Summer is the perfect time to travel, whether you’re actually traveling or just armchair traveling. Good thing you probably don’t want to explore for real to the criminal underbellies and corrupt regimes that fill the pages of the following books, or at least, you’d want a different experience. This month’s international fare features quite a few French releases, including several reissues, with Japan, Scandinavia and the Middle East also well-represented.
Sebastien Japrisot, One Deadly Summer (Gallic Books)
While Sebastien Japrisot is best known here in the states for his romantic novel A Very Long Engagement, adapted to film in 2004 as a vehicule for Audrey Tatou, his other works veer more towards the psychological thriller and classic noir. One Deadly Summer, a sultry masterpiece set during a hot summer in the South of France, recounts the tale of the mysterious and destructive Elle, played by Isabelle Adjani in the 1980s film adaptation. Read an exclusive excerpt here.
Jean-Claude Izzo, Chourmo (Europa Editions)
Frankly, as a crime reader, you haven’t lived until you’ve lived vicariously through Fabio Montale sitting outside Fonfon’s cafe on the outskirts of Marseilles, taking in the sun and some garlic bread and a nice provencal wine, waiting for your next opportunity to fight for the little guy. Fortunately, Europa continues its re-launch of the World Noir series with a new edition of Chourmo, the second in Izzo’s famed Marseilles trilogy. Montale is no longer with the police force, now just a friend willing to help out, in this case by looking for his cousin’s son, who has gone missing in a crime that involves organized crime, right-wing fanatics, religious fanatics, and a host of other characters who could only converge in Marseilles. Izzo is a towering figure in modern noir. Take the opportunity to revisit his work.
Antoine Laurain, Smoking Kills (Gallic Books)
Antoine Laurain is another French writer best known to American audiences for his romantic comedies, but he’s just as good at crafting devastating noir critiques of hypocrisy. In Smoking Kills, a man beset by new smoking bans on all sides decides to try hypnotism in order to quit. Unfortunately for the rest of Paris, when he wants to start smoking again, he can only enjoy pleasure in his cigarettes after committing increasingly terrible acts. This feels like the movie I wanted Falling Down to be, except Michael Douglas doesn’t have the right sense of humor.
Yasmina Reza, Babylon (Seven Stories)
Another French one! What can we say? France is having a good year for crime fiction (and in the World Cup). After a dinner argument over free-range chicken leads to murder, it’s up to the neighbors to help a murderer cover up the untimely death of his wife. Babylon is a darkly comedic take on relationships and apartment buildings. You can read an exclusive excerpt here.
FRANCE / FRENCH GUIANA / VENEZUELA
Papillon, by Henri Charrière (William Morrow)
While some of us may not have thought of this book since the days when Dustin Hoffman was an action star and you could have a 3.5 hour long film about a bromance written by Dalton Trumbo and call it an action movie, our societal love for Papillon is now stronger than ever, thanks to a new reissue of the classic tale of escape, and a new film that is much shorter. Can Charlie Hunnam hold up to Steve McQueen, and what accent will he use?!?! We have many questions. But mainly, we just want people to forget about both movies and read the darned book.
Ragnar Jónasson, Blackout (Minotaur)
The third in Jónasson’s Dark Iceland series featuring Icelandic investigator Ari Thor, Blackout is also the best noir use of the 24-hour-sunshine since Insomnia. This appealing mashup of reporter mystery and police procedural is the perfect vehicle to explore the small town complexities of a nation where everyone knows each other, and long-ago crimes resurface with a vengeance.
Baghdad Noir, edited by Samuel Shimon (Akashic Books)
Baghdad Noir is a monumental achievement for Akashic’s long-running Noir series. The collection goes so far beyond the Iraq most of us have been exposed to over the last twenty years and offers up a vision of this important world city in all its complexity and humanity. Crime fiction may not have a long tradition in Iraqi literature, but the authors assembled here by editor Samuel Shimon embrace the finest noir traditions by shining a critical, incisive light on their city, ravaged by war and discord but full of moments of life and hope, some fulfilled, others crushed. This is a vital book, in every sense of the word. You can read an exclusive excerpt here: Muhsin al-Ramli’s story, “I Killed Her Because I Loved Her.”
Tadao Tsuge, Slum Wolf (NYRB Comics)
Tsuge’s bleak post-war childhood, and the down-and-out characters he encountered in their daily struggles for dignity and survival, are the subjects of the noir graphic stories collected in this anthology of his work. Slum Wolf is proof that you don’t need a murder to be noir AF. Of particular note to this audience is the recurring character of Sabu, a former kamikaze pilot who survived the war only to live life on borrowed time as a street fighter.
Marrakech Noir, edited by Yassin Adnan (Akashic Books)
Marrakech is known as Morocco’s “joyful city,” and as editor of the collection Yassin Adnan details in his marvelous introduction to the anthology, it was at first difficult to gather enough stories to fill this volume in a country with no tradition of noir. Luckily for readers, the joyful city had enough scandals, smugglers, and other sordid tales to inspire writers to pay homage to the complexities of their city through crime writing.
Jussi Adler-Olsen, The Washington Decree (Dutton)
Adler-Olsen has become one of Scandinavia’s top crime writers, but his newest American release is grounded firmly in US politics. First released in 2006, and now reissued for its timely subject matter, this political thriller about a folksy demagogue ties in to global issues of gun violence, election disputes, and growing conservatism. Read an exclusive excerpt here.