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

MysteryPeople Review: THE MINOTAUR’S HEAD, by Marek Krajewski

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Post by Molly

Melville House has just published Marek Krajewski’s The Minotaur’s Head, his last in the Inspector Mock Investigation Quartet, excellently translated by Danusia Stok. Krajewski began the series in 1999 with Death in Breslau and now has four translated volumes available from Melville International Crime. Despite the fact that The Minotaur’s Head is the last in a series, I came to it as a stand-alone, casually picked up in my spare time. I read it through in a day and a half and now intend to read the whole series. Krajewski is committed to providing background for the characters. Despite not having read the previous novels in the series, I felt quite at home in the narrative.

The Minotaur’s Head is set partly in the Polish city of Lwów and partly in the Silesian city of Breslau. The story takes place in 1937, close to the start of World War II, and in a world already preparing for brutality but still immersed in a prewar miasma of small crimes. Krajewski begins the novel with the murder of a child and accusations of blood libel in 1939, and then moves backward in time to 1937, where several women have been found murdered, each violated and cannibalized by an elusive stranger defined only by his hideous face.

When a German citizen is murdered in Lwów, Inspector Mock, of the Silesian Police, is happy to leave behind Nazi-dominated Germany to go to comparatively free Poland in search of her killer. Detective Edward Popielski, his Polish partner on the case, is less than enthused about their high-profile task as he becomes more and more worried for his daughter’s safety. The detectives spend as much time being hungover and eating herring as they do searching for any criminals, and have petty personal vendettas of their own, but these qualities only enhance the jazzy rhythm and historical cadences of the narrative as it moves toward a shocking, modern crescendo.

Period detail seeps into every part of the narrative. The Minotaur’s Head not only fills the book with historical tidbits, but makes the book feel as if it was written during the time period it portrays. His characters are lively and rebellious against the strictures of their world, yet perfectly conform to the range of attitudes available at the time in both their liberalism and intolerance. Inspector Mock, in particular, evokes the hedonists of the 20s, in futile and subtle rebellion against his new Nazi masters. Marek Krajewski has done what many have tried to do – capture the multi-ethnic and culturally vibrant world of Poland before the destruction of WWII in a way that is simultaneously affectionate, terrifying, stylish and realistic.


The Minotaur’s Head is available on our shelves now and via bookpeople.com.

COME, SWEET DEATH!: Funny, Full of Suspense

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Come, Sweet Death! by Wolf Haas
~reviewed by Andrew H.

Wolf Haas has a voice to be reckoned with. His series of novels starring Detective Brenner is already wildly popular in his native Austria and in Germany, and it is only a matter of time until the United States catches Brenner fever.

What makes Come, Sweet Death! so irresistible is its unnamed narrator, who takes on a God-like quality. God has a sharp tongue and frequently interjects, surmises, and gives his own very funny opinion on the goings-on of the characters. The humor is largely dark; it is a crime novel after all. Brenner is an ex-cop who doesn’t ever want to go back to it, but finds himself again dragged into his detective work.

After taking a job as an ambulance driver in hopes of escape from the corruption of the crime fighting life, a mysterious death throws Brenner right back into his natural talents of getting to the bottom of things. His ambulance company has competition, competition that mysteriously gets to every scene before they do. Brenner uncovers corruption and races to tie every thread together before another body (maybe even his own!) gets thrown on top of the pile.

Come, Sweet Death! is hilarious and Wolf Haas’s writing can easily be compared to Carl Hiaasen with a darker sense of humor. It’s not only a funny novel, it’s a great crime novel full of suspense. Come, Sweet Death! is the fourth in the series of Brenner novels translated by Melville International Crime. This is the first I have read but after finishing it, I plan on starting at number one.


Pre-order Come, Sweet Death! via bookpeople.com. Copies of Come, Sweet Death! will be on our shelves on July 8th, the novel’s national release date. Thank you for supporting a local, independent bookstore!

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.