MysteryPeople celebrates International Crime Fiction month all June long with Crime Fiction Fridays from international authors or with stories set outside the United States.
– Post by Molly
In June, we celebrate International Crime Fiction Month, and perhaps now is the time to explore the many meanings of “international” when it comes to crime fiction. International crime fiction simply means fiction set in another country. Usually we apply this term to fiction written and originally published in another country. International Crime Fiction Month, in particular, is a collaboration of publishers, including Akashic, Europa Editions, Melville House, Grove Atlantic and Soho Press, to promote crime fiction in translation. The other primary connotation to international crime fiction is fiction which is set outside of the country where it is published and draws readers with a foreign setting.
These two crime fiction windows into other cultures and contexts – fiction by our countrymen set elsewhere, and fiction by authors from that elsewhere – may both fall under the umbrella of international crime fiction, but represent very different interactions between author and setting. When an author chooses a setting within her (their) own context, it serves as a method of total cultural immersion (for the duration of the novel), yet frequently a reader unfamiliar with the setting may miss out on small references and inside jokes – the untranslatable miasma.
When an author becomes adventurous and writes a tale set outside of his context, a reader gains from the extra level of explanation given by an author assuming his readers’ unfamiliarity with their subject or setting, but loses out on the natural feel of a setting the writer herself is immersed within. Additionally, tales by western authors with “exotic”settings carry the potential for revealing more about the deeply embedded prejudice of the author and their culture than about the stories’ setting.
“We risk, as readers, letting any unconscious bias we may have towards less familiar contexts continue to be held, unnoticed, until they are challenged; and the more we immerse ourselves in other cultures, places, and contexts, the more opportunity we may have to subvert our own bias.”
While I enjoy all internationally minded crime fiction, whether written in Marseilles, Dhaka, Singapore or in a motel across town, I try to balance my reading to include authors from other cultures, authors from my own culture who enjoy writing about other cultures, and a healthy number of authors who straddle many cultures. We risk, as readers, letting any unconscious bias we may have towards less familiar contexts continue to be held, unnoticed, until they are challenged; and the more we immerse ourselves in other cultures, places, and contexts, the more opportunity we may have to subvert our own bias.
With this in mind, I bring you the first installment of a month of Crime Fiction Fridays celebrating International Crime Fiction Month. Today, we bring you two pieces. The first, Fred F. Fleischer’s “South of Sarajevo,” I bring to you courtesy of Black Mask Magazine’s selection of classic detective tales from the 1920s and 30s, available here. In this tale of horse thievery gone wrong, an old man recounts his betrayal and subsequent revenge in a folktale-style story that straddles the crime and adventure genres of fiction.
The story uses its Bosnian setting purely for entertainment, rather than social criticism or a lens into another culture, yet the author’s lyrical style seems to draw inspiration from Arabic and Persian writings, and interferes in interesting ways with Fleischer’s ability to stick to genre conventions. The conventions of genre and of imperialism clash in the story, making for a more subversive narrative than the original date of publication would have led one to believe.
We also bring you the first chapter of Paco Ignacio Taibo II’s literary noir masterpiece, Four Hands. Taibo’s novel ranges over much of Mexico’s turbulent history and contains a vast array of characters, including Leon Trotsky, exiled in Mexico City, working on a detective novel. Restless Books recently republished Four Hands and you can read the following excerpt on their website in full. You can find copies of Four Hands available as an e-book from Kobo.
“It is an old saying, effendi: ‘When the Gipsy comes to the village, guard thy horses and thy women.’ This is not written in the Koran, but is a saying of the people of Bosnia and there is much truth in these words, as I shall tell thee.
I would rather smoke one of thy cigarets, effendi, one of those thou hast brought from Istamboul. There is good tobacco, Anatolian tobacco, in them and the smoke is blue. Those which I must buy from Stefanopoulos, the Greek, are bad. Since the war began, he has mixed tea and laurel leaves with cheap Drama tobacco. His cigarets are poor and so am I. But he is rich.
Ayee, effendi, give me one of thy cigarets and listen to this tale…”
“July 19, 1923, around five-thirty in the afternoon, a man made his way across the international bridge that separated El Paso (Texas) from Juarez (Chihuahua). It was hot. Four carts transporting barbed wire into Mexico had filled the air with dust. From his office, the Mexican customs officer absently contemplated the skinny man, dressed in gray, wearing a black derby and carrying a shabby leather bag, who was approaching him. He didn’t find the man important in the least and went back to submerge himself in the book of poems by Ruben Dario that he was reading conscientiously. He was trying to memorize a poem so that he could recite it later, sprawled out on cushions with a French whore he frequented who liked such things.
The gawky man, who seemed to be walking on clouds of cotton, reached the Mexican customs officer’s desk and deposited his bag on the counter gently, as if not wanting to get mixed up in anyone’s life, perhaps not even his own. The customs officer lifted his head, filled with images of acanthus flowers and brilliantly feathered birds, and carefully observed the gringo. He recognized the face. Someone who crossed the border frequently? A merchant? No, that wasn’t it. An extremely pale face, ears wide apart, a mouth that begged a smile that never came, small flustered eyes. It all made you want to protect him, made you want to invite him to recite poetry in a duet with you…”