Scott’s Top Five International Crime Novels

As we begin our celebration of International Crime Fiction Month, we’ll bring you top lists of world crime writers all week, leading up to our panel discussion on the highly debatable topic of what international crime fiction is the “best.” Join critic Hopeton Hay, authors Janice Hamrick and Mark Pryor, and booksellers Scott and Molly for our Crime Fiction Around the World event, coming up this Sunday from 2-4 PM. The event takes place on BookPeople’s 3rd floor, and we’ll have giveaways galore!

Scott Montgomery’s Top Five International Crime Novels

magdalen martyrs1. The Magdalen Martyrs by Ken Bruen

This is Bruen’s third book to feature Jack Taylor, the drug and alcohol addicted, self-loathing, and poetically bleak Galway “finder” (the term detective if not looked on favorably by the Irish). To get out from under the thumb of a local gangster, Jack has to track down the nun who helped the hood’s mother escape the infamous Magdalen Laundry,  where the Church put unwed mothers into indentured servitude. Dark, uncompromising, with a unique style. You can find copies of on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

the thief2. The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura

A robber-turned-pick-pocket’s simple life of crime gets overturned by a kid, his sex worker mother, and his old partners in crime who pull him into one last score. Nakamura uses his minimalist style to create a heist novel that surprises you with its humanity and gives you a great look at Tokyo’s underbelly.  You can find copies of The Thief on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

gbh3. GBH by Ted Lewis

A great example of British nastiness in crime fiction. Told in two time frames, we follow the fall of a London porn king, and his search for who set him up as he licks his wounds in a sea side town during the winter. The book is blunt with a cast of irredeemable, yet human, characters, and uses violence like a guillotine hanging over every one’s head.  You can find copies of GBH on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

97819355542024. Happy Birthday, Turk! by Jakob Arjouni

Picture a German Rockford Files with Jim Rockford as a Turkish immigrant and you basically have series character Kemal Kayankaya. This second book has him looking into the stabbing of a fellow Turk that the police have ignored, His investigation keeps getting him roughed up, gassed, and occasionally getting chased down by a Fiat. Hardboiled and humorous with an insight into immigrant life in Germany.  You can find copies of Happy Birthday, Turk! on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

total chaos5. Total Chaos by Jean Claude Izzo

The fist in Izzo’s Marseille trilogy has cop and criminal hunting down their childhood friend’s killer. This book beautifully languishes in its grungy corrupt setting and the emotional ennui of its protagonist. A tough poetic look at male code and camaraderie.  You can find copies of Total Chaos on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

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

total chaos


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.