Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Five Euro crime writers

First published in the UK in 2004, Have Mercy on Us All marked the arrival of a ferocious crime-writing talent. Fred Vargas is an archaeologist whose books are often inspired by a historical event, such as the plague, delivered with dark humour(s). Commissaire Adamsberg is the central figure, the work having taken a bit of a hit, for me, with a diversion for The Three Evangelists (2006). Vargas's latest - and Adamsberg's sixth - An Uncertain Place, kicks off in London's Highgate Cemetery.

The work of Andrea Maria Schenkel fits alongside the best of the recent wave of Scandinavian crime writers - I'm thinking particularly of Karin Fossum. Novels The Murder Farm (2008) and Ice Cold (2009) have thrown new light on wartime guilt while her most recent, Bunker, is a terrifying psychological thriller. All three are published by the exemplary Quercus and translated by luminary Anthea Bell.

As if to emphasise the split in Eurozone countries, Petros Markaris's Costas Haritas novels are notably more popular in southern Europe. The Late-Night News (2004) was a suitably depressing introduction to the internal workings of Athens CID as Haritas investigates first the deaths of an Albanian couple, then a woman reporter's murder. Hard-boiled, and not conducive to tourism.

For the Anglophone reader, it's hard to look anywhere other than Michael Dibdin's Aurelio Zen mysteries for an insight into Italian politics and corruption although Carlo Lucarelli stands out among a host of native crime writers. His UK debut Almost Blue (2004), a creepy tale of a blind radio buff who hears the voice of a serial killer, emerged some time after it had been made into a film in Italy. Lucarelli is one of many who's turned his hand to historical crime, in this case a trilogy of Commissario De Luca novels set in fascist wartime Italy.

Arturo Pérez-Reverte is currently best known for his Captain Alatriste books and though the author may not be the latest cutting-edge Spanish crime writer, he's been at the forefront of publishers' fascination with historical crime fiction since mystery The Flanders Panel was picked up by Harvill in 1994. (Harvill was also behind Vargas here, among others.) Follow-up The Club Dumas became a film, The Ninth Gate (1999), under Roman Polanski, starring Johnny Depp, while Viggo Mortensen has since become Alatriste (alongside Elena Anaya).

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