Wolfgang Brylla: Erweiterung in alle Himmelsrichtungen
Vor einigen Jahren versuchte Stewart King, der sich in der Kriminalliteraturbranche als Experte für den spanischen bzw. lateinamerikanischen Kriminalroman einen Namen machte, auch die sich wenig für unsere Lieblingsgattung begeisternden akademischen Zeitgenossen von der Wichtigkeit der crime fiction studies zu überzeugen. Man solle die Forschung denationalisieren – so ungefähr lautete Kings Credo, der damit im Zeitalter der Globalisierung offene Türen einrannte.
Seit seinem Plädoyer für das Krimigenre hat sich die Welt ‚da draußen‘ massiv verändert. Klimakrise, Ukraine-Krieg, Nahost-Konflikt bestimmen zur Zeit die Schlagzeilen und es deutet leider nichts darauf hin, dass sich die angespannte politische Sachlage verändern sollte. Statt über den eigenen Tellerrand zu schauen und nationale Grenzen zu überwinden im Zeichen eines friedlichen Zusammenseins und -lebens, steht aktuell eher ein anderes Lösungsmanagement hoch im Kurs, das weniger mit Schutz, sondern vielmehr etwas mit schwerem Geschütz zu tun hat. Schon wieder wird in solchen Kategorien wie Nation(en) und Volk gedacht. Wir vs. sie. Freunde vs. Feinde. Bekannte vs. Fremde.
Deswegen ist es umso erfreulicher, dass Kings Aufruf zum Aufbrechen festzementierter, häufig von Vorurteilen geprägter, Exegese-Modellen auf einen fruchtbaren Boden fiel. In den letzten Jahren – auch 2023 – wurden zahlreiche mehrsprachliche Studien veröffentlicht, die sich dem weltweiten Krimi-Phänomen widmen und es aus diversen ästhetischen Perspektiven untersuchen. Diesen neuen Schwung gäbe es aber wahrscheinlich nicht, wenn es auch bei den Buchverlagen zu einer Art Wende nicht gekommen wäre. Denn die Verlagshäuser haben sich so langsam aber sicher an solche Kriminalliteratur herangetastet, die weder mit dem Prädikat scandinavian noir noch neo polar versehen war, geschweige denn zu der ganzen Usual-Literaturware aus den USA und England dazugehörte. Plötzlich übersetzte man Romane aus anderen ‚exotischen‘ Ländern und – surprise, surprise – die meisten konnten durch hohe erzählerische Qualität punkten.
Natürlich werden die Bestsellerlisten immer noch von englischsprachigen Autor:innen dominiert. Aber das Jahr 2023 war deswegen besonders, weil einige relevante, sozialkritische, kulturanalysierende oder schlicht und ergreifend gut geschriebene Krimis/Thrillers, die die Gegenwart oder Vergangenheit thematisieren, erschienen sind. Nicolas Lagioias „Die Stadt der Lebenden“ (Italien) – eine reportagenähnliche Darstellung eines Infernos, das deswegen so diabolisch rüberkommt, weil es wahr ist. Oder Riku Ondas „Fische, die in Sonnensprenkeln schwimmen“ (Japan) – eine Suche nach dem eigenen Ich, nach dem Wir, nach der eigenen Erinnerung und Schuld. Oder Anjali Deshpandes „Mord“ (Indien) – eine sezierender Blick in die Untergründe des Kastensystems. Oder Deepti Kapoor „Zeit der Schuld“ (Indien) – ein mehrschichtiger Schinken (im positiven Sinne) über die wenig bollywoodhafte Realität in Indien. Oder Jose Dalisays „Last Call Manila“ (Philippinen) – ein durchaus sachliches und erschütterndes Bild der allgegenwärtigen Kriminalität, die den Alltag in Südostasien bestimmt. Oder Paula Rodriguez‘ „Dringliche Angelegenheiten“ (Argentinien) – ein lakonischer Ritt durch den Dschungel von Buenos Aires, der an Borges erinnert.
Und auch der an Meisterhaftigkeit kaum zum überbietende James Kestrel könnte zu dieser Gruppe dazugezählt werden, der zwar Amerikaner ist, dessen unheimlicher Roman „Fünf Winter“ jedoch in Hongkong oder Japan der 40er Jahren spielt; Kestrel liefert eigentlich einen kriminalliterarischen Beweis für die Verzahnung der Welt und ein Out-of-the-box-Denken. Ein textfestes Beleg für die Denationalisierung.
Wolfgang Brylla brüstet sich damit, mit acht Jahren „Winnetou“ gelesen zu haben. Was für ein Teufelskerl. Zwinkersmiley. Von Thomas Mann hält er wenig, von Krimis aber viel. Als wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter an einer polnischen Universität verpfändet er derzeit Forschungsgelder für den Einkauf von Kriminalromanen. Sternzeichen: Skorpion. – Seine Texte bei uns hier. Ende 2022 erschien von ihm, zusammen mit Maike Schmidt herausgegeben, „Der Regionalkrimi. Ausdifferenzierungen und Entwicklungstendenzen“ (Vandenhoek & Ruprecht).
James Lee Burke: That’s why I say never give up
Hello to all our friends in our electronic club known as the WE DON’T CARE WHAT PEOPLE SAY, ROCK AND ROLL IS HERE TO STAY GROUP. I think we are an outstanding bunch; in fact, I think we set the standard.
More seriously, I think it has been a rough year for the country and a rough year for the world. I suspect that you, like me and Pearl and Erin, feel for those who are suffering in the Mideast. It’s hard to watch the images on the television screen, and the viciousness and cruelty make us wonder how our fellow human beings can do such horrible things to one another. I have no answer, except to say it’s evil, and it lives in the human breast. Greed, fear, the military-industrial complex President Eisenhower spoke of, I think they are all at work. And for that reason I say paryers daily for the innocent people suffering today and hope this will never be the fate our of children.
That said, I still believe that the human soul is indominable, and that we must never give up to the naysayers and the cynics and the materialists. I also go back to Genesis and the fourth of day of Creation, when Yawee told His people how he wanted His children to live. This is where the Edenic vision comes from, and it’s a grand one, too. I think it’s still there, right at tne tips of our fingers. That’s why I say never give up. The Big Blue Marble is a grand playground, just waiting for us, and also waiting for the self-blinded if they could only understand the greatness of the gift. Anyway, we’ve got ourselves, people like you and me and Pearl and Erin and Pamala, and all the other good people in the world.
Merry Christmas to all of you and to people of all faiths and races, and to all animals and the birds and the fish as well.
Pendragon Verlag, a small independent publisher in Germany, concluded the year with having translated and published ALL of James Lee Burke’s 23 Dave Rochicheaux novels. His story collection HARBOR LIGHTS will be available in January. And CLETE will follow …
John Byron: 2023 Roundup
2023 was another productive year in Australian crime fiction. The always reliable and remarkably prolific David Whish-Wilson produced another ripper in I Am Already Dead, a cross-over between his brilliant, long-running Frank Swann franchise (Zero at the Bone, Line of Sight, Old Scores and Shore Leave) and his gripping 2019 stand-alone novel, True West. Lee Southern, the young hero of the latter book, has apprenticed himself to the semi-retired Swann, and quickly finds himself in deeper than he can handle with a sordid extortion case in which no one and nothing is what they seem. The gritty, propulsive plot weaves through enigmas, treacheries and not-so-random acts of violence, as events test not only the rookie Southern but also the veteran Swann, to a satisfying payoff.
As I foreshadowed last year, Andrew Nette has returned to us from academia and film criticism with his third crime novel, Orphan Road, featuring Gary Chance, the eternally unlucky (but not too unlucky) bruiser and heist merchant from Nette’s previous outing, Gunshine State. Last seen dumping a heavy bar fridge over the side of a boat (tied to an adversary, incidentally, a nod to the iconic Australian true crime TV drama Blue Murder), Chance reluctantly goes back into the service of an old boss, a faded S&M queen and real-estate holdout in central Melbourne. Chance is put on the trail of the proceeds of an historical crime, the Great Bookie Robbery of 1976 – in real life, the money was never recovered and nobody was ever convicted, but in the novel the cash was the least of it, with a valuable haul of diamonds also stolen. Chance’s boss wants a piece of the action, and sends him into the path of lethal harm to get it. The bad guys are depraved, the good guys are only good by comparison, and the action is relentless. Twisty, atmospheric and definitely noirish, you’ll need a stiff drink and a long hot shower after finishing this one.
Home Before Night was a 2022 Audible original by J.P. Pomare, published in 2023 as a print novel (or a novella, really – the 190-page story is buffered with the first 90 pages of his forthcoming title, Seventeen Years Later). I’ve generally avoided lockdown fiction – I had a metric gutful of it in real life – but I made an exception for J.P., and I’m glad I did. When a teenaged son doesn’t make it home by the latest Melbourne curfew and then goes off the grid entirely, his mother is beside herself with worry – but she’s unable to call the police, because #darkfamilysecrets#. While the various strands at first seem improbably disparate, the short, sharp yarn doesn’t try your patience, and the trademark late Pomaresque twist repays it in spades.
This year I belatedly caught up on 2022’s Black River by Matthew Spencer. A murder on the grounds of a posh Sydney boarding school over a hot summer holiday is investigated by a journalist who spent his childhood at the school, as a student and a resident courtesy of his live-in teacher father. An outsider once again, despite his insider knowledge, he is testing a theory that the death is linked to a series of murders along the nearby Parramatta River – but his investigation invites the suspicions of the police and the lethal attentions of the real killer. I grew up in this part of Sydney (although I’ve never set foot on the grounds of the school in question!) and I can assure readers that Spencer’s depiction of the river and its environs is not only moody and evocative but also dead-on accurate. A great yarn in an atmospheric setting.
Probably the most original new Australian novel I read during 2023 was Jane Harrison’s The Visitors. Some might query its inclusion in a list of crime fiction, but I reckon the theft of a continent and the immiseration of its occupants qualifies as a crime – especially this year, when Australia decided against recognising that colossal act of larceny or giving voice to its victims. Adapted from Harrison’s own stage play of the same name, the novel is set mostly on Gadigal land over a single fateful day in the high summer of early 1788, when the British First Fleet dropped anchor in what we now call Sydney Harbour, and moved in to stay. The story revolves around the deliberations of the nominated elders of the various Yiyura groups of the Sydney region, gathered to divine the newcomers’ intentions and determine their own collective response. A handy accompaniment to this novel is Kate Fullagar’s brilliant Bennelong and Phillip, a dual biography of the most prominent Yiyura leader of the period and the inaugural governor of New South Wales, Arthur Phillip.
Internationally, any year that sees a fresh offering from any one of Dennis Lehane, Martin Cruz-Smith or Don Winslow is a great year – and 2023 gave us new novels from all three. In Small Mercies, Dennis Lehane ratchets up the tension in mid-70s South Boston, a world of racial tension, class divides, sectarian loyalties, crime-boss domination and parental dread. Add the torments of an unbearable heat-wave, the unpredictability of both teenage and criminal recklessness, and the tenacity of a poor, fed-up mother who refuses to drop the uncomfortable questions in search of her missing daughter, and the yarn propels itself.
Independence Square sees the welcome return of Arkady Renko, the jaded, stubborn, smart, principled Moscow police investigator first introduced by Martin Cruz Smith in 1981’s Gorky Park. On the eve of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Renko finds himself in Kyiv investigating the disappearance of a young, idealistic anti-Putin activist, the daughter of a shady contact. It’s an escape from the dead-end desk job he’s been assigned back in Moscow, and the emptiness of his bed since his long-time lover left him. His recently diagnosed Parkinson’s disease accompanies him to Ukraine, along with a close friend of the missing young woman. The plot drives forward steadily and the depiction of both the Russian and Ukrainian milieux is compelling. But the novel’s real success is its touchingly personal account of Renko’s inner life, once you set aside the implausible and creepy romance between the ageing investigator and his twenty-something guide.
Don Winslow’s City of Dreams continues the motion-capture clusterfuck that he touched off in City on Fire. A crime-families-at-war update of Homer’s Iliad, the trilogy depicts an epic battle between Irish and Italian gangsters (doing business in, of all places, Rhode Island) whose pragmatic compact of amity proves unequal to the fragility of the male sexual ego. City of Dreams, as its title suggests, takes place largely on the West Coast, where the Irish son seeks a clean start after all the mayhem back East. We all know how that fond wish turns out in our genre, and Winslow doesn’t disappoint. With a nod to Don Quixote and Eddie Bunker, the story goes a little meta when the action revolves around a Hollywood film being made about the events of the first volume: love complicates matters, inevitably, as do greed and the thirst for vengeance. Winslow has signalled that this trilogy will conclude his fiction-writing career, so the final instalment is likely to be a scorcher. City in Ruins is due out in March.
I cannot let 2023 go into that good night without mourning the loss of Cormac McCarthy, whose final fictions last year were followed too closely by the author’s own demise. While No Country for Old Men is the obvious entry point to his oeuvre for the crime fiction enthusiast, those with time or span for only one of his novels should go straight for Blood Meridian, one of the most astonishing achievements of late twentieth century American letters.
John Byron grew up in Sydney and lives in Melbourne. He is the author of The Tribute, reviewed by Alf Mayer in this magazine in May 2022. This outstanding thriller is his first novel and was shortlisted for the prestigious Victoria Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript in 2019.
2023, and have some fun, says Alf. Okay. In some ways 2023 wasn’t a very writerly year for me. And yet in some ways it was, let me explain.
There were a number of physical challenges I set myself for this year of the I’m-not-dead-yet variety. In February, with my partner Kath, I walked the 70km or so of the South Coast Track in SW Tasmania. It’s remote, rugged country and no coincidence that they set Alone Australia (SBS) in that region. Basically you get dropped in by small plane and over the next week or so you trek your way out. Over big hills, through mud, carrying your life on your back. it’s tough and challenging (probably the most physically gruelling thing this big softie has ever done. But oh, the landscape – magnificent.
However, getting trek-fit for it left little time for writing.
And then there were the bike rides in June. The Lon Las Cymru across Wales and the Hebridean Way off NW Scotland. About two weeks of solid cycling up and down big hills in sometimes driving wind and pelting rain or punishing heat (yes, even in Wales) But oh, the landscape – magnificent.
Still, getting bike-fit for it left little time for writing.
And then there was the relatively high-level French course in Toulouse for 5 weeks in the heatwave. 24/7 immersion with an exam at the end. But getting brain-fit for it left little time for writing.
Okay, I proved it to myself – I’m not dead yet. Now, having used up my quota of carbon footprint for the foreseeable future I won’t be going anywhere for a long time. And once the neglected garden is back under control I will have plenty of time for writing. Just as well because I do have another novel coming out in late 2024: a Tasmania-set standalone against a backdrop of industrial fish farms and of Australian war crimes in Afghanistan. Two very disparate backdrops, I know, but zeitgeisty in their own way. Watch this space for release details.
It was a more literary final quarter – editing the new book to typeset and participating in Tasmania’s own international crime festival Terror Australis and rubbing shoulders with luminaries such as Ann Cleeves, Garry Disher, and Vanda Symon.
My cultural recommendations for 2023? Standout TV for me was SHERWOOD – a murder mystery rooted in the bitter history of the UK miner’s strike in the 1980s.
Books: Richard Flanagan’s QUESTION 7 – a swirling swooping semi-autobiographical meditation on life, love, and the whole shit show of the human condition by the master Tasmanian wordsmith. Shout out too to David Whish-Wilson’s I AM ALREADY DEAD (which has nothing to do with what I was saying earlier because I’m not dead yet). Dave’s latest continues his literary noir chronicles of the Western Australian underbelly over recent decades – check it out.
Yes I have had a lot of fun in 2023 and feel lucky to be able to have done so. I’m fortunate not to live in a war zone and I try not to take any of this good life for granted. Have a great 2024 and stay well and safe.
Alan Carter ist der Autor von Prime Cut und Des einen Feind, zwei weitere Cato-Kwong-Thriller warten auf Übersetzung: Bad Seed und Heaven Sent. 2019 erschien Marlborough Man in der von TW herausgegebenen Reihe bei Suhrkamp, Übersetzung: Karen Witthuhn, im August dann 2021 Doom Creek. – Alan Carter with CrimeMag here and here. His crime novel Prize Catch will be out late in 2024.
Andrew Cartmel: Philip MacDonald
You may well be aware of a couple of great crime novelists called MacDonald — Ross and (my favourite) John D. Well, here’s a third one to add to your list…
Philip MacDonald ended his days in Hollywood. Not a bad place for an English author to conclude a career. His later work was mostly writing scripts for television — from 1950 onwards, with a final credit in 1971. Before that, though, he had a long and prolific run writing for movies in the 1930s and 1940s, everything from Charlie Chan in London to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca.
However, it’s as novelist that Philip MacDonald most deserves to be remembered — and he definitely does deserve to be remembered.
He had a major success in 1927 with Patrol, a classic war novel and a terse masterpiece of combat fiction which remains in print almost a hundred years later. If you haven’t read it, I urge you to do so. But let’s not get sidetracked. We’re here to discuss Philip MacDonald’s crime fiction…
Three years before Patrol he wrote The Rasp, a locked room murder mystery featuring his hero Colonel Anthony Gethryn (who hates to be referred to by his military rank). An intelligence officer in both World Wars, Gethryn is a genius at solving puzzling crimes who consults with the police on an informal basis.
He appeared in a dozen novels, starting in 1924 with The Rasp and ending with The List of Adrian Messenger in 1959.
Later filmed by John Huston, The List of Adrian Messenger is a race-against-time thriller in which Gethryn has to work out who the victims are going to be, and why, and identify the killer and stop him. It’s beautifully done and well worth a read. It has hardly dated.
In my opinion, the same can’t really be said of The Rasp. For decades it was regarded as a classic of crime fiction in the golden age tradition. Personally I wouldn’t recommend that you immediately put it at the top of your Philip MacDonald reading list.
What I would recommend are two other Gethryn novels — The Polferry Riddle and Warrant for X.
The Polferry Riddle is the fifth book in the series, published in 1931. It begins as a locked room murder mystery like The Rasp, but then soon modulates into a chase thriller before turning back into a locked room mystery at its conclusion. It’s terrifically gripping and engrossing. I was reading it on a train and I nearly missed my station…
Warrant for X, is if anything, even better. It’s the penultimate Gethryn novel — it would be 21 years before he’d reappear for his final bow in Adrian Messenger; 21 years spent screenwriting in Hollywood. It was published in 1938 and is distinguished by lovely London period detail; the place names are particularly lyrical.
In The Polferry Riddle there is a caustic remark about how the police only come into the picture when it’s too late — the crime has already been committed. Warrant for X neatly reverses that — there are tantalising clues that a vicious crime is going to be committed, and Gethryn has to prevent it.
It’s a remarkably compelling read. Indeed so compelling that I had that wonderful experience of time melting away unnoticed as I became caught up in the story. It’s a nail-biting narrative, with a brilliant drip-feeding of clues, really suspenseful and involving a superb reversal that you won’t see coming. And MacDonald can generate great velocity in his storytelling, sometimes using chapters as short as a single paragraph to build a heart-pounding tempo.
At this point I should pause and explain one of the complications awaiting anyone wishing to explore the crime novels of Philip MacDonald (and I hope you will do just that)….
Because a lot of his novels are published under more than one title. For example, The Polferry Riddle is also known as The Polferry Mystery and The Choice.
Warrant for X also goes by the (much less intriguing) title The Nursemaid Who Disappeared.
But things really get complicated when you realise that Philip MacDonald also wrote under more than one name…
So working out what is going on in his oeuvre can turn into a mystery-pursuit-puzzle worthy of one of his stories.
For instance, according to Wikipedia the 1942 film Nightmare “was based on a novel of the same name by Philip MacDonald.”
But only after some tenacious research do we find that it’s actually based on a novel called Escape — which is in fact originally appeared as Mystery in Kensington Gore and was published not under MacDonald’s name but under the pseudonym Martin Porlock.
It’s about time I mentioned Porlock, because one of MacDonald’s finest books was published under that name. It’s called X v. Rex which may take a little explaining… The “v” stands for “versus”, as in a person or persons in conflict. And X stands for the unknown bad guy (as it also did in Warrant for X) whereas Rex means the King or the British crown, or effectively the whole British establishment.
Because the unknown bad guy is a serial killer on a spree murdering law enforcement officers. More specifically, uniformed cops. At one point this is referred to as a “police pogrom”. The killer is a fiendish madman who keeps a diary describing how much fun he is having —“I can’t say how exciting this is.”
X v. Rex was also published as The Mystery of Mr X and Mystery of the Dead Police. It has appeared both under the Martin Porlock pseudonym and under MacDonald’s own name. Whatever form you can find it in, I advise you to read it. It’s a foundational thriller about a serial killer which remains fresh and fascinating — and, despite the very dark subject matter, fun — nearly a century later.
Philip MacDonald wrote about thirty novels, and most are worth reading, but I’ll only mention one more here — Rynox, from 1930, a non-Gethryn story which appeared under MacDonald’s own name and was also published under the titles The Rynox Murder, The Rynox Mystery and The Rynox Murder Mystery. ‘Rynox’ is the name of a company facing bankruptcy, and this is the story of the extreme lengths people will go to, to save it.
MacDonald has always had a freewheeling approach to narrative, switching and juggling viewpoints and never hesitating to use newspapers, documents or an omniscient narrator to get his point across. (I don’t advise novice writers to try this, it takes a real master craftsman to pull it off.)
In Rynox he goes one step further, by amusingly playing with the sequence of events — starting with the Epilogue and ending with the Prologue.
And in between he divides the book into Sequences and Reels, as if it was a movie.
And it was a movie, twice. It was first filmed as Rynox in 1932 and as Who Killed John Savage in 1937. The first movie was directed by none other than the great Michael Powell and it has recently been rediscovered. This autumn I had a chance to see a beautifully restored print at the British Film Institute in London.
It was an extraordinary experience. The film was impressively faithful to the book — MacDonald was involved in writing the script, so perhaps that’s not so remarkable. What was remarkable was that the film is only 48 minutes long. Despite this, it didn’t seem to me to have left out anything important from the book.
Maybe all movies should be 48 minutes long.
Andrew Cartmel is the author of the Vinyl Detective and Paperback Sleuth series of crime novels. The seventh Vinyl Detective, Noise Floor is published by Titan Books in March 2024. The second Paperback Sleuth, Ashram Assassin is published by Titan in June.