Monday, October 29, 2012

Paris throught the eyes of Léo Malet and Nestor Burma

Léo Malet was a singer, a poet, an anarchist, a surrealist, a prisoner of war, a novelist. and a crime writer.

Perhaps his surrealist leanings gave rise on the first page of The Rats of Montsouris to the odd juxtaposition of
“It was one of those summer nights we don’t get often enough. Just the way I like them: dry and stifling”.
“The rue du Cange was damp and torpid. … No other sound disturbed the clammy quiet.”
Or maybe a spot of slapdash writing or mistranslation was responsible. But no matter; the lapse (or quirk) appears isolated.

The Rats of Montsouris (1955) is somewhere around the seventeenth of Malet’s many novels featuring the phenomenally popular Nestor Burma, a relatively rare private investigator in French crime fiction commonly called a counterpart to Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade, or both. Something more than half the books were among what Malet called his "New Mysteries of Paris," each set in one of the city's districts, or arrondissements, the series a nod to Eugène Sue's nineteenth-century "Mysteries of Paris." (Cara Black continues the tradition today in her Aimée Leduc mysteries.)

Burma likes to wander the streets, sometimes with his beautiful secretary, sometimes into artists' studios and surrealists' ateliers. But the real attraction to far is the zest with which Burma carries out his wanderings, exclaiming with wonder at a part of the city he had never seen before despite his long residence or remarking, perhaps sardonically, about some monument or public square's best feature.

I'm along for the ride, and Malet must have done something right; Nestor Burma has enjoyed a sixty- or seventy-year career in novels, short stories, television, movies, and, more recently, graphic novel adaptations by Jacques Tardi. Has any fictional P.I. not named Holmes had a longer career?

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Blogger seana graham said...

These sound very fun. I think I'd like the asides on the city very much.

October 30, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I finished the book earlier today, post-Hurricane. I think I might like the graphic novels even better. I suspect the drawing style might take good advantage of the parodistic aspect of the books.

(The cover with which I illustrated this post, though from an edition of the novel, is in the style of the comic-book illustrations.)

October 30, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

P.S. Pan reprinted some of the books in English translation in the 1990s. I'm not sure how readily available the books are in English translation these days. I bought this one through ABE.

October 30, 2012  
Anonymous Anne - Le French Book said...

I discovered Nestor Burma on French television ages ago, and love the detective. This post has made me want to go back to the novels. Thanks.

October 31, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And your comment has made me want to look for the old television shows. They ran for many, many years, as I understand.

October 31, 2012  

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