Crime Fiction Friday: “How To Launder A Shirt” by Patricia Abbott

MysteryPeople_cityscape_72

One of the best summer reads this year is Patricia Abbott’s The Concrete Angel. I mentioned in my review of it that Patricia was known for her short work. She was kind enough to share one with us for our crime fiction Friday. “How To Launder A Shirt” shows her ability to use simple domestic acts to build an underlying sense of dread. It also has a killer last line.

“How To Launder A Shirt” by Patricia Abbott

I can’t stop thinking about my husband’s new wife.

She must throw his shirts into a clothes dryer because I haven’t seen them hanging on the line. Not once. In fact, the clothesline is wrapped around one of the metal poles out back—as if it hasn’t been used in years. I’d like to tell her that line-dried sheets can be awfully nice. She’d be surprised at the difference fresh air makes. Maybe Helene didn’t grow up in a place where you could hang wash outside in the bright midday sun and capture that scent. I’d bet she grew up in the city where clothes that hung outside sometimes had to be washed again. Or the feel of them wasn’t something you wanted on your skin.

Helene stands on our porch all the time. Joe never did like putting chairs outside so it’s empty just like it always was. It still needs painting and has the same loose floorboard just as you step up to the door. He said a chair on a porch was an invitation for folks to visit, and he didn’t care for strangers in his house. Not even on his porch. I said “our” porch just now when I really meant “their” porch. No one ever talks about the difficulty of altering pronouns when a marriage is finished.

She stands there smoking like I did once—burying the butts as I did too. She’s hoping for a car to pass by or watching the brazen crows pick corn from the farm next door. Maybe looking for an airplane to fly overhead. The days can be so long that you want to break them up with almost anything. I still remember that—the way a ringing phone or a crop duster became something exciting.

Late in the day, Helen might be looking for the school bus to drop off my kids. Her hair, which is long, wispy, and reddish-blonde blows prettily in the wind. The back of her hand shades her gray eyes when the sun starts to drop eye-level. I kept my hair short after a few mishaps. Nothing could grab hold of it.

Now towels—towels need a dryer with one of those little paper sheets to make them soft. Hang them on the line, and the wind can blow the softness right out of them. It can take a long time to learn which routine works best on which laundry. Trial and error, but Joe isn’t the most patient man. You’d better get your Ps and Qs straightened out fast where he’s concerned.

Helene wears slacks—the dressy kind with pleats. Joe never liked me to wear— trouser— as he calls them. Said a woman with legs as good as mine owed it to her husband to show them off. I didn’t mind. Well, yes I did mind, but when a request—or an order really—comes along with a compliment attached, what can you do? Joe even had a specific skirt length he preferred. Too long, and he said I looked like an Amish woman. Too short and I looked like a—well, you know. Since we didn’t have a full-length mirror in the house, I figured he knew best.

I wonder when Joe started liking pleated slacks. Maybe Helene’s legs don’t draw men’s glances. Despite what he says, it’s just as well they don’t. That’s one of the tricky things about Joe—he blames you for what happened when you were just following his orders.

Perhaps his new wife—Helene— sends his shirts to a laundry. Maybe that place on Elm Street in Marine City tends to their things now. Chinese people are known for their skill in laundering shirts. If this is the case, Joe must’ve changed his mind in the last year or two because he couldn’t tolerate commercially-laundered shirts in my day. Said the chemicals they used in laundering his shirts were poisonous—just like that MSG they put in food. Told me the machine that tumbled the clothes was filled with other people’s germs.

Joe was very particular about most things, in fact. Like his shoes, for instance. They always had to point north in his closet. Point them east or south and I was likely to spend some time in the closet with them. Forget to insert the wooden trees and well….

Joe worked for—well he still does, come to think of it—the Ford dealer down in Warren. Sales were down to almost nothing that last year of our marriage. I kept telling him I could get a job and he kept—well—doing what he did when he got angry. Now the car business is back on track, I hear. If only things had recovered more quickly, it might be me looking for the school bus from that porch.

It’s possible Joe’s invested in wrinkle-free shirts although that would surprise me. That kind of shirt was around in my day, but neither of us was satisfied with the way he looked in them. They had the sort of sheen that bounced off your eyes, looked like they might melt into your skin if you stood too close to a fire. Actually, I didn’t think they were that bad, but Joe said he lost sales when he wore one. Said, it looked like he couldn’t afford anything better—or that no one was taking good care of him.

I felt my eye twitch as I watched him finish the knot on his tie that last day, wondering if I’d carelessly put too much starch in his shirt collar. It looked so stiff against his neck somehow. Joe’s neck was tender and getting the starch just right took some doing. I can’t tell you how many fights we had early on over those shirts. I wish I could warn Helene about that.

Although the laundering of shirts seems like a simple thing, it’s one that comes up every day. The care and maintenance of shirts involves equipment and processes that choke, burn, and electrocute. It’s easy to fall going up and down the cellar stairs. One can strangle on a clothesline that twists cruelly on those metal poles. Things you care about like your good coat or the kitten that climbed up on the porch one day can turn up inside a clothes dryer.

I just can’t stop thinking about my husband’s new wife. She’d do well to get the procedure for the care of Joe’s clothes sorted out as quickly as possible.

Unless she wants to rest well under the back-forty… with me.


You can find copies of Concrete Angel on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

7% Solution Book Club to Discuss: NIGHT WATCH by Terry Pratchett

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On Monday, July 6, at 7 PM on BookPeople’s third floor, the 7% Solution Book Club will discuss Terry Pratchett’s Night Watch, one of his many Discworld novels to detail the adventures of Sam Vimes and the watchmen of Ankh-Morpork. Our pick for August is Heat Wave by Richard Castle.


– Post by Molly

A few months ago, we lost a hugely important voice in fantasy writing; one of the funniest, most ethical, and least judgmental voices to ever appear on the written page. Terry Pratchett, who gently fought the good fight by parodying the hypocritical hypotheticals of the bigoted and the intolerant, passed away March 12 of this year, and left millions of fans bereft, yet determined to honor his work.

Night Watch was the first of Pratchett’s novels I read, and (the day after finishing it the first time) the first I re-read. It functions as a good introduction or supplement to the Vimes series. Night Watch involves a time-travel plot where many of the regular characters are either absent or present in their younger selves, so for those who haven’t read a Pratchett novel before, Night Watch functions as a stand-alone, while those already familiar with Pratchett’s characters will be able to appreciate the subtle variations when meeting these characters in an earlier time period.

Night Watch begins during an electrical storm, when Sam Vimes, head of Ankh-Morpork’s Night Watch, climbs to the top of a tall, magical building in pursuit of a killer and is promptly transported back in time to 30 years before, just in time for a revolt against Ankh-Morpork’s crazed despot of the time. Vimes must go undercover and guide his younger self and the citizens of Ankh-Morpork to the revolt’s proper conclusion in order to ensure that the future remains intact. Night Watch draws historical inspiration from the Battle of Cable Street, a 1936 confrontation between fascist demonstrators and a diverse coalition of anti-fascist counter-demonstrators that led to a ban on uniforms and the British Nazi Party’s corresponding loss of popularity.

Although I’ve read and re-read much of Pratchett’s work an embarrassing number of times, his Sam Vimes novels have always appealed to me the most. They merge two of my favorite genres – fantasy and noir. Vimes, as a character, is somewhere between a cartoon superhero and a classic hard-boiled detective. As head of the Night Watch (Ankh-Morpork’s police force) he upholds the law and crusades against corruption and injustice, while simultaneously dealing with his own alcoholism, prejudices, and bizarre coworkers.

He presides over the Night Watch as the force continues to diversity and expand, and each Vimes novel brings with it a first on the force, including the first female detective, the first troll and dwarf detectives, the first vampire detective, the first female dwarf detective, and so on. Ankh-Morpork, a historical mash-up of 19th century London and 15th century Venice, experiences a remarkable adoption of modern ideas and attitudes throughout the series, and Night Watch, as the only Vimes novel to involve time travel, frames this progress well by setting it against a nightmarish recent past.


You can find copies of Night Watch on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Book Clubs are free and open to the public, and book club picks are 10% off at the register in the month of their selection. The 7% Solution Book Club meets the first Monday of each month on BookPeople’s 3rd floor.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Patricia Abbott, author of CONCRETE ANGEL

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Patricia Abbott’s debut novel, Concrete Angel, is the involving tale of Eve Moran and the twisted, decades-old relationship she has with her daughter, Christine. The book is an engaging character-driven thriller about love and dependence gone awry. Patricia took some questions from us dealing with her book and relationship with her own daughter, acclaimed noir novelist, Megan Abbott, whose most recent crime novel, The Fever, is soon to hit the small screen in a television adaptation.

MysteryPeople:  What about the idea of Concrete Angel appealed to you as a first book?

Patricia Abbott: I really liked the idea of flipping the plot of Mildred Pierce. But how exactly to do it? When I read about a mother and daughter being convicted of various incidents of fraud and other small crimes and that the daughter claimed her mother made her do it, that seemed like the right fit. How could a mother make her daughter (in her twenties, in this case) commit numerous crimes over many years? I needed more insight into their situation. And then I remembered a childhood friend whose mother had enormous power over her because of her dependence on her mother. It was just the two of them in a pretty scary world. That was also somewhat the setup in Mildred Pierce (after a younger daughter died). Except in that case, Mildred’s extreme love for Veda made her the victim of her monstrous daughter. In Concrete Angel, it’s Christine’s love and dependence on her monstrous mother that sets things into motion. And since that childhood friend lived in my native city of Philadelphia I could set it there. This made it work because I knew their house, the places they went, the bakery they shopped in even. Many of the incidents from the section of the book where Eve marries Micky DiSantis are based on their lives.

MP: Was there a particular reason to send a lot of the action in the seventies?

PA: I wanted to recapture the Philadelphia of my youth and early twenties. Although the book goes well into the seventies–up to 1982, in fact, it is mostly the sixties that I write about in detail: going downtown to glamorous movie theaters and stores, a slower time before towns like Doylestown and Hatboro became outer suburbs. In the mid-sixties they were country towns. I had access to how Philly was changing until my parents left in 2003 or so. But what I remember best were the Kennedy and Johnson years.

MP: Eve is one of those characters you feel compelled to read about, even though you probably wouldn’t want to deal with her in real life for ten minutes. What did you want to get across to the reader about her?

PA: Originally the entire book was set in the third person. But Eve took over every scene until I gave Christine her own voice by putting her sections in the first person. I wanted you to fear and dislike Eve, but she is the more memorable character. She is funny and seductive. Christine can’t hold your attention as a reader because she’s been stunted as a person through dealing with her mother for almost every minute of her life. Likewise Hank, who may escape her, but to what. I wanted you to feel sympathy for Eve from time to time though. She has a few good moments here and there. But on the whole, she is a parasite. She will never see beyond her own needs.

MP:  As someone who was both a mother and daughter. was there anything you could apply to your own experience to such a twisted mother-daughter tale?

PA: I hope not. My mother and I had a difficult relationship in my childhood. She felt pressure (from her mother and sixties norms) for her kids to be perfect. I think she wasn’t that interested or adept in mothering–although not one could admit that in the fifties and sixties. But she was a great mother to an older daughter. We got along beautifully as adults when she no longer felt responsible for me. As for Megan, she was a very easy child to raise. I hope I encouraged her to set goals and pursue them, but mostly it was something inside her. Nobody works as hard as Megan–nobody demands more of the her self. I hope the pressure didn’t come from me, but I can’t say for sure. After a while with children like mine, the expectations may be too high whether you are aware of it or not.

MP: Your short work is well respected. Besides length, what is the major difference between writing a novel as opposed to short story?

PA: I wrote the average short story in about a month to six weeks. This was when I worked on a story every day for 3-4 hours. I began each day by editing the story from the beginning. Of course, I could not do this with a novel and that made me very nervous. I felt as if I lost control of it from time to time. And also, I had to expand the cast of characters considerably and give them all more to do. And, I was used to being rid of them and onto a new idea in a month or so. I wanted to be done with Eve Moran badly. That’s why I give her all the jokes-or what I hope are jokes. I was in danger of drowning in her evilness. I felt like Christine most days. The length of time you must spend with your characters was probably the hardest thing to adjust to.

MP:  Concrete Angel had a long and arduous road before it found a home at Polis Books. How did it feel to see it on a bookstore shelf for the first time.

PA: It felt great although so far it has only been in pictures I’ve seen on the Internet. Book Beat, where I did my first reading, sold out of them so there were none on the shelf. I am realistic about the likelihood of seeing it on many shelves. Perhaps in stores specializing in crime fiction, perhaps in New York stores. But if it succeeds at all, it will be because people like Scott Montgomery hand sell it.

You can find copies of Concrete Angel on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

MysteryPeople Q&A with Don Winslow

Don Winslow’s sequel to Power Of The Dog, The Cartel, is one of the most talked about books of the summer, as well as our June Pick of the MonthThe Cartel reignites the feud between DEA agent Art Keller and Mexican drug trafficker Adan Barrera, taking us through the war on drugs in the new millennium. Mr. Winslow was kind enough discuss the book, his approach to it, and the conclusions he drew from creating his opus.


MysteryPeople: What moved you to reignite the feud between Art Keller and Adan Barrera?

Don Winslow: The simplest answer is that it felt right.

But let me back up a little. At first, I didn’t want to ‘reignite the feud’ because I didn’t think I wanted to write this book at all. I spent over five years on its predecessor, The Power of the Dog, and it was an exhausting experience. I really thought I was done with the topic of drugs. I decided to write The Cartel (and thus reignite the feud) because the situation in Mexico had become so much worse, and I thought I had to write about it.

The two books combined – some 1300 pages covering over forty years – needed a strong through-line to give them a cohesive structure and knit them together in terms of chronology and theme. Otherwise, they would just be two separate books about the drug trade, and I want them to be, collectively, a saga. So the through-line between the two volumes is a story about the deep, bitter and abiding conflict between these two men.

That, indeed, felt right. The Cartel is a big story with a large cast of characters moving quickly across a fast-changing terrain. The Keller-Barrera conflict is like a laser beam homing device through that story.

But more important are the two characters themselves, who they are and what each represents. As they move against each other under the backdrop of the War On Drugs, each becomes more ruthless, more isolated, more angry and bitter. Their battle escalates as the war does.

Having said that, I don’t think that the two characters are equals – either in moral terms or in their importance to the books. This is primarily Keller’s story –a man sets out to do good, compromises his principles to achieve what he thinks is the greater goal, and then pursues revenge that he calls justice. In a sense, he’s right – Adan Barrera is evil, he deserves everything that Keller does to him. The larger question is what does it cost Keller? Keller is the war on drugs – he starts with every best intent, and it costs him everything he treasures, including his soul.

MP: Most of The Power Of The Dog involved trafficking on the California-Mexico border, while here it seems to have moved toward Texas. Did the change in geography have any affect?

DW: Tremendous effect. The actual events in Mexico over the two periods covered in the books dictated their locations. ‘Dog’ was largely centered in the Tijuana/San Diego area because that was the most important locus of the drug trade in those years. But to tell the story of what happened in the past ten years required a shift to the real-life battlegrounds of Nuevo Laredo, Juarez, Michoacan and Mexico City. Tijuana, while still significant, became something of a side-show – the events there were largely dictated by events that happened elsewhere. It’s a larger story that rapidly shifts locations because that’s what the war itself did. You were always looking at multiple fronts and shifting alliances.

The affect on the writing – on the substance of the novel itself – was significant. I had to describe the locations without lapsing into ‘travel writing’ or overlong descriptions that would have slowed down the action. For the most part, this was a matter of finding ‘brush strokes’ – quick dashes of color that gave the reader a sense of locale without bogging down the narrative. I spent more time on descriptions of Juarez because it was such an important part of the story. I chose do it mostly through the eyes of a local journalist who loved his city and hated the changes he saw happening. Doing that allowed me to give a more emotive account of the city, attaching feeling to location.

“The cartels aren’t in the drug business, they’re in the territory business – control of the lucrative (an understatement) trafficking routes. The prohibition is what makes their profit. We need to stop the futile insanity of the War On Drugs.”

MP: What draws you to illegal drugs as a crime to cover?

DW: If you write politics, you want to cover the White House. If you play football, you want to go the SuperBowl. Drugs are the most important subject in the field of crime, in fact, in society as a whole. It’s the front line, so that’s where I want to be. I want to write about other things as well, but it felt important to write about drugs.

MP: The female characters take on a more prominent role in this book. What did you want to say about the women in Mexico?

DW: The courage, moral backbone, and dedication of these women is awe-inspiring. The role of women during those years in Mexico is a vastly under-told story. You have women taking the roles of mayors, councilwomen and police chiefs when they knew that their predecessors had been killed. And they did it anyway – with mostly tragic results. I don’t know how to account for that kind of courage.

MP: How do you keep a story this mammoth in control?

DW: Even before I decided to write the book, I knew that control would be the major challenge. The first thing I did was to establish a chronology of the actual events in Mexico during those years. That alone was a 157 page single-spaced document. Then I went through it to find the watershed events – occurrences that had consequences. If an event didn’t cause a subsequent important event, I eliminated it. So the real life developments provided a rough chart of the book’s structure. But the spine of the story was still the conflict between Art Keller and Adan Barrera – everything else had to impact that battle. So then it was a matter of weaving Keller and Barrera through those events, while still staying faithful to the actual history. The book is a novel, fiction, but I wanted the reader to gain an understanding of the real background to the headlines. So I had to move Art and Adan where it would make sense. The other issue was point-of-view, deciding which character would be in the best position to take the reader through which event, while not losing touch with Keller for too long, and always moving toward an ultimate confrontation.

MP: While there is no easy answer, what can we do as a country to help the situation in Mexico?

DW: First, own our drug problem. It’s not Mexico’s problem, it’s ours. It’s just that Mexico suffers more from it. We criticize corruption in Mexico, and certainly it exists, but what kind of corruption within our own society makes us the world’s largest drug consumer? Second, legalize drugs. It’s our simultaneous appetite for drugs and prohibition of them that funds and fuels the violence in Mexico. The cartels aren’t in the drug business, they’re in the territory business – control of the lucrative (an understatement) trafficking routes. The prohibition is what makes their profit. We need to stop the futile insanity of the War On Drugs.


You can find copies of The Cartel on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

MysteryPeople Q&A with international crime fiction publisher Ilan Stavans

– Post by Molly

All month long here at  MysteryPeople, BookPeople’s mystery bookstore-within-a-bookstore, we’ve been celebrating International Crime Fiction Month in a variety of ways, including book club picks, internationally-themed Crime Fiction Friday posts, and a film screening of Coup de Torchon, Bertrand Tavernier’s 1981 adaptation of Jim Thompson’s classic noir novel, Pop 1280. We also brought you an interview with Danusia Stok, who has translated Marek Krajewski’s Inspector Mock series, among many others.

As June wraps up, we’ve got another interview for you. Molly asked Ilan Stavans, publisher at Restless Books, about what it’s like to work in international publishing. Mr. Stavans was kind enough to send some answers along. Ilan Stavans has had a variety of literary occupations, including essayist, translator, publisher, and short-story author. He is a prominent cultural commentator and public intellectual who is known for his analysis of American, Mexican and Jewish culture, as well as Latino and Jewish identity.

Mr. Stavans has worked as the publisher for Restless Books for the past two years. According to its mission statement, Restless Books is “an independent publisher for readers and writers in search of new destinations, experiences, and perspectives…committed to bringing out the best of international literature—fiction, journalism, memoirs, poetry, travel writing, illustrated books, and more—that reflects the restlessness of our multiform lives.”

Restless Books works to publish great international literature, and that includes science fiction, crime fiction, nonfiction, and a soon-to-be-launched classics line, Restless Classics. Don Quixote, Restless Classics’  first release, comes out in October in a special 400th anniversary edition. Restless Classics will add two titles to the line each year. The next four classics are Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folks, and Sor Juana Inés de La Cruz’s Poems and Protest.

Restless Books has also recently reissued one of my favorite detective novels, Four Hands, by Mexican crime novelist, historian, and prominent left-wing activist Paco Ignacio Taibo II. Four Hands is available as an ebook only and you can find it on your Kobo reader, the e-reader that supports independent bookstores. Read the interview below to find out more about Ilan Stavans, Restless Books, and the world of international publishing.


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Molly O: What are your thoughts about translating crime fiction, and genre fiction, in particular?

Ilan Stevens: I’m a lover of genre fiction: a voracious reader of detective and crime novels as well as SF. Restless Books has just published two extraordinary Science Fiction novels from Cuba, Agustín de Rojas’s Legend of the Future and Yoss’s A Planet for Rent. As you know, SF often focuses in the dystopian future as a metaphor of the exhausted present and these two novels are an extraordinary opportunity to understand the way the future has been approached in Cuba, a place that for over fifty years has stubbornly proposed an alternative, if equally imperfect and mendacious present.

Genre literature is often criticized as formulaic. But there is great talent in bending the formula, making it elastic, more idiosyncratic. That is the impression one gets when reading genre fiction from across the world. Dashiell Hammett is better appreciated against a background of hard-boiled novels from Pakistan, Bolivia, Israel, and Poland. Thus, translating their hard-boiled books is not only entertainment and a good investment(because genre fiction comes with a built-in-audience), but also culturally enriching.

Restless Books will bring out more SF next year. It has already published Paco Ignacio Taibo II, a master of the hard-boiled in Mexico. And it is preparing more detective novels.

MO: Low numbers of books are translated into English from other languages each year, compared to the number originally published into English. What accounts for the low numbers?

IS: The United States, the world’s superpower and a country made of immigrants, is embarrassingly parochial when it comes to literary translation: according to estimates, only around 3% of new books published annually are translations. This is in contrast with countries like Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Denmark, and Norway, where the percentage can sometimes reach above 50%. The empire is insular, the empire is shallow at its core. We appear to say to others: gives us your poor, your huddled masses, but once they are here, we’ll make sure they don’t look back because we believe we are better than everyone else. What accounts for this pitiful allergy, this meager literary diet? It also has to do with the dominance of English as a global language. And with the way literary markets work, giving others the impression that what gets translated into other languages is proof of success in English. Restless is part of a small but significant group of small publishers of literary translation in America (Archipelago, Other Press, Melville…) eager to bring change.

MO: What do you think are the languages easiest to translate into English? Which are some of the hardest?

IS: Translation is never easy, no matter the language, although it might appear deceivingly simple in some cases. There are books that have been translated into English twenty times (one example is Don Quixote) while thousands of others merit the journey but linger in oblivion. When translating a book that has already been done, it is important to pay tribute, even to draw from one’s predecessors. And when the effort is the first in line, it is crucial to remind the reader that the work at hand comes from elsewhere, that there is an element of foreignness in it that is essential.

MO: When a book has appeal across many different languages and cultures, what, do you think, accounts for this appeal? What themes and genres translate most widely?

IS: Ours in the twenty-first century is a global culture: we want to know what others in remote places of the planet thinking, what they dream. We want to feel that they are our contemporaries, that we live the same present moment in different ways. Global culture, to exist, depends on an emphasis in local elements. Truth is, books that become universal have a way of emphasizing regional aspects. This is a difficult line to walk: how to reach others beyond one’s confine by focusing on what we know best, our own little corner, our home. Audiences are rather open to genres and themes as long as the author, they feel, is at once original and authentic. The translator’s challenge is to preserve that originality and authenticity while also reminding readers that what they have in front of their eyes is foreign.

MO: This one is kind of a broader question – what is it like to work in the world of international publishing?

IS: It is enormously inspiring. As an essayist, translator, and cultural commentator (born in Mexico), for years I complained that American readers have a disturbingly constrained literary diet. A few years back, when I turned fifty, I decided to stop complaining and do something about it. This has taken me from one side of the page (putting words on it) to another (producing that page). I have been able to understand, from within, the laws that govern international literary markets, to appreciate how fashion is shaped, and, hopefully, to look for the courage to make a difference.

International Crime Fiction Friday: Brand New and Back In Print

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– Post by Molly

For the last Friday in June, we’ll finish off our celebration of International Crime Fiction Month with two excerpts highlighting the diversity of crime fiction in translation available now. Much of the crime fiction that makes its way to American audiences is published within a few years of a successful release in its original language and country. Other novels wait for translation until they become classics, and other novels wait still longer, for their writers to gain international fame or win international prizes, as in the case of Patrick Modiano, who before winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2014, had few novels translated into English.

Today we bring you examples of new and classic international crime fiction from German author Jakob Arjouni and Indian crime writer Mukul Deva. Below, you’ll find excerpts from two of Jakob Arjouni’s novels, Happy Birthday, Turk!, recently discussed by the Hard Word Book Club, and One Man, One Murder, courtesy of the New York Times. Jakob Arjouni was known best for his classic German detective series starring Turkish-German private eye Kayankaya, recently available for the first time in English from Melville International Crime. Mukul Deva is an Indian writer known for thrillers incorporating the author’s experience in the military and in private security, and thanks to Criminal Elements and their Writing The World blog series, you can read an excerpt of Weapon of Vengeance below.

Excerpt From Happy Birthday, Turk! by Jakob Arjouni: 

“I approached the railroad station. The sex-shop signs proclaiming “Moist Thighs” and “Sweaty Nymphomaniac Nymphets” did not seem all that enticing.

In this weather, everybody’s thighs were moist.

A couple of bums reclined on the sidewalk among empty Coke cans and burger wrappings, wavelets of red wine lapping against the insides of their skulls.

On the other side of the station the streets became empty and silent. I looked for the address until I stood in front of an old building with a crumbling façade. Two Turkish kids were kicking a soccer ball against the wall. I wondered if they’d manage to remove the remaining stucco by evening.

◆ ◆ ◆

At first I was afraid that she’d sink her long scarlet fingernails into my cheek, but she simply pushed a small white button next to the beer tap. I hastened to pocket my change and turned to face the door with the PRIVATE sign. Two or three seconds passed before it opened, slowly, and out of it emerged three tank-sized types in pinstripe suits with bulges under their armpits similar to mine. Their eyes surveyed the room. Sedately they advanced to the bar and gathered around me like old friends. The shortest of the three wore a mustard-colored tie with a pattern of light-green elephants. He looked down at me, placed his paw on my shoulder and gave it a squeeze. I clenched my teeth.”

Click here to read more of this excerpt. 

Excerpt from Weapon of Choice by Mukul Deva: 

“DAY ONE

The woman with the Mediterranean complexion blinked as she emerged from the aircraft into the bright Sri Lankan sunlight. Though early in the day, the light was already harsh. As was the medley of thoughts clashing in her head.

Lowering her wraparound shades over large, almond-shaped eyes to cut out the glare, she paused at the top of the stairs and surveyed Colombo’s Bandaranaike Airport.

Stark brown fields with intermittent patches of green stretched away beyond the barbed-wire fence ringing the runways. Scattered along the fencing were security posts with tall, searchlight-mounted sentry towers. Grim reminders of the insurgency that had torn apart the island state.

Barring an odd airport vehicle and caterpillar-like luggage trolleys snaking around, the runway was devoid of life. An air of despondency hung all around. Not a good feeling. She gave a slight shiver, as though to shake it off.

As she descended toward the bus waiting to take passengers to the squat, yellow terminal in the distance, she watched a jetliner swoop down like a huge hawk, its blue and white Finnair logo sparkling in the sun. She heard a distant thud, followed by the smoky blistering of rubber as the jet’s wheels made contact with the tarmac. The roar of engines faded as it vanished down the runway.

It was a short walk to the bus, but she could feel sweat in her armpits. Arriving from the London chill, she was annoyed by the heat, which caused her to hurry into the air-conditioned comfort of the bus. It did not take long for the bus to fill up. Soon they were on their way. Almost everyone was switching on mobiles, several already in animated conversations. The young girl standing beside her had tuned out the world with her iPod and was swaying to some unheard beat.

Conditioned by her training, the woman did yet another rapid scan with practiced eyes. She had done this many times during the flight, but compelled by habit, did it again. Her danger antennae remained quiet. Nothing out of sync. Yet.”

Click here to read more of this excerpt.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Translator Danusia Stok


As part of our celebration of international crime fiction during the month of June, we bring you the following interview with Polish-English translator Danusia Stok, who has translated Marek Krajewski’s Inspector Eberhard Mock novels, among other works. Melville House Books, with Danusia as translator, has brought many of Krajewski’s novels to English audiences over the past few years, including Death in Breslau and, most recently, The Minotaur’s HeadBelow, you can read Molly’s interview with Danusia about the experience of translating crime fiction. Molly is MysteryPeople’s resident international crime fiction expert/fangirl.

 – Interview by Molly

Molly Odintz: I’ve been reading primarily fiction in translation for many years; partly, because it seems to me like a shortcut to finding excellence. What qualities spur the translation of a novel? 

Danusia Stok: Firstly, of course, the book needs to grip my interest and this applies both to content and style.  I guess content is the first attraction since I like to be engrossed in what I’m reading.  But then the importance of style quickly slips in.  If, as is the case with a crime novel I am reading now, the action is good but the language and style is poor, there is, I feel, no point in translating the work – just as I find reading poorly written English novels a waste of time and patience.  Another aspect which I believe is important is characterisation.  Novels where the characters are little more than caricatures or clichés fall in my estimation.  Whereas novels where the characters reflect the culture of a given country and a psychology which is both universal yet, in certain aspects, specific to a particular culture may well be worth considering for translation.  And then there is the geographical element – as in Krajewski – as well as the particular historical and sociological context.

MO: Tell me a bit about the experience of translating Marek Krajewski’s crime novels. How did your appreciation and understanding of Krajewski’s work evolve as you translated multiple novels by him? 

DS: I’m not sure that my understanding of Krajewski’s work evolved as I translated the various novels.  I sensed an affinity from the very beginning.  Certainly, I became increasingly engrossed in the city and historical set-up.  But as for my appreciation, I liked Krajewski’s work right from the start.  However, as I continued translating his novels, I grew to feel that Mock and Popielski were long-standing friends of mine.  I may not have liked every aspect of their characters (especially Mock’s) but I felt very close to them.

MO: Marek Krajewski immerses his readers in a pre-war Poland and Germany that look very different today than the period in which his novels are set. Did translating his lush descriptions of interwar Central Europe change your understanding of the world he describes? 

DS: Certainly.  Although I, myself, am Polish, I was born in England and history was always the weakest of my subjects working on Krajewski’s novels kindled my interest in both the topography, geography and history of 20th century Poland.  In fact, it has heightened my interest and desire to visit other Central European countries. (To such an extent that I have just been on a short break to Budapest).  There is something about the era about which Krajewski writes that I find both fascinating and disquieting, disturbing.  I now plan to visit Wroclaw/Breslau.

MO: How do translators keep up with their craft? Does one need to read widely and constantly in the languages you translate in order to keep up with evolving phrases and linguistic usage?

DS: And this is a bit of a problem, finding the time – because yes, a translator needs to read continuously – both in the original language and the target language, since both languages are living (and literary trends changing).  Then there are various workshops and conferences we attend.  Interaction with other translators – and publishers of course – is also very beneficial and energising.

MO: Can you give me a couple examples of some of the harder to translate phrases used in Polish crime fiction?

DS: I’m afraid no particular examples as to difficult phrases to translate in crime fiction come to mind.  However, what is extremely difficult to translate is jargon, slang, dialect, street language etc.  The criminal underworld is full of specific terms and to find the equivalent can prove very, very hard, to say the least.

MO: When a book has appeal across many different languages and cultures, what, do you think, accounts for this appeal? What themes and genres translate most widely?

DS: Do you know, I think this changes.  Trends come and go.  At present I believe that crime  novels in translation which delve deeper into the psychology of the characters are proving increasingly popular.  They offer the reader something they can identify with – basic aspects of human psychology are much the same across countries – while providing a certain objectivity; the familiar i.e. the emotions and reactions, is brought up against the unfamiliar, i.e. the foreign setting.  Crime novels which immerse the reader into the culture, traditions and atmosphere of another country, too, are of interest.  People are – hopefully – becoming more open to other cultures, other ways of thinking and behaving, and a gripping novel which offers a reflection of these “other worlds” is an attractive way of learning and experiencing this “otherness”.  I, for one, find I can retain and learn more from a historical, let us say, crime novel in translation, than from a text book.

MO: This one is kind of a broader question – what can we gain from reading literature in translation? 

DS: Much of what I’ve written above pertains to this question, too.  Literature in translation opens out the world – and I know this sounds very clichéd.  But it is true.  It immerses us into other cultures, histories, beliefs.  It presents us with other angles on life.  In so doing it could well – and let’s hope it does and will – teach us tolerance towards what may initially appear unfamiliar or even alien to us.


You can find copies of Marek Krajewski’s books as translated by Danusia Stok on our shelves and via bookpeople.com