Monday, August 15, 2011

Crime Fiction on a EuroPass: France

We're headed on a whirlwind tour of France in this leg of the EuroPass Challenge. I'm bypassing Paris altogether for the less travelled parts of the country and - of course - less well known French writers of mysterydom.

I was on a French crime fiction kick last month. I've already written about Boileau & Narcejac here, here and here. Also recognized are Hubert Monteilhet and the writing team of Jacquemard-Senecal. But there are plenty of others I can clue you in on. Here's only a sampling of some of the most unique:

Death from the Woods by Brigitte Aubert
Aubert's novel features Elise Andrioli, one of the most original detectives in all of the genre. She's a blind and mute paraplegic confined to a wheelchair, the victim of a terrorist bomb when she was visiting Northern Ireland. She can communicate only with her eyes and later in the book one finger. You may think it impossible for an fairly immobile, non-seeing, non-speaking character to be a detective but Aubert manages to pull it off. The gimmick is that Elise is the narrator and we read all her thoughts. She's sarcastic and no nonsense. It's a mixture of the terrifying and the wickedly satirical. Truly an enviable feat to have such a seemingly incapacitated character solve a series of murders and communicate it to others. I was stunned by the book. There is also a sequel featuring Elise in her second outing as amateur sleuth called Death from the Snows which I own but have not read yet.

Death in the Dordogne by Louis Sanders
An ex-pat Bristih painter turns amateur detective when his neighbors keep dying under suspicious circumstances. Wry humor and oddball characters add interest to a very different type of crime novel. It does tend to have a dark and bleak tone that reminded me of Highsmith and I guess that's not to everyone's taste. I thought it unusual and better than average.

The Double Death of Frederic Belot by Claude Aveline
Once again I'm reaching deep into my trusty trunk of vintage and out of print books to present you with one of those nuggets well worth seeking out. This was Aveline's first novel published in France in 1932 and then in an English translation in the 1940s. It's an impossible crime mystery with some innovative plot machinations. The French writers excelled at this kind of thing.

Finally, I wholeheartedly recommend the novels of Fred Vargas who wrote The Chalk Circle Man, a book that is the closest to a Harry Stephen Keeler novel in a foreign language that I have ever encountered. Her books often deal with surreal and bizarre elements like the possibility of a werewolf on the loose in Seeking Whom He May Devour. The rest of the series featuring her eccentric police detective Commissaire Adamsberg are just as good especially Have Mercy on Us All which deals with murders traced to a strain of bubonic plague. She has written about a group of unlikely detectives dubbed "The Three Evangelists" (their names are Matthias, Marc and Lucien) who appear in two books. Only the first, fittingly titled The Three Evangelists, has been translated into English and is also includes surreal elements that recall the old-fashioned impossible crime novels of the Golden Age.

Hop aboard the other trains headed for France at our host site Mysteries in Paradise where you should be able to find links to the other posts.


  1. You have me sold on Death from the Woods (she says as she adds another to Mount TBR). I cannot resist "wickedly satirical."

    And here's another of those book-blogging coincidences. I just recently picked up a copy of The Three Evangelists at our Library's Used Bookstore. Had never heard of Fred Vargas before, but the synopsis reeled me right in.

    Here's my stopping place in France:

  2. John: Blogger's not messing with you. You left a comment on my Elberg Collection post for the Europass Challenge and then again on my final review of the book. :-)

    You are right...the Elberg Collection of the title is in reference to a collection of priceless pottery. Very perceptive! If I do find (and find the time to read it) Death from the Woods I will certainly post a review.

  3. Thanks for the contribution John. I have added it to Mr Linky

  4. John: I am going looking for Death from the Woods. You have provided a good resource for looking for French mysteries.

  5. Surrealist,'pataphysician, Oulipian,jazz trumpeter, song-writer, poet and novelist, Boris Vian translated American pulp and noir novels. One of the most praised was Vernon Sullivan. However, people found it difficult to find copies of the English-language originals. It turned out that Viam had decided it was easier to make translations without originals.
    Only one of Sullivan's novels- J'irai cracher sur vos tombes- has been recreated in its original tongue as I'll Spit on your Graves'