This post is courtesy of Best Translated Book Award judge, the inimitable George Carroll. Not only is he one hell of a West Coast sales rep for publishing companies large and small, he has an inexhaustible knowledge of translated literature.
I’ve been skulking around in the shadows with The Best Translated Award submissions. Everything I’m reading is bleak. I’m even thinking about designing a t-shirt that says “I Read World Literature: I like it Dark and Depressing.”
This quick wrap-up is specific to the mysteries on that list. To be honest, the chance of a mystery working its way through this year’s submissions would be tough (unless you really think The Infatuations is a mystery) but they are there. Like Cardiff City or Crystal Palace in the EPL- they might get relegated next year, but for now, they’re here and deserve notice.
Massimo Carlotto’s At the End of Dull Day is a sequel to The Goodbye Kiss. To avoid a prison sentence, narrator Giorgio Pellegrini sells out his friends and makes a deal with crooked cops. He ends up with bags of cash and tries to buy his way into respectability. Pellegrini is sadistic, misogynistic, and cruel. In the Richard Stark novels, Parker has a few rules that he follows, one of which is that no one gets hurt or killed unless it’s necessary. Pellegrini maims or kills anyone who gets in his way or can identify him. The day after brutally beating and disfiguring a politician’s maid – just to make a point – he tells the counselor:
“I can promise you that I’ve that I’ve shown considerable restraint and offered no more than a tiny demonstration of the extent of my professional skills in the field of inflicting violence. You can’t even begin to imagine how good I am at the work I do….”
There are three qualifying Maurizio de Giovanni titles, two of them are set in 1930’s fascist Italy and feature the character Commissario Riccardi: I Will Have Vengeance and Blood Curse. Riccardi has terrifying visions of the last few seconds of victims’ violent deaths – blood pumping from knife wounds, enigmatic last words of vengeance and sorrow. For a Commissario in solving homicides, it’s a blessing and a curse.
“The body’s head lay on the tabletop, resting on the left cheek; on the right, a large fragment of mirror jutted out from the throat, reflecting a vitreous eye and a twisted mouth from which a trickle of drool oozed. Riccardi heard singing in a soft voice…”
De Giovanni uses an effective, sometimes frustrating, way of telling the story – he writes part of the narrative identified by the characters’ names but also writes sections with just pronouns. In the first book, it seems that all of the female characters are blonds with blue eyes. You’re never sure which one is contemplating what.
There’s a vulnerable, romantic aspect of Riccardi that eases the incredible sorrow he experiences from the visions he witnesses, which is very well written.
The Bone Man by Wolf Haas is the sequel to Brenner and God. Haas is much lighter than de Giovanni and Carlotto, but you can only measure noir & mysteries by degrees, right? Haas is a bit of fresh air though, a real kick-in-the-pants, very funny.
He has an engaging way of involving the reader by throwing in asides:
“You’ll have to excuse me, but it really gets on my nerves sometimes, how sanctimonious people can be. Now, where did I leave off?”
“And let’s be honest, people make an unbelievable fuss about sleep these days. It’s got to be the best bed, everything organic, and absolutely quiet of course …just because people need to park their asses somewhere.”
The plot of The Bone Man opens with human bones found in a pile of chicken bones at an Austrian chicken shack. Yummy. The plot does involve a goalie from a soccer team, which is always a plus with me. Oh, and, Blood Curse has this: “That would explain the extent of the bloodstain across the floor, a trail nearly a yard wide. We have a center forward on our hands, he thought.”
Looking forward to reading The Fire Witness, which comes with high recommendations. The jacket image has a hammer on it, so I can imagine where this one is going to go.
The last five days of the eleventh-century Icelandic politician, writer of sagas, and famous murder victim Snorri Sturleleson (the Norwegian spelling, Snorre, is preserved in the book) make up Thorvald Steen’s most recently translated historical fiction, The Little Horse. Murdered. . .
We all know Paris, or at least we think we know it. The Eiffel Tower. The Latin Quarter. The Champs-Élysées. The touristy stuff. In Dominique Fabre’s novel, Guys Like Me, we’re shown a different side of Paris: a gray, decaying. . .
One hundred pages into Birth of a Bridge, the prize-winning novel from French writer Maylis de Kerangal, the narrator describes how starting in November, birds come to nest in the wetlands of the fictional city of Coca, California, for three. . .
At 30, the Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli is already gathering her rosebuds. Faces in the Crowd, her poised debut novel, was published by Coffee House Press, along with her Brodsky-infused essay collection, Sidewalks. The essays stand as a theoretical map. . .
Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires: An Attainable Utopia (narrated by Julio Cortázar) is, not disappointingly, as wild a book as its title suggests. It is a half-novella half-graphic novel story about . . . what, exactly? A European tribunal, Latin. . .
Marie NDiaye has created a tiny, psychological masterpiece with her Self-Portrait in Green. In it she explores how our private fears and insecurities can distort what we believe to be real and can cause us to sabotage our intimate relationships.. . .
Reading a genre book—whether fantasy, science fiction, crime, thriller, etc.—which begins to seem excessively, stereotypically bad, I have to make sure to ask myself: is this parodying the flaws of the genre? Usually, this questioning takes its time coming. In. . .
The Sicilian Mafia has always been a rich subject for sensational crime fiction. The Godfather, Goodfellas, and The Sopranos worked the mob’s bloody corpses and family feuds to both entertainment and artistic value. Giuseppe di Piazza’s debut novel attempts this,. . .
Antoine Volodine’s vast project (40 plus novels) of what he calls the post-exotic remains mostly untranslated, so for many of us, understanding it remains touched with mystery, whispers from those “who know,” and guesswork. That’s not to say that, were. . .
It hasn’t quite neared the pitch of the waiting-in-line-at-midnight Harry Potter days, but in small bookstores and reading circles of New York City, an aura has attended the novelist Elena Ferrante and her works. One part curiosity (Who is she?),. . .