Monday, February 12, 2007

Cara Black

The author of the Aimée Leduc series of mysteries, each set in Paris and named for a district of the city, posted a complimentary comment here last week. In return, I thought I'd investigate her work. Murder in the Marais, the first in the series, delves into ugly details of World War II and unsettling parallels in 1990s France.

I know that much from reviews of the novel, which I've just begun reading. What I know first hand, from the opening chapters, is that Black has a nice touch for atmospheric dialogue. Leduc's early encounter with the old man who hires her for the job that sets the plot in motion has an edgy intensity. She's reluctant; he never answers her questions directly, communicating the urgency of his request instead with appeals to the memory of Leduc's father. The indirection works, and it captures what many of us must have felt: annoyance at a persistent petitioner, and annoyance at ourselves for somehow being moved, despite ourselves, to hear the petitioner out.

I mentioned that each book in the series is named for a district in Paris: Murder in Belleville, Murder in Clichy, etc. I wonder if Black took her cue from the pioneering French crime fiction writer Léo Malet, who planned to set one book featuring his anti-hero detective Nestor Burma in each of Paris' arrondissements, or districts.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I finally managed to flip through all the posts (well, since November)in order not to warm up
lengthily discussed topics again. What a wonderful site! As Cara Black said
a couple of days ago "Silly me, I should have found you before!"

So, as for the Aimée Leduc series I look forward to reading them - hope they
got them in the library. Or in the feminist bookshops? (In the late 80ies
they all changed their assortment from scientific (sociology: Judith Butler)
to esoteric and womens' crime fiction, otherwise they wouldn't have survived
the backlash). Wonder if I'll find something of my own Paris experience:
that it's no longer the Arondissement which makes the difference, but centre
and margin / fringes, inclusion or exclusion. With Nestor Burma I liked that
you had it all in one neighbourhood, just a hundred yards and you stepped
into a different world. Now the city of Paris is cleansed while the borders
are burning.

Regards, Gabo.

February 13, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

no, Gabo said...

Ah, I see, instead of the "previous posts" you installed an archive. Hard-working pal - thanks, it makes research a lot easier! And I assume that some day apart from the labels, the site will have an index, too, to render it even more practicable for yourself and the other players in the game ... I learnt that different from the newsgroups which indeed create a net (but where you simply get carried away all too often) the blog as sort of an interactive homepage is more of a spider's web. With the effect that every comment on a previous topic might be replied by you but usually does not return into a broader discussion which could generate new aspects. Well, I reckon the ideal 'customizable' media in that flux of communication technologies still has to be found.
So I hope you'll enjoy my forthcoming comments on
- the job conditions of a Philadelphia copy editor compared to those in Germany
- some more Scandinavian crime investigators
- Friedrich Glauser / Hannes Binder
- some more fun and humour in crime fiction elsewhere
- German crime fiction and its non-reception abroad (not only a matter of language!)
- maybe, only maybe Batya Gur and/or Val McDermid

February 13, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the comments and suggestions. I had not thought about an index; I'm not sure my version of Blogger would allow me to set one up. I could investigate the new version of Blogger, but that version has been panned by anyone who's used it and offered an opinion.

The other thing I'd like to be able to do is amend the "recent comments" section to show the subject of each comment (i.e., the title of the post to which the comment replied). Now, the comments appear in this form: "Joe // February 03, 2007," which is pretty useless. Entries in the form "Joe // on Camilleri and mystery" would be a lot more helpful. And the "recent commenst" should appear on the list in the order they were posted, not according to the date of the post to which the comment replies.

I wonder where Simenon's Paris would fall on the list of fictional Parises. Maigret could find lots happening on a short walk between his home and a corner bar. I haven't read Daniel Penac's Belleville novels, but they bring the margins right back into the center, from what I understand.

February 13, 2007  
Blogger May said...

Hello Peter

Im a student translator, and I stumbled upon your site while doing research for my final project (un polar). What a wonderful blog! I've never been a great reader of crime fiction; To be honest, I'm not even sure the ones I've read are considered a member of the genre. But, after scanning through your archives, I picked up a couple of titles that look very promising. This is a great blog.
Keep it up!

February 13, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for visiting, May, and thanks for your kind words. I'd be pleased if I can help with your project. As it happens, I've occasionally discussed issues related to translation. You can find those posts here: The first of those posts contains a link to an article that you might find interesting if you haven't seen it already: It's an article from Crime TIme magazine, in which ten translators of crime fiction talk about issues that arise in their work.

As it happens, I just bought a copy of one of Léo Malet's Nestor Burma books today, in the original language, French. As expected, it's full of slang, which will make it difficult for me to read. More to the point, I imagine slang and cliches present some of a translator's more difficult challenges.

What have you read, and what are you reading and translating for your project? What languages do you work with?

February 14, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...


I don't know much German-language crime fiction: Glauser, Jorg Fauser, Gunther Ohnemus (all published by Bitter Lemon Press in English). It's quite easy to imagine that German crime fiction may not have been received well simply because people don't like Germans. I don't know Hannes Binder, but I once did make a note to myself to look for Pieke Biermann after I read some good things about her work.

With respect to being a copy editor in Philadelphia, it is a miserable existence these days!

You may notice from the comment I posted just above this one that I bought a novel by Léo Malet: Les Eaux Troubles de Javel (It takes place in the 15th.) The opening chapter is full of slang, but I think I can understand something of Nestor Burma's attitude.

February 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gabo said...

> It's quite easy to imagine that German crime fiction may not have been received well simply because people don't like Germans.


That wasn't my impression during the World Cup 2006 weeks with millions of foreigners raving in the streets of all the big cities all through the night... We're talking present time, not Third Reich where there wasn't any crime fiction (as far as I know), when crime was reality and monopolized by the State.

I'd rather say the non-translation of German crime fiction into English is to do with it's fairly poor quality. By now there are fictional private eyes, detectives and amateur sleuths for every minor city with more than a 100.000 population although I'm not sure if that's the reason for the dull provinciality of most novels, even if they deal with the Russian mafia. I think it's a question of lack of tradition. Germany is a country without heros be them Western or dysfunctional detectives, and the various cops and sleuths all try to cling well to the law - which renders them a bit boring, esp. for US eyes, I suppose.

Apart from Pieke Biermann whose novels are, well, let's say diverting, there is Doris Gercke whose books are really worth to be translated. Her stories with Bella Block strike a very special note and create a particular atmosphere.

And Hannes Binder isn't a writer but the main cartoonist of the NZZ (Neue Zuercher Zeitung) Folio and since two decades obsessed with Friedrich Glauser. He has created a couple of books where he himself, Glauser and Wachtmeister Studer populate their own shared universe. Fantastic! (review by Pieke Biermann!)

February 18, 2007  
Blogger May said...

Hi Peter

Actually, I found your site through your posts about those articles on translation of crime fiction. Its amazing, because it seems to be a fairly healthy concentration of translation, but its definately never been discussed in my program!

I translate from French>English. Im doing my final project on an excerpt of Daniel Pennac's Au Bonheur des Ogres. I know its already been done, but I found the characters so charming, I convinced my professor to allow me to do it (with the caveat that I not refer to Monk's translation). It will be interesting because Monk's version is very very British, and being an American english speaker, my translation will already be very different.

I read an Agatha Christie in middle school, I remember, and was subsequently turned off to the genre. I'm just am not clever enough to 'figure it out,' which, I think, is a large part of the enjoyment of crime fiction. Recently, though, I read Barry Eisler's Rain Fall. Is that considered crime fiction? I don't even know. What surprised me about it was the impression that 'figuring it out' was not of utmost importance. And, it was the first time I thought that, maybe, crime fiction was not a literary version of Clue. But many aspects of the book still had too heavy a taste of your-typical-detective story (is that ignorant, coming from an admitted non-reader of crime fiction?)

But, from reading your blog, I want to get Khadra's book and Death of a Red Heroine. Your reviews of them make them seem very promising.

Anyway, this project of mine has really opened up a new world of reading never before considered. Its exciting..

February 18, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Gabo: I know that Germany staged a hospitable and successful World Cup. In fact, I was rooting for Germany, because they were good hosts, and France, because the French team made a successful comeback after the first round. But I think some people in other countries still resent Germany and were afraid of skinheads from the East. But never mind football, sociology and history; we’re discussing crime fiction.

Your speculation about German crime fiction is interesting and thought-provoking. If Germany has no tradition of heroes, perhaps that is why the one German crime-fiction protagonist I can think of – Kemal Kayankaya – is of Turkish descent (and Arjouni gives Kayankaya some very funny lines in More Beer! about being German:

What can you tell me about Doris Gercke and Bella Block? Perhaps you could write to Francois von Hurter at Bitter Lemon Press and see if he is interested in having Doris Gercke translated into English. And those Hannes Binder books sound fascinating. I wish I read German!

As for clinging tightly to the law, my brief experience in Germany tells me that the same is true for ordinary Germans. One night in Berlin, I asked two women for directions to the subway. I stopped them and used my few words of German: “Entschuldigung! Wo ist die-D-bahn?” They pointed straight ahead, and I said:”Ah! Danke schoen!” It was late at night. Not a car to be seen anywhere, but as soon I stepped into the road to cross – against a traffic light – , one of the women called out, loudly and sharply, “Halt! Ist rot!”

February 18, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

May: I have a copy of Au bonheur des ogres here at my desk. That was the book that made me realize my French is not good enough to permit enjoyable reading of fiction. Oddly enough, I was able to read Penac’s charming book of short essays, Comme un roman, without much trouble. I can read Voltaire, Montesquieu and Tocqueville even more easily (in fact I can read Montesquieu more easily than I can spell his name), but fiction is a real chore, probably because of issues of atmosphere, tone and slang. I am trying slowly to read a book by the crime novelist Léo Malet. If that goes well, maybe I’ll try Penac again.

Most crime fiction these days, or at least the crime fiction that I read, is not about figuring it out. This is so much the case that I was surprised recently when I read a novel that had a healthy component of “mystery” in it:

I know Barry Eisler’s name, so I figure that means he writes crime fiction. But look at Penac: His stories and characters are anything but Agatha Christie-era relics, yet he is indisputably a crime writer. The field is not at all what it used to be.

I am pleased that you’re attracted to some of the writers I discuss. I have discovered a number of writers since I started this blog, so I know that excitement.

February 18, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gabo said...

Hi Peter,

as I said,it's difficult to describe the specific qualities of Doris Gercke's crime fiction. A matter of style, very dense , idiosyncratic, creating that Hamburg (or, gloomy, Moscow) atmosphere. I remember a novel playing on I don't no longer know which southern island, and I could actually feel the heat and the aridity of the soil.
But you are lucky. Tonight - for you: this evening - there is a radio adaptation of one of her books on Deutschlandfunk - the German equivalent to the BBC or NPR. And it's with Hannelore Hoger, who in her 50ies, after her film career, became a TV star with the Bella Block character. Fantastic voice. So even if you don't understand German it'd be worth a try to listen to it - though I can't say anything about the directing.
At 6:05 p.m. (Eastern Time = 0:05 CET) go to
and click on Live-Stream and whatever player you want to use.
is a short introduction to the plot.


February 23, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the information. I think I'll start by looking up some information about Doris Gercke. And, if I can listen to that program later, maybe I'll get a chace to hear that wonderful voice, too.

February 23, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I started to read Cara's books because she remiindd me of Leo Malet.

June 04, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for your comment, Mimi. I guess Leo Malet and Cara Black are similar in that each one wrote a series of novels, with each novel set in a different district of Paris. Now, I just need to improve my French enough so I can read Malet quickly and fluently!

June 05, 2007  

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