Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Some French Crime Fiction
1. I just finished reading The Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas, the most recent of her Commissaire Adamsberg novels. In fact, I read all seven of them more or less one after another. I thought they were brilliant. They are all police procedurals but are unusually concerned with modern manifestation of old French myths and legends. Vargas is an medieval archeologist and historian who apparently started to write crime novels for fun or stave off boredom - but these books are so good I can't possibly believe that to be true. My only complaint here: the English translations of her books were published out of order. Since I came late to her work, this did not effect me. But much of what happens in each book carries on from the previous one, it makes no sense to start in the middle and skip around. Why would the publishers do this to us? Its not right.
2. I am now reading the brand new translation of Irene by Pierre Lemaitre, another French police procedural. Most cops or private eyes come from the same mold. Typically they are middle-aged men, they drink too much, have excess emotional baggage, etc, etc - you know what I am talking about. But in Irene, the police officer is different. Commandant Camille Verhoeven is very short and loves to draw. He sketches and doodles constantly. So it seems strange that Commissaire Adamsberg in the Fred Vargas books is also rather short - though he has a few inches on Verhoeven, who is only 4'11" - and also loves to sketch and draw, though Verhoeven, too, is the better artist. It doesn't seem strange to have one troubled, alcoholic cop after another - it does seem a little strange to run into two short, artistic French cops in a row. (Is it also strange that Adamsberg's estranged girlfriend, who plays a major part in some of the books, is named Camille?) (Is Lemaitre a big fan of Vargas?) (And how long will I have to wait for more books by Lemaitre to be published?)
Irene is the first book in a trilogoy. The second book, Alex, was published first. I should have waited until all three books were available in English to start reading Lemaitre but I exercised poor judgement and read Alex last fall. Doing so has ruined the big surprises that are found in the first book, Irene. Really big spoilers. So why did they have to be published in translation out of order? I just don't get it.
3. I won't complain about the quality of the translation of these books. They are excellent. In fact, Alex and The Ghost Riders of Ordebec shared the 2013 CWA International Dagger. One thing that I can't believe I haven't encountered before now is that these books were translated from French into British English and the slang is all British: Lads, lanky streak of piss, come a cropper, boozer. I had a list of a lot of others (which I have misplaced). I have no complaints about the British slang - I rather liked it.
Irene just came out in the UK and won't be published in the US for some time. I liked Alex so much that I had to get myself a UK copy.
4. For some reason, I've been hooked on French crime fiction lately. I get hooked on countries from time to time. But what is really exciting about being on a French kick right now is that Penguin is now publishing, in the correct order, new translations of all of Georges Simenon's Inspector Maigret novels. Thank you Penguin.