The Foreign Crime Scene
One thing is certain. Our crime readers are much keener to read crime fiction from other countries than before. So what is the appeal?
Of course foreign writers have been part of our past reading. Some of us remember reading Edmund Crispin, Dorothy L. Sayers, George Simenon, , G.K. Chesterton, Dashiell Hammett, and, of course, those crime classics by Edgar Allan Poe and Wilkie Collins. Our younger readers, however, may have read some Agatha Christie but are not familiar with those earlier authors. And we cannot blame them. Times have changed and crime story-telling has evolved over the years to reflect more modern societies. Modern communications (television, computers) has put foreign names and places under our noses. How can we ignore them! The fact is we don't and this has lead to a fascinating development for crime book club readers.
We may read foreign authors simply because we are "interested" or purely as "escapism". We are naturally curious about different societies and environments. Readers who do not wish to actually visit other countries can enjoy armchair travel. Our readers have been pleasantly surprised to discover a more personal kind of enlightenment than that from a travel guide. We have discussed the descriptions (scenic and social) of the countryside and small communities near Melbourne, Australia (Garry Disher) and Istanbul, Turkey (Barbara Nadel).
Lately, we seem to have been ambushed by Scandinavian authors. We have been gobbling up the likes of Henning Mankell, Jo Nesbö, Stieg Larsson and Camilla Lackberg.... "for a Scandinavian author Camilla Lackberg is surprisingly readable".... and the Icelandic writer Arnaldur Indridason as well. We have found these stories to be bleak rather than dark, realistic and thus straight-forward to read (apart from actual names) and have noted the embedded social and political commentary. The pace too is slower and the action less jarring.
Then there is the issue of translation! Can we rely on the translator to accurately report the author's intentions? We noted a slight change in style in one of Indridason's latest titles and our presenter's research informed us that his original translator, who lived in Iceland and maintained close contact with the author, had sadly died and been replaced by another from outside Iceland with less author contact. We find ourselves doing research to explain some of the facts that pop up in stories originally written for the author's own national audience and are amazed by what we learn. We discovered the frustration when translations are delayed by the publishers. This often means we are gasping for the next title in a series to appear in English, 'tho some might say the wait makes the eventual reading more enjoyable. We are even guilty of harassing our librarians in the hope that their influence will filter through the buyers to the publishers.
We have even discovered that "foreign" feeling closer to home with American authors such as James Lee Burke. A story set in Louisiana for example is an unfamiliar setting as Greece to some. Similarly, while the village "cosies" of England have been a staple in our diet, it has been a welcome change to read stories set in places such as the Shetland Islands (Ann Cleves) or the Cambridgeshire Fens (Jim Kelly).
Historical stories set overseas have a special appeal to those readers who love a side of history with their murder mystery main course. Try comparing a historical with a modern mystery setting : for example Jenny White's Istanbul in the Ottoman era with Barbara Nadel's modern-day Istanbul. Or "escape" to the Hindu Kush in the time of the British Raj (Barbara Cleverly); go back to ancient Japan (I.J. Parker) or Paris during WWII (J. Robert Janes). We can go from experiencing South African policing and prejudice (James McClure) to the policing problems caused by the Mafia in Sicily (Andrea Camilleri).
The world of crime fiction is on our doorstop - so enjoy!
Anne Jeanjean was born in the UK, has an English Lit. degree and has adored crime fiction since she was ten. It all began with Agatha Christie and now she’s into forensic, police procedurals and foreign authors.
Catherine Jeanjean, her daughter, is a Librarian and worked for nearly five years in Kansas at Kansas State University Library. She is now a Collections Management Librarian for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
Together they are the coordinators for a crime fiction reading group based at the Alta Vista Public Library, called the SleuthHounds. This group has been going strong for over two years now.