Celebrate International Crime Fiction Month with MysteryPeople!

  • Post by Molly

June is International Crime Fiction Month, brought into being by some of our favorite publishers to celebrate their incredible international fiction offerings. SoHo Press, Europa Editions, Melville House, and Akashic each have their own imprint for world crime lit, and their catalogs are a great place to start when seeking a murderous armchair vacation. SoHo is in the midst of celebrating their 25th anniversary, so check out our in-store display for some of our favorites from their international crime fiction catalogue. You can also find the first in many of SoHo’s series available for 9.99 as part of their “Passport to Crime Fiction” imprint, so now’s the time to try out some new series!

How does MysteryPeople plan to honor the diverse array of crime fiction from around the world and available at our fingertips? By geeking out about our favorite world crime fiction all month long!

All three MysteryPeople book clubs will discuss novels from international crime writers in June. The 7% Solution Book Club brings in the new month with their discussion of the classic Scandinavian procedural The Laughing Policemanby Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, on Monday, June 6th, at 7 PM. The Murder in the Afternoon Book Club delves into Heda Margolius-Kovàly’s lyrical Eastern Bloc murder mystery, Innocence; or, Murder on Fleet Street, on Monday, June 20th, at 1 PM. The Hard Word Book Club finishes out the month with an exploration of Piergiorgio Pulixi’s Italian crime fiction masterpiece, Night of the Pantherson Wednesday, June 29th, at 7 PM. As always, book club picks are 10% off in-store!

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From left: Hopeton Hay, Mark Pryor and Janice Hamrick 

But wait – there’s more! On Sunday, June 12th, at 2 PM, stop by the store for a panel discussion with critics, booksellers and authors, including Mark Pryor, Hopeton Hay,  and Janice Hamrick, on the international crime fiction they love. We’ll feature our favorite international crime fiction on our blog before and after the panel, and those who attend the panel should find themselves pleasantly inundated in give-aways. Monday, June 13th, at 7 PM, MysteryPeople kicks off our Double Feature summer film series with a screening of the classic gothic noir, Rebecca, followed by a discussion of Daphne du Maurier’s novel versus Hitchcock’s adaption.

Our author events for June represent well the glocal [global + local] purview of MysteryPeople. To wrap up our May Texas Writers’ Month celebration, on June 10th, we bring you two stunning literary voices of the southwest, C.J. Howell and J. Todd Scott, visiting with their new books Hundred Mile View and The Far EmptyThen we move into a proper authorial celebration of International Crime Fiction Month with a visit from Flynn Berry, who dwells in England but has visited our fair state before as an attendee of the prestigious Michelin Writing Institute. She’ll be speaking and signing her Cornish-set debut, Under the Harrow, on Saturday, June 18th, at 6 PM.

A week later, we’ll get a perfect representation of the glocal on Thursday, June 23rd, at 7 PM, with visits from two masters of the PI genre, Cara Black and Lisa Sandlin. Cara Black is the author of the perfectly feminist and oh-so-fashionable Aimee Leduc series, set in Paris. Her most recent, Murder on the Quai, goes back in time to the end of the Cold War for thrilling tale of recovered Nazi gold that should delight newcomers to the series and long-term fans alike, although fans especially will appreciate how Black fills in the details for many of the series’ greatest questions (and some of its smaller ones, such as from where Aimee acquired her bichon frise). She’ll be joined by Texas writer Lisa Sandlin, who’s debut Beaumont-set PI novel, The Do-Rightcame out last year to great acclaim. Those who appreciate a vivid setting and a kick-ass heroine should enjoy the evening thoroughly.

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

Murder in The Afternoon Book Club to Discuss: TOTAL CHAOS by Jean-Claude Izzo

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On Tuesday, June 16th, at 2 PM on BookPeople’s 3rd floor, the Murder in the Afternoon Book Club will discuss Jean-Claude Izzo’s first volume of his acclaimed Marseilles Noir trilogy, Total Chaosas part of our June book club celebration of International Crime Fiction Month. The Hard Word Book Club reads Jacob Arjouni’s Happy Birthday, Turk! on Wednesday, June 24th, at 7 PM in BookPeople’s cafe


On Tuesday, June 16th, at 2 PM on BookPeople’s third floor, the Murder in the Afternoon Book Club discusses Jean-Claude Izzo’s first volume in his Marseilles Trilogy, consisting of Total Chaos, Chourmo, and Solea. The subgenre of Marseilles Noir reached its maturity in the mid 90s upon the publication of Izzo’s work. Izzo’s work also inspired the creation of the sub-genre of Mediterranean Noir, which can be defined as a more contemplative and sensual approach to traditional noir fiction. The genre incorporates hyperrealistic violence and a focus on social and political themes to create a mix of literary fiction and radical reportage.

There are many places in the world with fictional murders galore and nary an unnatural death in reality. Marseilles is not one of those places. Burdened with a history of gang warfare and systemic racism, Marseilles has for decades served as a symbol of the challenges of growing xenophobic nationalism in a post-colonial context as well as a cautionary tale of the high impact of organized crime in a disorganized society. It is the fascinating contrast between culture capitol and crime capitol that has allowed Marseilles to both inspire and celebrate Izzo’s socially critical prose.

In his trilogy, Izzo covers all bases. His first book alone contains corrupt cops, gangland warfare, hate crimes, and, as the title indicates, a world filled with “total chaos”. His work also includes contemplative meditations on life, love, fishing, the pursuit of the perfect pasta, and how to retain a deep and abiding admiration for a city that constantly cannot help but disappoint.

Jean-Claude Izzo, on the list of authors I not only love to read but also deeply admire, is at the top of the list. Izzo worked as a left-wing journalist for many years, and his politics, while not detracting from the intricacy of his plots, add politicized resonance to every act in his works. Izzo knew that the best way to love something is to understand its faults and love it anyway. Upon his death in 2000, bookstores filled their windows with displays of Izzo’s works as a sign of respect. Marseilles mourned the loss of a moral voice of a city.

Total Chaos follows a Neapolitan cop, Fabio Montale, raised in Marseilles as he struggles to solve the murders of several of those closest to him. Fabio, Ugo, and Manu, all childhood best friends raised on the hard streets of an impoverished immigrant suburb, each went their separate ways after a botched attempt at a hold-up. Twenty years later, Ugo arrives back in Marseilles, intent on exacting revenge for the murder of Manu.

Izzo presents Marseilles as a city governed by a code of vengeance—and Ugo, after achieving his, gets gunned down a little too conveniently for Montale’s taste. Montale’s investigation soon leads him into dangerous territory as he investigates mob power struggles, government corruption, and far right-wing politicians. When a North African family he befriended years before comes to Montale to report Leila, their daughter, missing, Montale also delves into the vicious intersection of organized crime and hate crime in his search.

Izzo dedicated his life to the city of Marseilles, and the city and its unique culture, or shall I say, mixture of cultures, are as much a character in his writing as his protagonist, Fabio Montale. Izzo paints the city of Marseilles as a city of successive waves of immigrants; from the Spanish, Gypsy, and Italian characters that represent the older generation in Total Chaos, to the North African, Vietnamese, and West African characters occupying the younger strata of Marseilles denizens, Izzo is careful to tie a sense of ownership over Marseilles to all of its inhabitants. Is also draws a picture of the xenophobic nationalism and racism taking over working-class votes in neighborhoods destroyed by a declining harbor industry and poverty-fueled organized crime.

Starting summer of 2013, Europa Editions, through their World Noir imprint, have issued new English language translations  by translator Howard Curtis of many of Izzo’s works, and their message of tolerance, diversity, and subtlety ring even truer in the post-9/11 and post-Recession world than when they were first written.


Copies are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. All book clubs are free and open to the public, and book club members receive 10% off of their purchase of their monthly book club title.

International Crime Fiction Friday, Part 1: SOUTH OF SARAJEVO by Fred F. Fleischer and FOUR HANDS: Chapter I by Paco Ignacio Taibo II


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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

“South of Sarajevo” by Fred F. Fleischer

“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…”

Read the rest of the story.

Four Hands: Chapter One, by Paco Ignacio Taibo II

“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…”

Read the rest of the story. 

7% Solution Book Club to Discuss: THE THIEF by Fuminori Nakamura

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This Monday, June 1st, the 7% Solution Book Club will be discussing Fuminori Nakamura’s award-winning exploration into the world of pickpockets, The Thief. The 7% Solution Book Club meets the first Monday of each month at 7 PM on BookPeople’s 3rd floor to discuss an eclectic range of detective fiction. Book club selections are 10% off at the register in the month before discussion.


– Post by Molly

Fuminori Nakamura, a Japanese novelist who bridges the gap between literary fiction and noir, broke out onto the international crime fiction scene in 2010 with The Thiefpublished in English translation through SoHo Press, and winner of the Kenzaburo Oe and David Goodis prizes. The novel tells the story of a pickpocket at the top of his game, yet increasingly aware of his own mortality.

The titular character mentors a young shoplifter, mourns the loss of his partner, and watches his choices narrow as he finds himself increasingly drawn in to Yakuza business, all while skillfully – nay, artistically – picking the pockets of Tokyo’s wealthiest. Nakamura lists some sources at the end of his novel, and his careful research into the techniques and argot of the pickpocket’s world shows throughout the novel.

The Thief is a mystery novel, a minimalist roman noir, but it also carries on the tradition of the outsider novel, telling the stories of the lumpen-proletariat realistically, without glamorizing the underworld. If Jean Genet’s The Thief’s Journal had been written with the same noir sensibility of The Stranger, it perhaps would have read like this. I thought of Jean Genet frequently while reading The Thief. 

The Thief is a novel about petty criminals, buffeted by forces they have no power against and may or may not ever affect them. It is set in a world where the gap between those who commit nonviolent crimes and the masterminds that occasionally (and dangerously) recruit their labor is such that no reader would lump each into the same dehumanizing category of “criminals.” The Thief is one of those fascinating explorations of underworld society where the authorities are those who are higher up in the criminal world, and the police exist only as figures to avoid, rather than as the prime impediment to criminal activity.

“This tension, between the neutrality of looking and the citizen’s burden of response, seeps from the narrative into the reader’s own sense of self, drawing attention to the voyeurism inherent in all fiction, but especially crime fiction.”

The cops are shadowy, ominous presences, appearing to the story’s characters in the same way that the prosperous may lay awake at night, worrying about the spector of home invasion. What matters to Fuminori Nakamura’s characters is that with which they can allow themselves to be concerned – namely, their day-to-day hardscrabble existence, mixed with the long-term fantasies of their broken dreams, or the fiendishly complex schemes they embark on that cannot possibly go wrong – at least, for the man in charge.

I chose Nakamura’s latest novel, Last Winter, We Parted, for last November’s MysteryPeople Pick of the Month, and while the two are very different narratives – Last Winter, We Parted follows a journalist’s investigation into the psyche of a murderous photographer who burns his victims alive – the two novels are equally obsessed with the act of watching others, and the overlap between observing others and targeting them.

Last Winter, We Parted stars a photographer whose obsession with capturing beauty leads him to kill his victims, while the protagonist of The Thief spends his days observing others intently, using observation to pick targets and execute theft – another blurring of the barrier between observation and action, recording the present and determining the future. This tension, between the neutrality of looking and the citizen’s burden of response, seeps from the narrative into the reader’s own sense of self, drawing attention to the voyeurism inherent in all fiction, but especially crime fiction.

It seems no coincidence that The Thief won awards named after Kenzaburo Oe and David Goodis – Nakamura’s writing seems to draw inspiration from both, or perhaps his writing just dovetails nicely into the bleak, noirest-of-the-noir characters and relationships of Goodis while including the stark minimalism and fate-defying humanity of Oe’s post-war Japan. Both Oe and Goodis were known for their desperate, yet moral, characters living on the edges of society.

Oe and Goodis each made frequent use of characters who, although doomed, continue up until the last second to live within their own code and do what they consider to be the right thing, and this adherence to their own ethics rested entirely outside of society’s ever shifting moral compass. Perhaps, for Goodis and Oe, two writers of the mid-20th century, adherence to ethics with no discernable reward was the only way to preserve humanism beyond World War II. Perhaps, for Nakamura, this notion of decency without benefit is as true today as in the blighted landscape of Japan after WWII, and the United States during the Great Depression. Perhaps, this notion should not cheer me, but it does.


You can find copies of The Thief on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. June is International Crime Fiction Month, and this month we’ll be traveling all over the world in our three mystery book clubs. On Tuesday, June 16th, at 2 PM on BookPeople’s 3rd floor, the Murder In The Afternoon Book Club will be discussing Jean-Claude Izzo’s underworld classic, Total Chaos, the first volume in his Marseilles Noir trilogy, and the Hard Word Book Club tackles Jacob Arjouni’s Happy Birthday, Turk!  on Wedesday, June 27th, at 7 PM in BookPeople’s cafe. 

International Crime Month: Grove Atlantic

grove atlantic

~post by Molly

International Crime Fiction Month has finally reached its conclusion. We profiled Europa Editions, Akashic Books, and Melville House, each for their exceptional commitment to bringing us the best in international crime fiction. Now it is time to add one more to that list. Grove Atlantic, with their Mysterious Press and Atlantic Monthly Press imprints, publish a sizable chunk of the international mystery authors on our shelves.  These two imprints mainly bring us crime fiction from the UK, but they also put in print many of our favorite crime writers in translation. Prominent authors include Ken Bruen, Val McDermid and Mo Hayder, as well as South Africa’s “king of crime fiction” Deon Meyer. When asked about the commonalities between their authors, a spokeswoman replied that “the main thing we look for in international crime fiction, as in all our books, is simply good writing.”

Through their use of the Mysterious Press imprint, they bring attention to crime fiction publishing history as well. The legendary Otto Penzler founded the Mysterious Press in 1975 with the mission of releasing quality editions of quality mysteries. He used acid-free paper, full-cloth bindings, and artist-designed color dust jackets, all uncommon in the publication of genre fiction at that time. All these visual innovations helped to elevate detective fiction out of the realm of pulp and into the world of modern classics. When Grove Atlantic acquired the imprint, they expanded its offerings of international crime fiction while continuing to publish the best in American noir.

Our featured authors from Grove Atlantic include Christopher Brookmyre of Scotland and Mark Billingham of the UK. Brookmyre writes intriguing exposés of establishment corruption and violence through the eyes of an investigative journalist. Like many international crime authors, he uses his medium as a form of radical reportage. His latest, Bred in the Bone, serves as a reminder of Glasgow’s vicious underworld. His latest also features the attention to place and detail that is a hallmark of great international noir. In Mark Billingham’s new novel, The Bones Beneath, a detective and a notorious serial killer set off on a journey to a remote island to recover a long-dead body. The Bones Beneath places the rugged coastal geography of Wales in a starring role.

So (belatedly) ends the International Crime Fiction Month with MysteryPeople. Thanks for joining our reading world tour, and be sure to stop in and swap recommendations with us the next time you’re in the store!