The Noir Days of Summer

June 24, 2013 | By Rachael Small

Invariably it happens…a knock on the door, a call, a shriek, a moment of realization. Something disturbs the quotidian. Someone needs to put things back in order. Find the missing artwork. Save the victim (too often a woman). And so it goes, intrigue, intellect, violence, and in rare cases, salvation.  Fast paced and gripping, crime fiction as a genre is strongly steeped in its conventions and beloved by a wide, impassioned readership.

Although there is a profusion of crime writing that sticks predictably to formula, there are also a number of polar authors who play with the genre’s constraints to engage with culture and politics in an artful way, using fiction to shed light on society’s downtrodden and dispossessed. Deeply rooted in a sense of place, urban and dark and gritty, noir fiction allows us to travel and see cities through the eyes of the authors who call them home.

In honor of summer reading and International Crime Month, we have put together a list of exciting Francophone crime fiction available in English translation. What better way to spend an oppressively hot and sunny summer day than bathed in the chilling pages of a noir novel or collection? These books will take you to the coastal cities and towns of Haiti, the mysterious Mediterranean, various neighborhoods of Paris during different historical moments, small towns in Normandy, and imaginary Arctic capitals.

Summertime, All the Cats are Bored by Phillippe Georget, translated by Steven Rendall (Europa Editions) - When two young Dutch women are murdered around the French Mediterranean city of Perpignan, tired cops Sebag and Molino must pull themselves out of their general ennui to catch the killer. What ensues is a gripping, diabolical game of cat and mouse, where the roles are loosely defined.

Haiti Noir (Akashic Books) – An anthology of short noir fiction about Haiti from Haitian authors. Edited by Edwige Danticat, author of Create Dangerously and The Dew Breaker, this collection includes stories by Marvin Victor, Kettly Mars, Louis-Philippe Dalembert and Evelyne Trouillot. Translations by David Ball and Nicole Ball. Haiti Noir II: The Classics is forthcoming in January 2014.

  1. Malavita by Tonino Benacquista (Penguin) - A comic crime novel from “one of France’s leading crime and mystery authors” (Guardian), Malavita tells the story of an American Mafioso who, along with his family, is relocated to a small town in Normandy by the FBI’s witness protection program. Soon to be a major motion picture, The Family, produced by Martin Scorsese.

  1. Aurorama by Jean-Christophe Valtat (Melville House) – A steampunk mystery/adventure novel set in the Arctic city of New Venice in 1908. The stability of the “pearl of the arctic” has already been threatened by a number of local clashes, but when a radical pamphlet is discovered calling for revolt, the secret police begin to hunt Brentford Orsini, one of the city’s most prominent figures. Keep your eyes open for Luminous Chaos, the second book in the Mysteries of New Venice series, forthcoming in October 2013.

The Marseilles Trilogy: Total Chaos, Chourmo and Solea by Jean-Claude Izzo, translated by Howard Curtis (Europa Editions) – By the master of Mediterranean noir, these three novels follow cop-turned-vigilante Fabio Montale through the streets of Marseilles, a port city plagued with race issues, political upheaval and organized crime.

  1. Murder in Memoriam by Didier Daeninckx, translated by Liz Heron (Melville House) The novel that won Daeninckx the Grand Prix de la Littérature Policière, Murder in Memoriam tells the story of a middle aged public school teacher, Roger Thiraud, who is murdered while observing the 1961 Algerian War riots in Paris. Twenty years later, while investigating his father’s death, Bernard Thiraud succumbs to a similar fate.

  3. The Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas, translated by Sian Reynolds (Penguin) – While Commissaire Adamsberg’s team is attempting to prove that serial arsonist Momo is not responsible for the fiery death of a Parisian industrialist, they are approached by an old woman from a small village in Normandy with a haunting story. Her daughter claims to have seen a ghostly army of riders who roam the countryside chasing the damned to hell. Adamsberg and his team must juggle both mysteries in this novel that is at times both quirky and chilling.

  4. Paris Noir (Akashic Books) – A collection of noir short stories centered in various neighborhoods around Paris, edited by Aurélien Masson, director of the Gallimard Série Noire. Includes works by Grand Prix de Littérature Policière winners Didier Daeninckx, DOA, Laurent Martin, and Patrick Pécherot. Translations by David Ball, Nicole Ball, Carol Cosman and Marjolijn de Jager.