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Saturday, 06 February 2010

French Crime Fiction

Claire Gorrara (ed)

University of Wales Press 2009


French Crime FictionFrench crime fiction is a topic that holds interest for both academics and ordinary readers in the UK. This selection of essays covers topics from the origins of detective fiction (David Platten), through Simenon and the genre in the inter war period (Christopher Shorley) to the French roman noir (Claire Gorrara). It moves on to a discussion of politics and the néo-polar (Susanna Lee), then women crime writers (Véronique Desnain) and finally French variety of postmodern detectives (Simon Kemp). These writers are all academics who see crime fiction as being a significant cultural activity, worthy of greater attention than it previously received, particularly in France. Certainly, there has been a marked increase (admittedly from a low base compared with translated crime fiction in other European countries) in the numbers of French crime writers whose novels appeared in English.

  One such author is Fred Vargas who has won the prestigious Duncan Lawrie International Dagger for translated crime fiction in three out of the last four years against tough competition from Scandinavian authors. However, for some people this choice just indicates the judges’ narrow perspective. What is clear is that in France crime fiction is important both historical and culturally.

Platten highlights the influence of the experiences of real-life criminal figures such as Vidocq on the characters featured in fictions by Gaboriau (Lecoq), Leblanc (Arsène Lupin) and Leroux (Rouletabille). Shorley explores the intuitive methods of Simenon’s iconic police inspector Maigret and the psychological insights into the criminal mind. Gorrara examines the development of the crime novel as a critique of social and political injustices. She focuses particularly on Malet’s transposition of the American hard-boiled genre to France in the post-war wave of enthusiasm for anything American. Lee turns to Manchette’s politicised critiques of contemporary reality and examines how it altered the genre’s form. Kemp considers different ways in which the genre diversified in the eighties and 1980s and 1990s with writers such as Daeninckx displaying their social conscience in a serious way, or Pennac whose fictions use humour and fantastical elements to point out injustices. Desnain points out that women crime writers often highlight feminist issues and the female perspective in their fictions. The media have only brought these writers to public attention since the early 1990s even though they have been around for much longer.

 

These essays are well written and cover a wide time period and a range of authors. Extracts in English of a key novel for each chapter encourage the reader who is unfamiliar with these authors to explore their work. A paperback of this book will shortly be available and will be a useful addition to the shelves of crime fiction enthusiasts.

 

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