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


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. 

International Crime Month: Melville House

melville house

~post by Molly O.

Melville House’s International Crime imprint has ambitious aims and far-reaching follow-through. They mean to publish international authors whose work compares favorably to the early English language masters of noir. As a radically oriented publisher, they concentrate on crime fiction in which solving a crime serves as a metaphor for exposing societal injustice. Melville House’s International Crime imprint prefers to place its authors in the spotlight rather than promote the imprint itself. I was impressed to note that behind the stand-alones and series lies a consistent philosophy and attention to detail that makes each Melville International Crime release a self-contained gem.

Although Melville House’s International Crime imprint is, to this point, a small imprint, it represents a burgeoning group of diverse authors with wide-ranging subject matter. Each author has a strong sense of place that makes “international” of equal weight to “crime.” Because Melville prefers to emphasize authors and their oeuvres, I will give a brief run-down of some of the various series they have released.

Austrian Wolf Haas, one of Melville’s most prominent crime fiction novelists, writes darkly humorous novels satirizing just about every aspect of modern-day Austrian life. His latest novel, Come Sweet Death, was recently reviewed on our blog.

Polish author Marek Krajewski’s novels are comparable to those of Phillip Kerr or Alan Furst as his protagonist, policeman Eberhard Mock, attempts to solve small crimes within the larger crime of 1930s fascism.

Frenchman Didier Daeninckx engages in left-wing politics when he is not writing socially critical detective novels. His crime fiction has had a powerful political impact on France’s willingness to address WWII-era war crimes in the public sphere. His latest release, Nazis in the Metro, serves as a powerful condemnation of right-wing extremists and, although written in 1995, seems even more relevant today in light of recent European election results.

Mukoma Wa Ngugi, born in Illinois and raised in Kenya, is two books deep into a series featuring Detective Ishmael, a policeman embroiled in politically motivated murders at home and abroad. His first two crime novels are Nairobi Heat and Black Star Nairobi.

As their International Crime Imprint continues to grow, Melville House has published increasingly diverse voices always willing to engage in edgy and biting social criticism. These authors never sacrifice story to polemics, however, and each author published by Melville House becomes an instant part of the contemporary noir cannon. They are also committed to bringing us classic crime fiction long-since out of print. One of their most exciting new authors, Giorgio Scerbanenco, has been described by Melville as the “Father of Italian noir” and the “Italian Simenon,” and Melville has just released Traitors to All, the first volume in his seminal 1960s Milano Quartet.

All of these books are available here on our shelves at BookPeople and via, come check them out!


International Crime Month: Europa Editions

europa editions

~post by Molly

Throughout International Crime Month, we will be profiling our four favorite publishers of international crime fiction: Akashic Books, Europa Editions, Grove Atlantic, and Melville House. It is thanks to these publishers that BookPeople can bring so many translated and foreign works to an Austin audience. I’ve decided to kick off June by profiling my favorite imprint since PM Press’ Switchblade Series  – Europa Editions World Noir imprint.

Europa Editions, primarily known for its translations of the latest in European literary fiction, has long been committed to bringing high quality international crime novels to English language publication. Although crime fiction has always been a part of their oeuvre, Europa launched a special imprint called World Noir early in 2013. This launch has meant an increase in circulating titles and some reissues of defining works. As a long-time fan of literature engagé, the postwar movement aimed at creating politically engaged fiction, I appreciate Europa’s emphasis on publishing socially responsible noir.

You may have noticed these stylish editions in our mystery section before, and their eye-catching appeal is no accident. Europa has worked with the designer Emanuele Ragnisco to create a distinct look for their titles, and they lavish the same care in their attention to quality translation. Each World Noir imprint reads smoothly, but with the lyrical cadences of its original language.

Sandro Ferri and Sandra Ozzola Ferri started Europa Editions in 2005 after finding success bringing authors from all over into the Italian publishing house Edizioni E/O. Europa’s Italian origins shine not only through their impeccable graphic design. Much of the World Noir imprint showcases a style called Mediterranean Noir, which distinguishes itself from traditional American Noir by embracing moments of sensuality and philosophical meditations in between the violence and criminality.

The Mediterranean Noir genre has roots in the early 80s and, some would argue, even before, but reached its maturity with the mid-90s publication of Jean-Claude Izzo’s Marseilles Trilogy, as much literature as it is crime fiction. With the launch of World Noir, Izzo is back in print and here in our store. This trilogy serves as an excellent introduction to the World Noir imprint. I would also recommend getting Caryl Férey’s ultraviolent police thriller Zulu before the movie hits the US.

Most of the World Noir releases are set in sweltering places full of simmering tensions and no clear path to resolution. Texas readers should feel right at home.

London Gets It

According to Crime Time, a UK crime fiction site, City University of London will now offer the UK’s first degree for crime novelists, the Crime Thriller MA, citing “…student demand and the increasing popularity of the genre,” and because, according to the Programme Director, “There is much talk that we are entering a second golden age of crime writing.”  If you lived across the pond, would you enroll?

I came across the link to this story over at publisher Melville House’s blog, MobyLives. Just this week they started up a brand new facebook page for their crime imprint, Melville International Crime. Head over and take a look, they’re good folks over at Melville House.