: Lieutenant Boruvka (Josef Skvorecky)

Series 1, Episode 4  The Netherlands: Commissaris Van Der Valk (Nicolas Freeling)

Series 1, Episode 5  Sweden: Inspector Martin Beck (Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö)

Series 1, Episode 6  UK: Commander Dalgliesh/Chief Inspector Wexford (P.D. James and Ruth Rendell)

Series 1, Episode 7  Sicily: Inspector Rogas (Leonardo Sciascia)

Series 1, Episode 8  Spain: PI Pepe Carvalho (Manuel Vázquez Montalbán)

Series 1, Episode 9  UK: DCI Jane Tennison (Linda La Plante)

Episodes 10 to 15 are not yet listed as available, but they may well be soon – I’ll update if so (these include Montalbano/Italy, Kayankaya/Germany, Rebus/Scotland, Wallander and Salander/Sweden, Harry Hole/Norway and Fandorin/Russia).


Series 3, Episode 1  Cuba: an exploration of fictional investigations of Cuba after the Castro revolution with Leonardo Padura, author of The Havana Quartet, and Caroline Garcia-Aquilera, a Cuban-American writing from exile in Miami.

Series 3, Episode 2  USA: Laura Lippman and Walter Mosley, the creators of private eyes Tess Monaghan and Easy Rawlins, discuss how they introduced the experience of women and black Americans into crime fiction dominated by men and a McCarthyite fear of outsiders.

Series 3, Episode 3  Poland: Zygmunt Miloszewski and Joanna Jodelka reflect on how Polish crime fiction depicts the country’s occupation by Nazis and Communists, the transition to democracy through the Solidarity movement and lingering accusations of racism and anti-Semitism.

Series 3 Episode 4  Australia: Australia’s leading crime novelist, South African-born Peter Temple, discusses depicting a society shaped by both British colonialism and American power, and why Australian crime fiction should contain as few words as possible.

Series 3 Episode 5  Nigeria: Writers Helon Habila and C.M. Okonkwo discuss how a flourishing new tradition of Nigerian crime fiction explores British legacy, tribal tradition and the new “corporate colonialism” as global companies exploit the country’s mineral reserves.


Mark Lawson’s article on the first ‘Foreign Bodies’ series is also available via The Guardian: ‘Crime’s Grand Tour: European Detective Fiction’.

Jakob Arjouni’s Turkish-German Kayankaya series

I was delighted to hear that Jakob Arjouni’s Turkish-German investigator Kemal Kayankaya was going to feature on the Radio 4 ‘Foreign Bodies’ series, and to contribute a bit to the episode in question, as it gave me an excellent chance to re-read the Kayankaya novels and to get my hands on the latest instalment, Brother Kemal, published in Germany just this year.

In order of appearance, they are:

  1. Happy Birthday, Türke / Happy Birthday Turk (1985)
  2. Mehr Bier / More Beer (1987)
  3. Ein Mann, ein Mord / One Man, One Murder (1991)
  4. Kismet / Kismet (2001)
  5. Bruder Kemal / Brother Kemal (2012)

Blue Night 4 Arjouni

The first time I came across Kayankaya was in 1988, in the ‘foreign literature’ section of Borders on Oxford Street in London. The novel was Happy Birthday, Turk, which had been published in Germany in 1985, and had become a surprise critical and commercial hit. It was written by debut author Jakob Arjouni at the tender age of just nineteen.

It’s hard to overestimate how ground-breaking the figure of the Turkish-German P.I. Kemal Kayankaya was in the West Germany of the 1980s, when public attitudes towards the migrant workers who had helped to rebuild post-war Germany were deteriorating (‘job done, now please go home’). Asking German readers to identify with the likeable, wise-cracking, football-and-pickled-herring-loving Kayankaya directly challenged the dominant stereotype of ‘the Turk’ as a kebab-shop owner, rubbish collector or criminal who was poorly integrated into society and spoke only broken German. Kayankaya, the child of a Turkish migrant worker, is depicted as highly articulate, confident in his professional abilities, and – exceptionally for the time – as the holder of a West German passport, courtesy of his adoption by a German couple after his parents’ death. His characterisation thus deliberately up-ends the average German reader’s perception of what a Turkish person living in Germany ‘is like’, and confronts essentialist notions of German national identity. A Turkish-born person with a German passport? A Turkish-German citizen? Really?

Kayankaya’s early investigations, which fuse parts of the American hard-boiled tradition with the German Sozio-Krimi (sociological crime novel) of the 1970s, are used to expose the corruption of the state and to reveal the racism at the heart of West German society – the lingering legacy of National Socialism. The tables are thus deftly turned by Arjouni: the focus is on German criminal activity, and the crimes of Turks and other minorities are shown in the larger context of the unequal power-relations that exist within the state (for example, a ‘bad’ Turk is shown having been blackmailed into dealing drugs by corrupt police officers who threaten him with deportation should he not comply).

DVD cover of the film adaptation of Happy Birthday Turk (1991)

There’s also plenty of wise-cracking, acerbic humour. In fact, wit and sarcasm are shown to be key weapons when dealing with the tedious, casual racism the P.I. encounters as he goes about his daily business in Frankfurt.

Thus we are treated to the following classic exchanges:

  • German woman to Kayankaya: ‘You speak really good German!’
  • Kayankaya to German woman: ‘Thanks (long pause). You too’.


  • German bureaucrat to Kayankaya: ‘Name?’
  • Kayankaya: ‘Kayankaya’.
  • German bureaucrat: ‘Spelling?’
  • Kayankaya: ‘Pretty good. Though I do have a little trouble with those foreign words’.

The Kayankaya novels are not necessarily perfect, but Kemal Kayankaya remains a ground-breaking investigative figure in the history of European crime fiction. A thoroughly original creation, he is used to raise some genuinely troubling questions about dominant social attitudes towards minorities. Many of the points the novels raise about social exclusion and about the uneven distribution of justice within society remain as pertinent today as in the 1980s.

Later novels in the series, as the ‘Foreign Bodies’ episode shows, engage with the seismic changes in Europe following the collapse of communism in 1989/90, and, most recently, with the tensions caused by Islamic fundamentalism (Brother Kemal).

You can listen to the ‘Foreign Bodies’ episode about Kemal Kayankaya, which features an interview with the author Jakob Arjouni, on BBC Radio iPlayer.

Image for PI Kemal Kayankaya

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Foreign Bodies’ episode guide…with a bit of Mrs. Peabody in #2!

Mark Lawson’s ‘Foreign Bodies’ series kicked off yesterday with an exploration of two seminal detectives from Belgium –  Hercule Poirot and Jules Maigret. Val McDermid, Andrea Camilleri, P.D. James, Jakob Arjouni and Camilla Lackberg all joined Mark for a fascinating discussion about these two key investigative figures.

Today it was the turn of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s Swiss detective Inspector Bärlach, featuring a contribution from your very own Mrs. P… Our discussion took in Dürrenmatt’s links to earlier Swiss crime writer Friedrich Glauser, Dürrenmatt’s exploration of the moral crisis facing Europe following the Holocaust, and his subversion of the detective genre to question the possibility of justice. The crime novels discussed included The Judge and his Hangman (Der Richter und sein Henker, 1950), Suspicion (Der Verdacht, 1951) and The Pledge (Das Verprechen, 1958).

Listings for the first 7 episodes are now up on the ‘Foreign Bodies’ website. They air Monday to Friday on Radio 4 at 13.45, and are then available online. For good measure, there’s an omnibus edition on Friday at 21.00.

Episode 1  Belgium: Hercule Poirot and Jules Maigret (Agatha Christie and Georges Simenon)

Episode 2  Switzerland / Germany: Inspector Bärlach (Friedrich Dürrenmatt)

Image for Inspector Barlach

Episode 3  Czechoslovakia: Lieutenant Boruvka (Josef Skvorecky)

Episode 4  The Netherlands: Commissaris Van Der Valk (Nicolas Freeling)

Episode 5  Sweden: Inspector Martin Beck (Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö)

Episode 6  UK: Commander Dalgliesh / Chief Inspector Wexford (P.D. James and Ruth Rendell)

Episode 7  Sicily: Inspector Rogas (Leonardo Sciascia)

You can also hear Bernard Hepton (who played Toby Esterhase in the BBC adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) begin his sublime Radio 4 reading of Dürrenmatt’s novella The Judge and his Hangman (available until 29 October).

Roseanna, the first of the Martin Beck dramatisations – will air on Radio 4 on Saturday 27 October at 14.30, but if you can’t wait, help yourself to this sneak preview.

Mrs. P’s review of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Pledge is available here.

UPDATE 28 October: Mark Lawson has written an overview article about the ‘Foreign Bodies’ series for The Guardian entitled ‘Crime’s Grand Tour: European Detective Fiction’.