We should all read more international and translated crime fiction

I’m just going to throw this out there into the world. Might be a good discussion starter, maybe the idea can take root.

Crime fiction, as most of us read it, is primarily considered through a North American/European lens. (Or, even more narrowly, a US/European lens).

Other countries have rich crime fiction traditions of their own that go back many decades. Some countries have a crime fiction tradition that is just as old as the one in the United States.

Here’s what I’ve been thinking about today. A huge anthology of mystery/crime fiction, in the vein of the VanderMeer’s Big Book of Science Fiction (or any of their other big genre anthologies), that takes a more global approach to the genre.

This anthology could consider the history of each of the crime fiction traditions from around the world and illuminate them (without being beholden to them).

The mystery/crime genre has a pretty good history with translated fiction. The Garden of Forking Paths by Jorge Luis Borges, which was translated by Anthony Boucher for Ellery Queen in 1948 (Borges’ first English translation). Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo’s Martin Beck are perennial favorites and one of the more popular books of the last few years was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

With this history in mind, the anthology should also actively seek out untranslated fiction. Again, I look to the VanderMeer’s for inspiration. A recent Facebook post shed some light on the numbers of their upcoming anthology, The Big Book of Classic Fantasy (2019):

“Final count, from Ann VanderMeer: 45 of the 90 stories in The Big Book of Classic Fantasy, out from Vintage in 2019, are translations, from 26 countries. 7 from authors never in English before, one from an author with only a single story previously translated. 14 are stories never in English before. 6 additional stories are new translations of stories previously published in English before but really needed a new translation. Not including the material from First Nation and Native American sources that was originally published in English.”

That would be a cool anthology to own, and a potentially genre canon redefining one at that.

I decided to take a quick look at my shelves to see what my own tour of the world was like over the last few years. Looks like I’ve read crime fiction from the following countries (and there’s others that I’m likely forgetting): The United States, Australia, Ireland, Britain, Scotland, France, Japan, Argentina, India, Pakistan, Spain, Italy, Mexico, Canada, Netherlands, South Africa, Nigeria, Russia, and Sweden.

If you imagine a list of the best mystery and crime fiction, a canon if you will (even if only a personal one), would it be filled with primarily American writers and writers from a small number of European countries?

Caveat: Is there enough short fiction from these countries to even tap in to? I don’t know. Do these international writers write short fiction? Again, I don’t know. But even if there isn’t enough short fiction to support such an anthology, I would still argue for a more global approach to viewing the genre.

My imagined anthology is exactly that, imagined. But it is important to point out the good work that is being done to bring greater attention to translated and international crime fiction.

Europa’s World Noir imprint, Bitter Lemon Press, Melville House’s International line, and, to a lesser extent, Akashic’s “Noir” series all bring us crime fiction from around the world. The site Crime Fiction Lover is becoming a valued resource for international crime fiction. Here is a recent piece that was published Nigerian Noir — Five Books to Try and a couple of others, New Zealand Crime Fiction: 12 Authors to Try, Five of the Best French Crime Writers. Hopefully they will continue to publish these types of pieces.

If you want to read some international or translated crime fiction, where to begin? I could say that if you like police procedurals, try a Japanese one like Six Four or the great Irish writer, Gene Kerrigan. Or, if you like noir, try Massimo Carlotto’s The Goodbye Kiss. However I don’t want to do a laundry list of sub-genres and risk missing something. Suffice to say that there is something out there regardless of what your crime fiction preferences are.

Here is a broad selection of international and translated crime fiction that I have read and enjoyed over the years. This is not an exhaustive list, there is obviously tons more out there. If you don’t see a favorite here, please don’t read into it. I did however, in some cases, choose lesser known authors over those who may be more well known.

What international crime fiction have you read? What translated crime fiction have you read? 

Should a more global approach be taken when considering the genre? 

Would you read that theoretical anthology that I talked about briefly above?

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3 thoughts on “We should all read more international and translated crime fiction

  1. I’d read that anthology. I’ve been reading crime fiction almost exclusively since 2015 and not only will I never catch up, I’ve never heard of 75% of these authors.

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  2. Pingback: Issue 6

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