Monday, February 04, 2008

Matt Rees' Palestine film noir, plus a question on the universality of crime stories

Matt Rees, author of The Collaborator of Bethlehem (The Bethlehem Murders in the UK) and A Grave in Gaza (a.k.a. The Saladin Murders), has joined the ranks of authors using video to promote their work. Rees writes on his blog that: "I was the first to bring detective fiction to Palestine – I'm pretty sure I'm now the first to bring film noir to the Holy Land."

That claim about detective fiction is one to which Rees has given some thought. I told him I'd failed to find any crime fiction on a trip to Tunisia, to which Rees replied:

"Interesting you mention the lack of crime fiction in the Arab world. There are two separate issues: One is that the book market is very small; second, the genre is virtually unknown to Arab literature. My first novel was reviewed in Al-Ayyam, a Ramallah newspaper, a few months ago, and the review was essentially an introduction to detective novels (`So the detective must discover who is really responsible for the crime ...')

"My theory is that the Arab world is very prone to conspiracy theories, but the uncovering of the truth is generally not encouraged by governments or religious establishments – in political terms. Though the detective novel grows out of situations of corruption (Hammett's San Francisco or Chandler's Santa Monica), it also depends on a conception that when right is uncovered it can also be carried through. Unfortunately the Arab world suffers from a lack of that freedom."
And that leads to a difficult but endlessly interesting question: The detective story, essentially an Anglo-French-American creation, has taken up residence in many other cultures and countries. What makes it so adaptable? What adjustments have authors made when introducing it into new countries? And could crime stories potentially find a home in any country?

The video is a noirish trip, with terrific music and perhaps a bit more whimsy than the novel it promotes. And you'll never guess how it ends.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must admit I don't find it difficult - good crime fiction is about exploring human behaviour / idiocy / cruelty / thoughtlessness / evil / sheer stupidity. That has potential in all cultures.

Obviously the issues that trigger the development of a story are going to vary slightly between different locations - but when it comes down to it, the best of the best is all about trying to understand the world that we all live in.

February 04, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It will be interesting, then, to see how long it takes before Matt Rees' work is translated into Arabic (The review to which he refers was not of an Arabic-language edition.) His first novel has already been translated into Hebrew.

I suppose the question might be how well a given culture or country is prepared to accept crime stories about itself. I'm reminded of China, which has a crime-story tradition of a kind that dates back well over a thousand years, yet whose authorities today blank out the name of Shanghai in Qiu Xiaolong's novels. Perhaps if readers in China were allowed to read full, uncensored crime stories about their own society, they would not flock in such numbers to read The DaVinci Code.

February 05, 2008  

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