Well, it’s a horrible year in world history, but it’s a great year in international fiction! Specifically, international thrillers and noir. France and the Scandinavians are, as usual, well-represented on this list, and there’s also a great showing from South American writers and a shocking number of Italians. Sorry not sorry to those who think international should just mean “set internationally”—instead, you’ll find only titles that have been translated from their original languages into English in the list below. There’s an extra element of intercultural communication that you receive when a work is lovingly ushered into a new community of readers, and I can’t thank the translators listed below enough for their thoughtful, precise, and fluid work on these beautiful and challenging texts.
Note: the blurbs below marked with the initials “DM” were crafted by CrimeReads EIC Dwyer Murphy.
Victoria Kielland, My Men
Translated by Damion Searls
Nasty, brutal, and short, Victoria Kielland’s My Men features Norwegian-American lonely hearts killer Belle Gunness, who lured widowers and their children to her farm with the promise of care and inheritable land, then slaughtered both her lovers and their families. The novel frames Gunness’ murderous quest as an almost-inevitable perversion of the American Dream. Kielland’s lyrical, abstract, and visceral prose, capably translated by Damion Searls, has won acclaim in her native Norway and is a beguiling match to her terrifying subject matter.
Marie NDiaye, Vengeance Is Mine
Translated by Jordan Stump
In Marie NDiaye’s sinister and spellbinding new novel, a lawyer is hired by the husband of a woman accused of murdering her three children, despite her lack of experience in high-profile trials. Meeting him unlocks memories for her of a childhood visit to a palatial home, perhaps occupied by the husband’s family, and wonders if she perhaps met her new client when she was 10 and he was 15. But what happened between them? And why can’t she remember the details? Half suspense novel, half dark fairy tale, Vengeance is Mine is a literary tour-de-force.
Chloe Mehdi, Nothing Is Lost
Translated by Howard Curtis
This pitch-dark French noir explores the aftermath of violence and the questions still unanswered in the wake of a teen’s murder by police. 11-year-old Mattia spends his days emotionally managing the adults around him, trying to keep his teachers from realizing he’s gifted, and thinking hard about the murder of 15-year-old Said during a police identity check. As he considers the life and death of Said, he puts together the larger puzzle of oppression in the heavily policed suburbs. Mehdi’s writing conjures the best of French noir, and reminds us why the French named the genre.
Mariana Enriquez, Our Share of Night
Translated by Megan McDowell
What a strange and luminous novel. Mariana Enriquez stunned with her collection The Dangers of Smoking in Bed, and Our Share of Night is just as fantastic (and fantastical). Beginning in Argentina in the years of the dictatorship, Our Share of Night follows a father and son on a grief-driven road trip as they mourn the loss of the woman who united them, her dangerous (and possibly immortal) family close in pursuit. A dark vampiric noir that heralds a new era in South American horror.
Maud Ventura, My Husband
Translated by Emma Ramadan
My Husband is a sly psychological thriller about a marriage that is not what it seems. A woman passionately in love with her husband keeps a detailed diary of his slights and insults, punishing him accordingly in the name of balance. Surprisingly comical and deeply insightful, My Husband is not to be missed.
Paula Rodriguez, Urgent Matters
Translated by Sarah Moses
In this perfectly paced and plotted Argentine thriller, a train crash is the opportunity one criminal needs to change his identity and go on the run. Unfortunately, one of the detectives hunting him just isn’t ready to let the case go, and he’s ready to use questionable methods to track down his target. What follows is one of the most delightful cat-and-mouse thrillers I’ve read in quite some time.
Maria Rosa Cutrufelli, Tina, Mafia Soldier
Translated by Robin Pickering-Iazzi
An extravagantly violent woman serving as the unlikely head of a Sicilian mafia outfit and a writer from Rome in search of a new subject with Sicilian roots of her own are at the center of this fast-moving, provocative novel. The story is at once a compelling mob fiction and a clear-eyed assault on gender conventions in a society awash in corruption and hypocrisy. –DM
Zijin Chen, Bad Kids
Translated by Michelle Deeter
Bad Kids is about all kinds of morally compromised people, of all ages. When three teens come across the footage of a middle aged man’s murder of his in-laws, they decide to blackmail him. They’re also understandably worried about retribution for some of their own acts, and it’s a toss-up if the law will catch them first or the target of their blackmail. You’ll find yourself rooting for these scrappy outlaws, despite their occasionally heinous acts, as they take on the symbols of vast authority. A perfect noir for modern China!
Pilar Quintana, Abyss
Translated by Lisa Dillman
A young girl grapples with the complexities of the adult world in this moody psychological thriller. Her mother is deeply depressed, flourishing only when tending to her plants or in the arms of her lover, and her father is older, absent, and unable to process emotions. The father finds out about the lover, who disappears, and the family heads to a modern home in the Columbian mountains to recover their intimacy; the home, like the mother, is beautiful and cold, and its former mistress went out one night in her car and never returned…
Delphine de Vigan, Kids Run the Show
Translated by Alison Anderson
Damn, this book got dark. Like, you think it can’t get any darker, then it does. In Kids Run the Show, the younger child of a prominent mommy vlogger is kidnapped, and as the search continues, the reader begins to wonder if the child might be better off wherever they are than at home being constantly filmed. De Vigan has written a blistering critique of influencer culture, the erasure of privacy, and the exploitation of children. The prophetic ending takes us decades into the future to contemplate the psychological wounds of a generation raised to perform on the internet, for a deeply unsettling experience.
Patrick Modiano, Scene of the Crime
Translated by Mark Polizzotti
(Yale Univ. Press)
Scene of the Crime is, like other Modiano works, an interrogation of the past and of time itself. A young man finds himself the subject of interes by a shadowy band of strangers with ambiguous connections and motivations. It has something to do with his past, and perhaps with the strange ‘family’ he found himself marooned with for a time in his youth, but what exactly? Modiano’s prose is mesmerizing as ever, translated into English by Mark Polizzotti. The story plays out with the intrigue of a good noir, with an unsurpassed depth of feeling and curiosity. –DM
Louise Mey, The Second Woman
Translated by Louise Rogers Lalaurie
The Second Woman is at once a chilling psychological thriller and a visceral exploration of internalized misogyny and the mechanics of abuse. The woman of the title is the new partner of a man suspected of involvement in the disappearance of his wife. When the wife returns, with seemingly no memory of him or her son, a game of cat and mouse begins, between the detective and the husband, and between the narrator’s wishful hopes and her slow acknowledgement of her dark reality.
Hye-Young Pyun, The Owl Cries
Translated by Sora Kim-Russell
Hye-Young Pyun’s stunning psychological thrillers delve deep into the horrors of being human and the oppressive mechanics of modern society, and The Owl Cries demonstrates a writer at the top of her game. In The Owl Cries, a ranger has vanished from a mysterious forest and its secluded company town of loggers and researchers. His brother, a divorce lawyer, embarks on a lackadaisical investigation into the disappearance, but soon finds himself mired in the town’s corruption and enmeshed in its secrets.
Nicola Lagioia, The City of the Living
Translated by Ann Goldstein
I don’t think it’s possible to praise this book enough. The City of the Living is a novel, but it closely follows a real-life crime committed in Italy in 2015, when two young men, after a days-long drug binge, brutally murdered another young man in a senseless and bizarre crime. Nicola Lagioia teases out all the complex threads of the case, including the ambiguous sexual dynamic between the perpetrators, the homophobia that colored public response, the victim’s right wing sympathies, and the enormous class differences between the killers and their target. With obvious echoes of Leopold and Loeb, this novel also evokes the same sensibilities as Micah Nemerever’s These Violent Delights. Also, be warned: if you look it up, you will get the song Ciao Amore stuck in your head for quite some time.
Christoffer Carlsson, Blaze Me a Sun
Translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles
Sweden’s latest crime fiction sensation is a novel of keen insights, sharp observation, and a penetrating sense of humanity. Spanning decades, Carlsson tells the story of the fruitless hunt for a serial killer and the possible connections to the murder of the country’s prime minister. The procedural mystery is itself satisfying, but where Carlsson really excels is in balancing the dark and satisfying atmospherics with a sense of longing just beyond reach. –DM