A Very Noir October

September 29, 2015 | By FRENCH CULTURE BOOKS

October means costumes, candy, and of course, some frightening reads guaranteed to make your hair stand on end. Here are our picks for fans of ghastly, goulish, or just plain scary books.

If crime fiction is up your smoky alley, check out our feature article and Cornelia Street Café's celebration of all things noir.




Fabrice Bourland, The Baker Street Phantom, Gallic Books, 2010 (Translator: Morag Young)

Spring, 1932: As London cowers amidst a series of brutal murders, a small detective agency quietly opens its doors in Bloomsbury. A certain Lady Arthur Conan Doyle warns detectives Singleton and Trelawney of the mysterious events at 221 Baker Street, and through an interpid investigation, "they must draw on their knowledge of the imaginary to find the perpetrators of some very real and bloody crimes before they strike again."



Maxime Chattam, Carnage, Gallic Books, 2012 (Translators: Jane Aitken and Emily Boyce)

A "A tense, original New York-based thriller from one of France's foremost crime writers," Carnage follows an NYPD officer as he investigates an apparently motiveless school shooting in Harlem, only to discover that the massacre that left 14 dead is only the beginning of a string of violent shootings in his precinct.



Caryl Ferey, Zulu (2010) & Utu (2011), Europa Editions (Translator: Howard Curtis)

Exploring the socio-political climate of Boer-era South Africa, as well as the intense violence of post-apartheid gang and drug proliferation, Zulu takes the detective narrative and situates the reader in a totally unfamiliar environment where the only guiding reference is the violence that puts everyone, including the protagonist, Ali, at risk at every turn. Utu brings us to New Zealand, where the mysterious death of a Maori shaman, Fitzgerald, which the police rule a suicide, brings a specialist and former associate named Osborne into town to unravel what might be a police cover-up.



Jean-Christophe Grangé, Red Blood River, Harvill Press, 2000 (Translator: Ian Monk)

Two investigators' paths cross as their disparate cases lead them to a mysterous cult:

"A horrifically mutilated corpse is discovered wedged in an isolated crevice. The highly-regarded but unpredictable ex-commando Pierre Nitmans is sent from Paris to the French Alps to investigate. Meanwhile, Karim Abdouf, a young Arab policeman, is trying to find out why the tomb of a young child has been desecrated. When a second body is found, high up in a glacier, the paths of the two policemen are joined in their search for the killers, a trail that embroils them with the mysterioius cult of the Crimson Rivers."



Jérémie Guez, Eyes Full of Empty, The Unnamed Press, 2015 (Translator: Edward Gauvin)

When a rich college student goes away on vacation and doesn't return, Idir believes he has an open-and-shut case. "But when Idir discovers that Thibaut was hiding his homosexuality from his conservative family, his disappearance takes on sinister connotations. The search for Thibaut, a young man who has rejected his powerful father’s dog-eat-dog world, sends Idir on a wild goose chase through the streets of contemporary Paris. Distracted by his intense affair with the wife of a wealthy friend, Idir ultimately becomes embroiled in a war of lies and corruption between two of France's most powerful media conglomerates." Eyes Full of Empry echoes Chandler and American noir tropes in the creation of an entirely new landscape of contemporary detective fiction.



Luc Lang, Cruel Tales From the Thirteenth Floor, University of Nebraska Press, 2015 (Translator: Donald Nicholson-Smith)

Bitter, cruel, sarcastic, and witty, Luc Lang's collection of stories deals with abandonment and the crushing isolation that stems from the home, the city, the workplace, and the world itself. The 16 stories are numbered 1 through 17, although in a superstitious turn, there is no story number 13. Lang's minutiae of the absurd and the horrifying can be at times equal parts funny and crushing, showing "the mundane grind of the everyday forces that are fueled by cruel calculation and amoral happenstance and shot through with bizarre surprise."



Jean-Patrick Manchette, The Mad and the Bad, NYRB, 2014 & The Gunman, City Lights Publishers, 2015 (Translator: Donald Nicholson-Smith)

"Michel Hartog [is] a sometime architect (...) whose immense fortune has just grown that much greater following the death of his brother in an accident. Peter is his orphaned nephew—a spoiled brat. Julie is in an insane asylum. Thompson is a hired gunman with a serious ulcer. Michel hires Julie to look after Peter. And he hires Thompson to kill them. Julie and Peter escape. Thompson pursues. Bullets fly. Bodies accumulate." And the madness has only begun. What emerges (a ransom plot, a loose-cannon guman on the loose, a greedy bloodlust) is "a pitch-perfect work of creative destruction."


Fred Vargas, Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand, Harvill Secker, 2007 (Translator: Sian Reynolds)

A thought-to-be long dead serial killer is thrust back into an investigation when a recent murder bears the hallmarks of his style. How could he have done it when the detective on the case attended his funeral? What follows is a supernatural examination tinged with scenes of frustration and mystery.


BONUS:
Jean-Patrick Manchette & Jacques Tardi, Run Like Crazy, Run Like Hell, Fantagraphics, 2015

A graphic novel adaptation of The Mad and the Bad, artist Jacques Tardi brings the speed and intensity of the novel to life with his thumping animations. Tardi's third graphic adaptation of Manchette is "full of moments of pitch-black humor, and a strong current of socio-political satire runs beneath its bleak surface. It's a ride to hell, but a devilishly fun one."



For daily updates on events, blogs and translations, follow us on Twitter @FrenchBooksUSA.

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
Sign in or register to post comments.