Friday, June 18, 2010
Foreign Forgotten Friday
At Patti Abbot's suggestion, I'm starting a "foreign forgotten friday" series of posts on forgotten or too-little-known crime novels from outside the U.S. (and mostly outside the U.K. too). First, I want to acknowledge a couple of presses who published some of the books I'll be talking about: it's too infrequently noted that Serpent's Tail Press and SoHo Crime were carrying the banner for translated and non-U.S.-U.K. crime fiction for years before the field caught on with the wider reading public, and years before some of the now-prominent small presses in the fiels came to be (Bitter Lemon, Europa, etc.)--that is to say, long before the mainstream publishers discovered or acknowledged that there's great stuff out there beyond the Atlantic-crossing between New York and London. The first book I want to offer in the series is one from Serpent's Tail that is apparently now unfortunately out of print (though there should be a number of second-hand copies floating around in book stores and the internet ether). I've talked about it briefly before: Pieke Biermann's Violetta, featuring Berlin police detective Karin Lietze, published in its German original the year after the fall of the Wall. Biermann's detective is caught up in several murder investigations that involve racism, a serial killer, a band of vengeful feminists, and other denizens of an apocalyptic, millennial Berlin. The novel is a satirical and kaleidoscopic view of Berlin street life just as the Soviet bloc was coming apart but before the fall of the Wall, is amusing and entertaining, and I wish more of her work were available in English. Violetta is a self-conscious "novel," in the sense that there is literary as well as social satire, and the point of view jumps all over the place, but the surface level of the narrative itself is always lively, frequently funny, and at the same time very dark. Biermann's novel is in a way a meta-noir, a commentary on the form, as well as having some nostalgic looks backward toward the Berlin of Christopher Isherwood's famous stories. Violetta is a lot of fun to read, and shares a bit (in the detective's point of view, mostly) with Alicia Gimemez-Bartlett's Petra Delicado novels from Spain: both have a comic tone (though Violetta is darker and perhaps more decadent) and where Petra is (at least at first) hesitant and inexperienced, Karin Lietze is at the world-weary peak of her career. Once again, I wish that there were more of Bierman's work available in English, and perhaps at least that Violetta will find enough buzz on-line to encourage Serpent's Tail to bring it back into print. One further comment about "foreign forgotten friday": is anybody interested in a challenge? Look for forgotten crime fiction from beyond your own borders (and language) and let us know what you find.