Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Quai du Polars, Lyon's big detective novel festival, begins tomorrow - everything is in everything

The Quais du Polar, Lyon’s author-centered celebration of the polar, the crime novel, begins tomorrow.  Readers of Book around the Corner are well aware of the pleasures of this book festival.  My impression, not just from her but from other things I have read, is that it is a favorite of authors, which is why it attracts such a substantial group of international mystery authors.  Camilla Läckberg, Harlan Coben, and Ian Rankin are the biggest names this year.  I think.  See below.

Of course the festival is attractive to authors.  It is in Lyon.  Just think of what they will be given to eat and drink.  I am thinking of it now.  I plan to eat and drink more or less whatever they are having.  Lyon is so pleasant, and so well-fed.

The second* real problem, for me, is that I do not particularly care about crime novels, not as such, not as a fan, and thus the third problem is that I do not feel like I know that much about them.

The latter problem I know how to fix, by reading.  Over the last several months, with the help of the surprising English-language collection of the Lyon municipal library, I read many crime writers I had never read before, one book apiece: Agatha Christie, John Buchan, Erle Stanley Gardner, B. Traven, Anthony Berkeley, Francis Iles (the last two are the same person, I know), Geoffrey Household, Eric Ambler, Len Deighton, Stanley Ellin, Craig Johnson (he’ll be at the festival – maybe he is also one of the biggest names).  I relied heavily on the “Top 100” lists of the British Crime Writers’ Association and the Mystery Writers of America, alongside the odder and more interesting 100 Best Crime & Mystery Books by H. R. F. Keating.

I also read, in French, books by Maurice Leblanc, Gaston Leroux, Fred Vargas, Thierry Jonquet (plus another Georges Simenon).

My tastes in the genre run to weird stuff, anti-mysteries, but I enjoyed all of these writers on their own terms.  They all had their surprises.

Maybe I like crime fiction more than I realize.  Jean-Bernard Pouy’s Une brève histoire du roman noir (A Brief History of the Crime Novel, 2009) invokes, in the first chapter, Robert Louis Stevenson, Émile Zola, and Thomas de Quincey along with many other examples that I have mostly read.  He argues for, well:

For example.  Oedipus Rex ( - 430), by Sophocles, is a crime novel.  The proof is that it has been published in the “Série noire” in 1994, and that was at the time more than a cultural provocation, but the confession, late, that in literature also, and maybe mostly, everything is in everything.  (p. 13, translation mine)

The “Série noire” has been the French prestige series for mysteries, home of Chandler and Hammett, for example, since 1945.  I had a tiny suspicion that Pouy was joking (and he is, with the word “proof,”) but the bookstore at the mall had three copies of this specific Oedipe roi on the shelf.  In the mystery section.  Three copies of a translation of Sophocles.  In the bookstore at the mall**.

This Pouy book is great fun.  He’ll be at the Quais du Polar, too.  The festival should also be great fun.  My hope is that I will come across things worth writing about here.

*  The first problem is that the language of the Quais du Polar is French.  How good is Ian Rankin’s French?  I guess I will find out.

**  The mall is adjacent, almost attached, to the big public library, where I am writing this piece.


  1. No we worries Tom, the festival isn't just in French. Ian Rankin will speak English and the audience will hear him in French thanks to the wonderful job of translators.

    I hope you'll enjoy the festival.

  2. I certainly have my eye on a few English-language talks.

    Not just those, though. We'll see how I do.

  3. I also have not read a lot of crime novels. However my wife is a big fan and I am always saying that I need to give some a try.

    It sounds as if you read some very good crime books lately. I must delve into a few soon.

    Book festivals tend to be a lot of fun no matter what the genre. Have fun at the festival.

  4. Rx.....Georges Simenon’s Maigret novels

  5. The books on the CWA and MWA Top 100 lists, in my limited experience, always have some unusual feature - character, conceit, sense of humor - that is worth seeing. And those are the worst ones. Dickens, Dostoevsky, and Conrad are on the lists, too.

    Keating, by the way, efficiently and gleefully summarizes the books he covers, immediately telling you who killed Roger Ackroyd and so on, so it would be a bad book for many readers, but a good one for those interested in the history and art of the field. His list can be found on the internet, separate from the book.

    This is all meant as a response to Brian. I enjoyed those lists, is what I am saying.

    The only problem with Simenon is that I am now obligated to read him in French, but I got through La neige était sale / Dirty Snow recently and just bought a copy of Mon ami Maigret / My Friend Maigret. So I'm trying.

  6. Have fun at the Festival, L'amateur! I think a huge part of the fun of detective/crime novels -- both when reading and when contemplating -- is to see how authors play with the genre. (That's a big reason why Jonathan Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn is such a favorite.) Enjoy!

  7. "Three copies of a translation of Sophocles. In the bookstore at the mall**." Read that, looked around my region, contemplated the pretty good sales of "Bob Honey" and stellar sales of various pieces of tripe-in-words, and concluded that I should probably pack up my little writing bag and go home. Enjoy the festival!

  8. Right pack up and move - to France!

    The Keating book is good with that sense of play. He likes novelty. My sense of play, though, involves dynamite - I'm happiest when there's no genre left.

  9. Haha! I did have a wonderful time in Paris last year...

    I've thought that if spoilers (Keating-glee) ruined a book, then it wasn't much of a book. But I suppose that's not so true with crime novel, where part of the fun is a puzzle. Then do readers reread crime novels? Or wait until they forget them and then reread?

  10. Well, a watched plot never spoils, as I used to say.

    Keating, a novelist himself, finds his fun in the "how did the writer do it," so skipping the "what is it" question - being told in advance - is a way to get to the good stuff faster.

    But I won't speak for most, or many, readers of crime novels. I am not exactly one of them. My impression is that part of the appeal of long series is that they are often a kind of re-reading without re-reading.

  11. While you're poking around the Série Noir over there, you might keep an eye out for a couple of fun related books: Le livre des alcools de la Série Noir and Le livre de cuisine de la Série Noir. SO French.

  12. They're both just sitting on the shelves at the library. I'll take a look.