Molly’s Top International Crime Writers

Come by BookPeople this Sunday, June 12th, from 2 PM to 4 PM for a panel discussion on international crime fiction, featuring authors, booksellers, and critics. There will be lots of giveaways (and possibly cookies, but you’ll have to come to the event to find out!). All of the books listed below are in print and available either on our shelves or via bookpeople.com.

Leading up to our panel discussion on international crime fiction coming up this Sunday, we’ll be running top lists of world crime writers all week long. Below, you’ll find a list from bookseller and international crime fiction enthusiast Molly.

  • Post by Molly Odintz

I’ve always been intrigued by fiction in translation, and especially crime fiction from around the world, yet after a few years of concentrated reading in these areas, I still feel as I’ve barely scraped the surface of what world crime fiction has to offer. Every nation has its great crime writers, and only some have been translated and are still in print, yet just in our mystery section alone, one can find countless stories from all over the world.

Rather than choose my favorite international books, an overwhelming task, I have decided to list my preferred international authors. To narrow the scope, I picked only authors in translation. I have read and enjoyed multiple books by each of the authors mentioned below, and each one combines brilliant writing, a dark vision, and deep knowledge of their genre.

Paco Ignacio Taibo II

As a student at UT Austin, I spent a great deal of time up on the Perry Castaneda Library’s 6th floor, where the crime fiction and foreign language texts were located. Browsing the stacks, I discovered the works of Paco Ignacio Taibo II, activist, historian, and prolific author of the Hector Belascoaran Shayne series as well as many stand-alone. Taibo fled Franco’s Spain for Mexico City, which I guess makes him the literary equivalent of Manu Chao in his turn towards political action in Latin America (except even cooler!!).

His Hector Belascoaran Shayne  series tackles contemporary Mexican politics through the lens of a private eye working against a corrupt system. Taibo’s readings have been known to turn into rallies, and he even cowrote a radical detective novel with the Zapatista leader Subcommandante Marcos, The Uncomfortable Dead (What’s Missing is Missing). He also wrote a detective novel called Four Hands with a subplot of Trotsky writing a detective novel, which demonstrates both his radical street cred and sense of humor. Taibo also edited  Mexico City Noir, another ode to the world’s great cities from Akashic. 

Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

This is one of the great love stories of literature. Sjöwall and Wahlöö, like Abelard and Eloise, were ahead of their time and will be remembered by their writings, but unlike the tragic Medieval pair, Sjöwall and Wahlöö lived together as a couple for many years, creating a detective series together. Upon Wahlöö’s death, Sjöwall never wrote another novel. The two were responsible for the creation of the Martin Beck series, one of the first police procedural series, and the series to initially bring Scandinavian crime writing to the world’s attention. All are well worth reading, but my favorites include RoseannaThe Laughing Policemanand The Man Who Went Up In Smoke

Leonardo Padura

What? Another detective novelist with a mystery featuring Trotsky? Leonardo Padura, in his novel The Man Who Loved Dogsis the second author on this list to unknowingly indulge my twin loves of radical history and detective fiction. He is also the author of the Havana Quartet, a hard-boiled series featuring jaded Cuban detective Mario Conde as he navigates the tricky post-Soviet politics of Cuba in the 90s. Each of his Conde novels feature a different color in the title, beginning with Havana Blackthe first in the quartet. For a fascinating glimpse into the world of Cuban society bereft of Soviet protection and isolated from much of the world, check out his Havana Quartet!

Marek Krajewski

Krajewski, published in translation through Melville International, writes earthy, complex and fascinating glimpses into Polish interwar life in his Inspector Eberhard Mock series. Each of his novels is set in the Silesian city of Wroclaw, or Breslau in the time of his series’ setting, beginning with Death in Breslau. Krajewski uses his Silesian setting to full advantage, portraying a cosmopolitan intersection of Europe’s past and future empires, with sophisticated citizenry struck dumb by the brutality of the 20th century. Krajewski has an intelligent, unshuttered take on his country’s traumatic history, and a deep respect in his portrayal of vibrant cultures later erased.

Natsuo Kirino

Kirino, unlike the other authors I’ve mentioned on this list, does not have a series – she’s written several novels, and while they each stand alone, the two that I’ve read, and I believe her oeuvre in general, share a series of interlocking themes, using genre conventions to explore the dark inner world of the modern woman. Her novel Out details a woman’s murder of her abusive husband and the efforts of her coworkers to help her cover up the crime. Grotesque takes the reader on a dark tour of two young girls, one beautiful, the other awkward, who develop a rivalry at school. They continue their competition as each enters the sex trade, later to be murdered.

Georges Simenon

He’s perhaps the best-known of the authors I’ve included on this list, and certainly the most prolific. Simenon became famous for his Inspector Maigret series, and these bite size chunks of French provincial life are perfectly charming either by themselves or as a series. He also wrote a series of extremely dark novels, mainly during the occupation and just after the war, that expose the darker side of French society, whether urban or provincial, in a Jim Thompson-esque sendoff of hypocrisy. These “romans durs,” or hard novels, republished by NYRB over the past two decades, are as bleak and sordid as they are brief, and my favorites include Dirty Snow, Tropic Moonand The Widow

Come by BookPeople this Sunday, June 12th, from 2 PM to 4 PM for a panel discussion on international crime fiction, featuring authors, booksellers, and critics. There will be lots of giveaways (and possibly cookies, but you’ll have to come to the event to find out!).

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