Readersforum's Blog

October 29, 2012

Crime’s grand tour: European detective fiction

Crime’s grand tour: European detective fiction

Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano (played by Luca Zingaretti in the TV series) questions what it means to be a good policeman

Crime fiction is a magnifying glass that reveals the fingerprints of history. From Holmes and Poirot to Montalbano and the rise of Scandi-noir, Mark Lawson investigates the long tradition of European super-sleuths and their role in turbulent times.

One of the functions of fiction is to serve as a kind of tourism, either showing us places, situations and people that we might not otherwise reach or scrolling through snapshots of events or sensations that we remember. Crime stories rarely serve the latter purpose – most admirers of homicide novels will, thankfully, never become or even know a murder victim – but are a perfect illustration of the former.

Throughout its history, crime literature has operated as a sort of imaginative travel agency, taking customers across borders and introducing them to unknown cultures. The story commonly considered the birth of the whodunit – Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841) – was written by an American and set in Paris. Since then, the genre has regularly been a ticket for a Grand Tour.

Agatha Christie, an enthusiastic globe-trotter through her wealth and marriage to an archaeologist, sent Hercule Poirot on the Orient Express, Nile cruises and aeroplane journeys, depicting trips that the majority of her audience was unlikely ever to experience for real. Later in the 20th century, readers, listeners and viewers of detective tales learned about France from Simenon’s Maigret and the Netherlands through Nicolas Freeling’s Commissaris Van der Valk, who achieved the rare double of topping both the TV ratings lists (in the ITV series starring Barry Foster) and the pop charts, with the Simon Park Orchestra’s recording of the theme tune, “Eye Level”.

And, these days, Britons have a greater understanding of Scandinavian culture than ever before: not from exports such as Abba, Bjorn Borg, Volvo or Ikea, but through what was – at least until the recent apothesois of sado-masochistic soft porn – the biggest publishing phenomenon of the 21st century: the super-selling mystery stories of writers from Sweden (Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell) and Norway (Jo Nesbø).

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September 26, 2011

Agatha Christie’s real-life surfing thrills to be published

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , , , — Bookblurb @ 5:00 am

Oh it was heaven!' … Agatha Christie surfing. Photograph: Agatha Christie Archive Trust

HarperCollins to publish The Grand Tour, with diaries and photographs from author’s round-the-world adventure.

By Alison Flood

From seasickness to sunburn and surfboarding, a collection of previously unpublished letters and photos by Agatha Christie detailing the year-long round-the-world trip she took in 1922 are set to be published by HarperCollins.

Leaving behind her two-year-old daughter, Christie began her adventure at the end of January as part of a trade mission ahead of the British Empire Expedition in 1924. Travelling to Hawaii, Canada, America, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, the young author – who had already published two novels – described her adventures in weekly letters to her mother, also taking photos on her portable camera of the places she visited.

These included Cape Town and Honolulu, where Christie learned to surf. “It was occasionally painful as you took a nosedive down into the sand, but on the whole it was an easy sport and great fun,” the author wrote in her autobiography, later picking up “a wonderful, skimpy emerald green wool bathing dress, which was the joy of my life, and in which I thought I looked remarkably well!” and managing to stand upright on her surfboard. “Oh, it was heaven!” she wrote in her memoirs. “Nothing like it. Nothing like that rushing through the water at what seemed to you a speed of about two hundred miles an hour; all the way in from the far distant raft, until you arrived, gently slowing down, on the beach, and foundered among the soft flowing waves.”

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May 6, 2011

Ian Fleming and Agatha Christie lead list of UK’s top-earning crimewriters

Agatha Christie has The Mousetrap to thank for much of her fortune – it has been playing on the West End stage since 1952. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Dead authors are still making a fortune, while John Grisham and Dan Brown lead the US rankings.

By Maev Kennedy

Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, has beaten Agatha Christie to the title of most successful – and highest earning – British crime writer of all time.

The first crime writers rich list, prepared for the crime drama digital TV channel Alibi, is based on recorded sales, box office returns, licence fees and company accounts. It reveals that many dead writers, including Fleming and Christie, live on as flourishing brands.

It puts Fleming in first place at more than £100m, with more than 100m copies of the Bond books sold worldwide. Christie comes a close second at £100m exactly, including ticket sales from The Mousetrap, the longest running stage play in the world, a fixture in London’s West End since 1952.

But both were beaten hands down by the American writers John Grisham, at $600m (£366m), and Dan Brown, at $400m.

                                                                                                                                                …read more

January 5, 2011

Michael Stanley’s top 10 African crime novels

The African crime writing duo pick the best books in their field, from established greats Agatha Christie and John Le Carré to newer names on the scene such as Kwei Quartey and Deon Meyer.

Spotted Hyena: body disposal expert? Photograph: Martin Harvey/Gallo Images/CORBIS

“Ever since we started writing detective stories set in Africa (A Carrion Death and A Deadly Trade), we’ve paid more attention to the many wonderful mysteries set on the continent. Some of the writers were born in Africa, others not. Some are oldies, but others are contemporary, reflecting the surge of mystery writers interested in Africa. The 10 books we’ve chosen all capture some aspect of African culture or location. All but one relate to sub-Saharan Africa – the lands of colonies and colonial masters; of newly democratic countries and post-independence struggles. Reading these books will introduce you to areas with which you may be unfamiliar and perhaps give you new insights into some of the oldest cultures in the world.”…read more

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