European crime fiction in the crosshairs
n°4 May-June-July 2006

 

A Black Year

Àlex Martín Escribà
y Javier Sánchez Zapatero
Translation: Claire Gorrara

 

The year has ended with the consolidation of the roman noir and its consecration as the most vibrant literary genre in Spain. In addition to the legendary ‘Black Week' in Gijón, there have been a number of other events devoted to the discussion and dissemination of crime fiction, such as the ‘Barcelona Rendez-Vous', ‘Black May' in Alicante and the ‘Roman and Film Noir Congress' at the University of Salamanca. As well as these events, the launch of new journals and the emergence of an important network of websites, chat room and blogs have all played their part in encouraging debate and promoting the vitality of the genre. 2005 has also seen the creation of up to ten specialist collections that, in some cases, are devoted to reediting classics that were, until then, only available second hand, whilst hundreds of new roman noirs have been published.

Since the French reinvented the European crime novel by injecting social critique into North-American models, series by European authors have become the reference points for the genre. One of the best known is that featuring Kurt Wallander, ending this year with a collection of short stories that sheds some light on the past of the Inspector from Ystad. Whilst missing his main protagonist and in the expectation of a new series that will follow the exploits of Wallander's daughter, Henning Mankell also published Return of the Dancing Master in 2005. Selb, the detective with a Nazi past created by Bernard Schlink and the Commissioner Bordelli also bade us farewell. With Nuovo venuto, Marco Vichi ended his trilogy devoted to the Inspector from Florence. Three publishing successes also came our way from Italy: the first by Stefano Turra featuring the Commissioner Gerace: Non spegnere la luce ; another by the TV presenter Faletti, the author of Io uccido, je tue, the story of a serial killer; and the latest instalment from Donna Leon, the North-American writer resident in Venice, which brings to twelve the number of books featuring Guido Brunetti. This character's health is similar to that of Méndez and Bevilacqua who, more melancholic than ever, have served up another volume of their series. In addition to the characters created by Francisco Gonzàlez Ledesma and Lorenzo Silva, others, like the detectives Humphrey and Angel Esquius, have joined the list of national detectives. Humphrey, created by Lluís Gutiérrez made his debut in Putas, diamantes y cante jondo, whilst the second sprang from the imagination of Andreu Martín and Jaume Ribera. The following should also be remembered for making their first appearance in Spain in 2005: the Inspector Gunnarstrand (En liten gyllen ring), Jack Taylor (The Guards, Delirium tremens) and Mrs Ramotswe (The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency).

More violent and less contemplative than its European relation, the North-American roman noir seems rooted in corruption, sex, violence and racism… with crude language, delivered in quick and concise style. Walter Mosley, Jerome Charyn, Sue Grafton (whose alphabet mysteries is now at R is for Ricochet), James Ellroy, Charlotte Carter are some of the North-American writers whose books were published in Spain in 2005.

From Cuba came some of the most talked about Latin-American neo-noir novels, novels which are traditionally socially and critically engaged. In their most recent novels, Leonardo Padura and Lorenzo Lunar uncover the hard-hitting and often raw underside of Caribbean society. Argentina is also enjoying a flowering of crime fiction talent. This year it was the turn of Carlos Balmaceda, with Manual del caníbal and once again Raúl Argemí who depicts the economic crisis in Patagonia Chu Chu, a novel full of comedy and adventure. From Mexico, Paco Ignacio Taibo II has sent us Muertos incómodos, while the works of detective and engineer Belascoarán have been reedited. Finally one Guatemalan name to remember, Dante Liano with El hombre de Montserrat.

All of these names reveal the healthy state of crime fiction today, a state of affairs that is illustrated by the fact that some general literary prizes have been won by romans noirs, such as Las vidas ajenas by José Ovejero, the recipient of the Primavera Prize of 2005. All this shows that finally some recognition is being accorded a literary form that offers its readers something more than stories of ‘cops and robbers'.

 


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