In last week’s post, I set myself the challenge of writing about the very best of crime fiction from the eight countries to have won the World Cup. To that end, I thought I would begin by looking at a series of writers and novels that should grace the shelves of any crime fiction fan.
- Hiber Conteris was born in Uruguay in 1933 and in 1985 he published El diez por ciento de la vida (Ten Percent of Life). The book is stuffed full of respectful nods to American hardboiled fiction but it is also deeply political. Set amid the repressive military dictatorship of the 1970s it is the work of a master and a crime fiction fanatic.
- Michele Giuttari is a former police chief from Florence and has swapped police work for writing about police work. The central character Chief Superintendent Michele Ferrara drives a series of books that give a stunning insight into Italian life and the way its police force operates.
- The fictional detective Aurelio Zen comes from the pen of British crime writer Michael Dibdin. The first book in the series, Ratking, won the Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger award in 1988. The third book, Cabal, is my favourite and was adapted for television by the BBC with Rufus Sewell playing the jaded and melancholic Italian detective. The opening of Cabal features Prince Ludovico Ruspanti plunging to his death from the dome of St Peter’s in Rome. How’s that for an opening? Impossible to read without wondering how you’ve never heard of the books before.
- Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Salvo Montalbano from the fictional town of Vigàta, on the Sicilian coast, can do no wrong right now. The books and television adaptations are as popular as ever, and rightly so.
- The world was tragically robbed of the genius of Jakob Arjouni who died last year at the age of 48. He created a detective that you must know more about. Kemal Kayankayawa is a Turk working in Frankfurt and his first incarnation was in Happy Birthday, Türke! (1985) written when Arjouni was just 20. The books have gone on to be published in over 10 languages and in 1992 Arjouni was awarded the German Crime Fiction Prize for One Man, One Murder, a Kayankayawa novel. Fast paced and extremely gritty, Arjouni’s work is extremely good. His passing is a tragic loss.
- A rare and welcome addition to the all-too-short list of crime fiction novels for children is Emil and the Detectives (1929) by Erich Kästner, featuring the character Emil Tischbein. The book was Kästner’s first and perhaps best-known major success and has been translated into nearly 60 languages thanks to being overlooked by Nazi censorship. As good today as it was in 1929.
- Starting with O silêncio da chuva (1996), translated as The Silence of the Rain Brazilian professor and crime writer Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza’s Inspector Espinosa mystery series is set in Rio de Janiero. Tight plots, which blend the grit and glamour of an astonishing setting drive the stories, and the world-weary Espinosa forward.
- Derek Raymond, the pseudonym of Robert Cook, was born in 1931 and he is largely credited with the creation of British noir. His Factory series featuring the Metropolitan Police’s Department of Unexplained Deaths is breathtaking. If you like serial killer fiction then his 1990 novel I Was Dora Suarez is just for you. Be warned though, the violence, the attention to graphic detail and the sheer masochistic nature of the murder of prostitute Dora Suarez are all extreme. Google it. If you can get past the description of the plot then fine. But you have been warned.
- Spanish writer Manuel Vásquez Montalbán created a hardboiled series set in post-dictatorship Spain. His protagonist Pepe Carvalho is perpetually disillusioned with the transition from Franco’s regime to modern democracy. The series runs to around 20 books, one of which, Quinteto de Buenos Aires (1997), The Buenos Aires Quintet shows much more to Buenos Aires than tango, Maradona, and the disappeared.
- A female writer with a male pseudonym, Fred Vargas is Frédérique Audoin-Rouzeau. Vargas created the character of Chief Inspector Adamsberg and the quality of the writing has brought a flurry of awards. The winner of three Crime Writers Association International Dagger Vargas was the first person to win the award for three successive novels. An extraordinary talent and one that deserves some serious space on your bookshelf.
- The Marseille Trilogy from Jean-Claude Izzo is French noir at its staggering best. Driven by the protagonist Fabio Montale, an ex-cop and classic loner you will devour all three books once you start them.
- Jazz, a young saxophonist and brutal murder in the wealthy town of Vigo are the setting for Domingo Villar’s brilliant Ojos de Agua (Water-Blue Eyes), 2006. Featuring disheartened cop (aren’t they all?) Leo Caldas, Villar has produced a modern classic.
- It does not get more bizarre than Dickens & Clot Investigations Ltd. A detective agency in Madrid set sometime in the future when, for some reason, Madrid is a city half underwater. The agency helps writers whose characters and quit the page and assume lives of their own. The bizarre and brilliant work of writer Rafael Reig.
Next time we’ll look at crime fiction films. I’ll leave you with one true story amongst all the fiction though. The first country to win the World Cup was Uruguay. There is a genuine conspiracy theory that their poor performance in the first group game last week was as a result of interference by Brazilian customs officials. The squad tried to bring nearly 40 kilos of dulce de leche (a type of caramel spread) into Brazil. It was impounded for not having the appropriate paperwork. You can read the story here but it didn’t seem to stop them last night. I’ll write more about Uruguayan crime fiction as the tournament unfolds. Particularly in relation to the literary heavyweight that is Daniel Chavarria, an Uruguayan revolutionary living in Cuba. In 1994 he wrote Adiós muchachos, a novel which went on to win an Edgar Allan Poe Award.
More on Chavarria in due course. Until then I’ll leave the sports editors in Montevideo to the easiest headline they’ve ever had to write. A shame it will be wasted on the English.